Hanging out with numero uno

I’m a soap junkie, and now, I have to confess that my daily fix of crack is bigger than it used to be. The Young and The Restless is now a part of my daily soap habit.

I’ve always been more of a fan of the New York soaps, and of the P&G soaps in particular. But I’ve watched Y&R on and off since the 1980s. I was one of those fair weather viewers that would catch the antics of Lauren and Traci and Jill and Cricket, I mean, Christine, over the summer.

I’ve been really drawn to Y&R over the last six months, for many of the same reasons I’ve enjoyed GL: the return to classic soap.

I hate back-from-the-dead stories, but I have to say, the Katherine/Marge story has to be one of the best stories on any soap in the last few years. This story defined what an “umbrella story” should be, and could be.

It affected nearly everyone on the canvas in some way, but the biggest and best ripple was the discovery that Kay is not Jill’s mother. Now these two are at each other’s throats again, with an added undercurrent of love and hurt that ratchets up the emotional stakes in their feud. Brilliant. Y&R played this feud wonderfully at the recent wedding ceremonies (first Billy and Chloe, then Murphy and Kay). Nina locking Jill in the closet was a sweet payoff for those of us who remember Jill torturing Nina back in the day.

One thing I’d always disliked about the “old” Y&R is how islanded all the stories were (back before I even know what an “island” was). You would watch individual stories that lived in their own little silos – the Newman/Abbotts, Kay and Jill, Lauren/Sheila, or Phyllis and whoever she was working at the moment – but rarely would those currents meet. If you disliked a storyline or character, you were sorely out of luck, because you’d probably be stuck seeing them all day every day for weeks, months, even years at a time.

I don’t know if it’s that Y&R now has a smaller cast, or whether it’s been a conscious change, but there’s a real sense of community in Genoa City now. Victor is still powerful and omnipotent, but he’s also connected to people in town other than his wives or Abbotts, and we get a sense of what those connections are.

There also seems to be a far better balance these days at Y&R. A few years back, this was definitely “The Glo Show,” and as much as I love Judith Chapman, there’s a point where a show can overload on a character, especially a strong one. Y&R has wisely dialed back Gloria’s screen time while keeping her edges. (Today’s scenes with Ashley, where the two had a verbal showdown, were deliciously soapy.)

Genoa City has always been chock full of familiar veterans, and almost every vet is involved in an active story: Katherine’s had a busy year, as has Jill. Victor and Ashley are coping with complications, while Paul and Nikki are leaning on one another. Jack is still in the middle of things in business (the mysterious Mary Jane) and in his personal life (stepping back into Sharon’s life).

But Y&R has carefully developed a stable of younger actors as well. They’ve arguably created two soap superstars in Billy Miller (Billy) and the magnificent Elizabeth Hendrickson (Chloe). Both of these characters draw from Y&R’s long and rich history: we see shades of a young Jack in Billy, while Chloe’s past and her modest upbringing adds layers to her relationship with mom Esther and Katherine, and reminds us of another schemer – Jill Foster.

The show has a lot of consistent strengths. They’ve been great at developing young characters and young love stories (which has been the biggest challenge over at the P&G shows for the last few years). Eden has been a rare miss for a show that usually gets it right when it comes to teens and twentysomethings.

And the writers at Y&R have always figured out a way to get every last possible drop from a story before moving on to the next one. Bill Bell was a master at maximizing those threads, and the current team did the same when it wrote the recent Kevin storyline.

Most soaps would have ended that story when Katherine was rescued, but Y&R took us on an interesting tangent, revisiting Kevin’s wounded psyche. In doing so, we got a really vivid glimpse into who Kevin is and what his inner life has been.

I’m glad that Y&R is bringing aboard Guiding Light’s John Driscoll, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Genoa City this summer.

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