A few weeks back, I shared my opinion (such as it was) on the current state of The Young and the Restless. I raved about some things, but questioned others. One of the head-scratchers for me was Phillip’s return. What I thought would have a volcanic impact was underwhelming.
Here’s a direct quote from that post:
Bierdz played Phillip over twenty years ago and is indelibly etched into our memories as Phillip. And his return to Y&R is a great personal triumph; he’s worked through a number of personal challenges and tragedies, and it’s fantastic that he’s able to overcome those issues.
But Bierdz’s performance since his return has been very muted – in some cases, almost monotone in its quiet nature. I’m not sure if he’s just rusty, or whether those personal challenges have made it harder, if not impossible, to open up and be vulnerable as an actor, but it’s affected the Phillip-is-alive story and what could have been a far more explosive impact.
I was incredibly surprised, then, to read the new Soap Opera Digest. This issue includes a mea culpa of sorts from Bierdz, who acknowledges that his performance was different on this go-round. What I thought was “reserved” was apparently reading, for many Y&R fans, as utter arrogance. In particular, they saw Phillip’s low-key, que-sera-sera attitude about his ‘death’ and extended absence to be an enormous affront to Jill, Katherine, Nina and Chance.
Bierdz attributes some of it to technology changes, but delves into a really interesting discussion about his performance. You’ll have to pick up the issue to see the entire article, but in part, he talks about wanting Phillip to be a stoic, masculine gay figure. He also talks about how many gay men are disconnected or disengaged from their families, either out of ostracism or fear.
This has always been an interesting topic to me, because I see that detachment in so many people I know – particularly in a number of gay men. It’s become somewhat of an art form; David Sedaris has written dozens of books and essays where he reports on the awkwardness and humor of his family life, always with a detached, distant point-of-view.
Jonathan Caouette made a film, Tarnation, that shared a remarkable story – he’d been filming his life, which included a laundry list of horrors and challenges, since age 11. He’s acknowledged that by filming what happened, he was able to distance himself from those horrible events, because he was viewing them almost as if they were a film, not something that actually happened to him.
If I’m being brutally honest, I know I’ve practiced this to a degree in my life. The creative writing I’ve done, particularly in high school and college, grew out of a desire to create a world that was an alternative to the one I lived in. When I was physically assaulted by classmates (and verbally assaulted by faculty) in school for winning the Triple Crown of loserdom (being the smart kid, fat kid AND gay kid) in their eyes, I’d disconnect and pretend it was some really bad, B-rated movie that I was watching from a distance. It’s a common coping mechanism, especially if you’re a pop culture kid weaned on 70s sitcoms and MTV.
A statement like this doesn’t change what’s already happened, or not happened, on screen. But I have an enormous about of respect for Thom Bierdz for making this statement. It’s a brave action for a man who, as he says, is “still a reserved man, broken by personal tragedies in my past.” And it shows that Bierdz cares about the show, his role, and what the fans are saying and thinking.
I hope that Bierdz gets to take Phillip on a journey to a better, healthier place. (And hopefully, bring his equally reserved son Chance out of his shell.) Despite some missteps, Phillip Chancellor is a part of Genoa City’s fabric, and should get a chance to see what Chapter 2 of his story brings.