Finding True North in Oakdale

When I last wrote at length about As The World Turns earlier this fall, I wasn’t very encouraged by what I was seeing on screen.

It’s not perfect, but I’m happy to report that Oakdale is a far more welcoming (and watchable) town these days.

ATWT’s current renaissance has worked because it’s used one major story – Brad’s death at the hand of his brother, Jack – to impact a big chunk of the canvas. And it’s working because it’s a chunk of the canvas that has some of our favorite characters: Jack, Carly, Katie, Janet, and Henry as well as returning characters like Simon and Molly.

It’s had far-reaching effects on almost all of the canvas – something that hasn’t always been the case with recent ATWT stories. And it’s put one of ATWT’s strongest, most resilient assets – Jack and Carly – back into focus.

Not that Jack and Carly were ever really out of focus; Maura West’s performance as an alcoholic was a soaring high point in a year of valleys and disappointments. And Michael Park is always multifaceted – he makes all of his relationships work, and Jack and Janet made a great pairing.

There have been times in the last decade that I thought Jack and Carly were very overexposed, or that the focus on their coupling was creating a lot of ridiculous story twists and turns. But the scenes with Jack and Carly we’ve witnessed in the last few weeks underscores how truly magical their pairing (and the chemistry between West and Park) really is.

I still think that when all is said and done, killing Brad is a mistake. But it certainly has had far reaching effects. Katie’s loss has changed her relationship with Henry, renewed her ties with sister Margo and brother Craig, and changed her life for good.

And this is a GOOD thing, because so many stories on ATWT in the last two or three years have come and gone without a trace. At around the same time Guiding Light went to its new production model, ATWT also tweaked its structure and started programming more short-term, “chapter” style stories. These stories played out at a quick, breakneck speed, but often would leave nothing behind once they were done.

A story like that can be fun and exciting in moderation, but a whole canvas of that means a whole lotta nothing is going on. I can think of a number of stories (Rick Decker, the Brian/Lucinda story) where the plot launched, burned brightly for a few weeks, and then slipped away.

As much as some fans resisted the appearance of Lynn Herring as Audrey and Stuart Damon as Ralph, I’m actually seeing it as a positive, because (a) I love these performers and (b) when they left the canvas, their departure actually counted for something and/or had a lasting effect on Oakdale.

That’s the reason I think this short-term, fast paced story of Jack’s soul-searching journey worked, too: Because at the end of the journey, we’d actually been transported somewhere. Jack and Carly are in a different place. Simon and the utterly fabulous Molly are back in town.

There are a few other positive trends happening in Oakdale. After years of suffering from Saint Meg, ATWT is finally remembering who Meg Snyder is: a conniving, scheming bitch. The scenes I’ve seen with Meg and Damian over the last few weeks have been fantastic, and Marie Wilson is FINALLY making me believe she’s Meg. (I still find it utterly confusing, though, when there’s a Meg/Lily/Damian scene, because Wilson and Noelle Beck (Lily) look and sound SO much alike.)

Reuniting Paul and Emily has also been a great move. Roger Howarth’s Paul is never more entertaining or watchable as he is with Kelley Menighan Hensley’s Emily.

There are still some major negative spots to deal with. Noelle Beck is a lovely, warm actress, but she’s not Lily. Watching her on screen is like watching a stranger. It’s time to give Lily a break. The Lily/Damian marriage may have been a dramatic way to stir up conflict between Lily and Holden, but we just don’t care without Martha Byrne there to play Lily.

Damian’s return has been equally off-kilter and weird. Paolo Seganti is also a talented actor, and we’ve loved Damian before, but on this go-round Damian comes off as some sort of C-rate porn star. His romantic scenes with Lily and Meg are indistinguishable. And he’s been the mustache-twirling villain too many times.

Lily and Damian have also been saddled with one of the strangest stories ever: adopting their son’s lover as their own son. I have no words.

And I’m still sad about how some earlier story choices made some of Oakdale’s smartest women look like fools. I love Jon Lindstrom’s take on Craig, but it’s still far-fetched that Rosanna would return – after the journey she’s been on – to a man who tried to kill her and who was responsible for her coma.

I’m sad that Tom Degnan’s Adam was given a poorly conceived redemption story that appeared not to work (he’s now apparently off canvas). That story made Alexandra Chando’s Maddie and Ellen Dolan’s Margo, both fan favorites and two of the few remaining smart women in soaps, look like fools. (It was especially heinous that rape victim Margo would protect her son, who was accused of attempted rape.)

Oakdale could use some romance, especially some young love (Alison and Casey ain’t it – those characters have been drained of all joy or interest). ATWT could use a gorgeous guy in the late 20s-30s age range to stir things up in Oakdale.

And I do always hope to see favorite veterans. It was a joy to see Nancy Hughes at Thanksgiving. We’d love to see Bob, Kim, Lisa, Lucinda, et al when they aren’t at a funeral, wedding, or with an IV hooked up to them.

In fact, I’d like to see ATWT do a February sweeps story like the one they just did for Jack. Give Tom and Margo a reason to hit the road (maybe to find Adam, or chase after Casey – or better yet, Lisa). They could cross paths with Shannon O’Hara, see Tom’s daughter Lien and Margo’s brother Andy. (And if I was really reaching, they’d visit John Dixon and bring him back to Oakdale.) You get the point.

After all, sometimes it takes a long journey to make you appreciate that there’s no place like home.


3 thoughts on “Finding True North in Oakdale

  1. Patrick,

    Nice to have you back. I’ve missed you thoughts on the soap. Yes, ATWT has been better in the past month than it’s been in ages.

    Your thoughts about the show pretty much match mine. Lovnig Jack’s soul seraching road trip, enjoying Brad the ghost, glad to see Nancy back, not caring at all about Damian or Lilly, actually liking Paul and Emily together (and Paul is a charcter I can barely tolerate), glad to see Luke and Noah getting a better storyline (and really impressed with Jake Silberman’s performances; but Van needs to tone it down a notch or two).

    Thanks for putting then your thoughts down and sharing them. Keep up the good work.

  2. Patrick,

    I so totally agree with EVERYTHING you wrote, there’s no need to address any particular point. You simply hit the nail on the head.

    That said, you didn’t mention (did you?) Ghost Brad. I hate it. I hate these ghost stories. Soap deaths mean so little anyway, when the characters are “resurrected” years later, but when the character is still interacting with Oakdale for a month after being killed? The death loses ALL impact.

    Tackle the preposterous Tom Pelphrey storyline in your next column. Is he a “rejuvenated” James Stenbeck? As a mag said this week, wouldn’t Barbara RECOGNIZE a younger James? I mean, James was a fairly young man when he and Babs conceived Paul…probably around, oh, Mick Dante’s age! Plastic surgery? Well, didn’t we just have that story with Riley/Adam…and badly?

    Love to hear your thoughts on Damian and Lily “renewing” their vows about five minutes after the initial wedding…but since it’s just a ploy to frame Meg for attempted murder…

    I’m trying to love ATWT, since I MOURN GUIDING LIGHT every day around 3 PM. I’m not quite there yet. Molly’s return got me watching every day again, though. I could care less about Simon; bringing Mike and his new family to Oakdale would be interesting, though. Dusty hitting on ANOTHER chick young enough to be his daughter (Lucy, Josie, Bonnie) is getting boring. Nuke is an eternal snoozefest and makes Otalia’s cookie-baking look like the storyline of the century, quite frankly. And the loss (again?) of Cady McClain’s Rosanna makes me think something’s still not gellin’ backstage in Oakdale.

    But the acting? Sublime, as always. I watched GL for years simply for the acting. I remember Marlena de la Croix once wrote that she watched ATWT for years simply for Liz Hubbard and Larry Bryggmann. (Sadly, we’re not watching ATWT for them anymore, but Maura West and Terri Colombino are good substitutes.) If we could get more stories to back up the excellent actors, ATWT would really be a contender again.

    Thanks for the excellent review.

  3. So sorry about the latest news….this last post of yours came to my mind in response to today’s “information”. I really think about you…and the sad need to go through the ‘five stages’ again.

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