Heart of darkness

I’ve been watching a lot of The Young and the Restless lately. There’s been some huge dramatic twists and turns. And you know what my reaction is? After many of the recent episode I’ve watched, I feel like I have to take a “full Silkwood” shower.

It’s all just SO. DAMN. DARK.

Listen, I know Y&R has always been a bit Gothic. There’s always been a little Grand Guignol in the veins of Bill Bill and in Genoa City. Katherine Chancellor, Jill Foster and Victor Newman have never been fluffy balls of sunshine.

This is the show that killed a man via garbage compactor, locked another man in a cage, and unleashed full-metal bitches like Sheila Carter and Phyllis Romalotti for our viewing pleasure.

The difference is that in past years, there was always a balance in the stories. If there was an intense, dark and dramatic story, there was also a little humor and (usually) the joy of a young couple falling in love.

Y&R has had to ramp up its leisurely pace and crank up the volume on its stately symphony of love, hate and loss to compete in the new soap landscape. It’s curious that Maria Arena Bell and Paul Rauch have decided to make the show forty-two and a half minutes of solid misery.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s consider the following stories:

  • There’s Lily dealing with her cancer diagnosis, for starters. And if actually coping with the diagnosis and treatment wasn’t challenging enough, Lily and Cane also have to deal with Cane’s immigration issues and Mac carrying their twins. (Not to mention that man that claims to be “Uncle” Malcolm hanging around.)
  • There’s the Tucker McCall story, and his revenge on Mommie Dearest, Katherine Chancellor. The main through line of this story? Tucker’s anger and desire for revenge.
  • There’s Jana’s kidnapping, which seems to be completely lacking logic to me. (Of course, the show has hinted rather loudly who Daisy might be.)
  • A father and daughter (Colleen and Brad) were killed within the stretch of a year; Colleen’s death was especially sad.
  • There’s the Patty story, which was campy and fun at the beginning (hello, Mr. Kitty) but has become darker and darker with every passing week.
  • And there’s the whole universe of characters involved in the Adam storyline. Adam is so amoral and disturbed that he makes Sonny Corinthos look like a man with morals and a capacity for shame in comparison.

I’m not bitching that any of these stories are atrociously bad. On the contrary, some of these are very engaging. The issue is that they are all being told AT THE SAME TIME.

There is no balance. When Billy Abbott’s drunken ennui is the lightest, frothiest thing on screen, there is a problem. I mean, most of us were super-sick of Gloria, but I’ve nearly leapt out of my seat clapping when she’s appeared in her last few scenes, because she and Jeffrey still appear to have the capacity for fun and joy. An occasional snark from Glo or Billy, or a cute hat on Delia, can’t be the sole points of light in Genoa City.

It’s also been very troubling that Y&R’s go-to source for drama seems to be visiting mental illness on its leading ladies. Patty, Jana and Sharon have all fought this demon with varying levels of success.

The most disappointing choice, in my opinion, was to take Ashley Abbott, a great character who had gone through such personal growth and who experienced a renaissance while visiting The Bold & The Beautiful, and…….turn her back into the 1986 version of herself. (With bangs.)

Watching Ashley lose her mind (and her baby) the first time around was difficult. It’s just cruelty to revisit this story at this point. And it’s sad that Y&R, which has always been so good at creating story for ALL characters, is wasting the wonderful Eileen Davidson in what amounts to a daytime version of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

(The Ashley and Patty stories are starting to remind me of one of the worst qualities of many other soaps, especially the P&G shows: in a struggle to simplify and attract audiences, the women were either vapid whores, crazy, or hateful old crones, with absolutely no in between.)

Y&R has talked about maintaining the legacy of Bill Bell, and it’s still got a lot of the original DNA of the show. But lighten up, for pete’s sake. A little balance wouldn’t hurt, either!

3 thoughts on “Heart of darkness

  1. Great column Patrick! I expressed a similar thought back when Y&R superushed their stories in the weeks after Guiding Light was cancelled to attract that show’s viewers. Turned me off to soaps–because I didn’t believe any of it. Also I don’t need unrelieved misery in life–why should I want to watch it on a soap? Soap plots used to have payoffs.

    Loved your Grand Guignoil reference. Rauch is versed in opera and of course knows how to do stylized soap. At least he and Maria Bell are probably aware that what they are doing isn’t original. Other soap producers/writers think they are inventing it and it is genius. I don’t have to name names!

  2. What I meant by the above is that Rauch and Bell picked up on Bell’s Grand Guignol quality in Y&R and have pumped it up to the max. So max I can’t even watch a lot of it anymore without a migraine.

  3. You’re right about the Gothic side of Y&R, and I think the show cultivated it in multiple ways, even with the lighting of the show. When I watched it (70s-early 90s), it had to be the most dimly lit show on TV. Watching it was like looking at characters at the bottom of a dirty kiddie pool. I kept expecting Gollum to pop around the corner and say, “Never looks.” Even Dark Shadows looks bright and cheerful compared to Y&R!

    Beyond that, I think what always niggled at the back of my mind was this vague sense that Y&R thought too highly of itself. When Bell’s nepotism couldn’t resist bringing on his talentless hack of a daughter, the smug earnestness of the show became intolerable. I quit watching.

    If it’s changed, great. But if Cricket’s there, nothing can get me to watch.

    Hi Aquaria – Lauralee Bell hasn’t been on the show for years. I didn’t like her as a teenager but thought she was quite solid as an adult. But I completely understand the dislike – Cricket WAS one of those characters that took over the show for a while. I don’t like that from ANY soap.

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