Dark disappointments – and Big Purple Dreams

Otalia, the supercouple.

Otalia, the supercouple.

As I mentioned a few days ago, it’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since the end of Guiding Light.

It’s been fifteen years since Bianca Montgomery came out on All My Children, and almost ten years since As The World Turns‘ Luke Synder came out.

We live in a county that celebrated marriage equality last year, and daytime was out there in front with LGBT characters  (well, until last year, mostly L and G) stretching back into the 1980s. Granted, their appearances were spotty and inconsistent, but we did surface and lead a full life on daytime pretty early in the game.

And yet, daytime diversity, especially on the LGBT front has been – well, decimated.

Harsh? Nah, I don’t think so.

We have the back burnering of General Hospital’s Lucas and Brad – which started before the departure of Ron Carlivati last year, and has continued save for an occasional appearance on-screen in the weeks and months since.

And of course, we have the brutal murder of Will Horton, arguably one of the most well-known characters on DAYS. The Will/Sonny pairing, once a cornerstone of the show and a popular pairing with many viewers, was ripped to shreds.

Paul, the third wheel of that story, is rarely seen outside of his relationship with Papa John.  (There were rumors that another LGBT story was coming to DAYS, but considering recent writing changes, that story is a big question mark now.)

(NOTE: After my initial misgivings, I do find B&B’s Maya and Rick story to be a solid one, and one of the strongest on what is still a messy, repetitive show to me. The Avant family is great, and they’ve played a number of beats nicely about Maya’s transition, and how acceptance is hard earned and a process that takes years.)

Despite a push for diversity (and with B&B being one daytime exception), we are still in an era where, to paraphrase the late Vito Russo’s graphic language, “the fag must die at the end.”  It was true of movies, the topic Russo wrote so wonderfully about, and it seems to sadly still be true in a number of corners of the TV universe.

It’s been true on many TV shows, with very rare exceptions. Shonda Rhimes can’t carry it all, and while she does have a number of LGBT characters across her shows, several of them have been curiously disconnected — or have taken a step back from the demonstrating-affection phase of the relationships — in the last year or so (Calzona on Grey’s Anatomy and Cyrus on Scandal, to name a few).

Cyrus seems to have maybe, possibly scored with a hunky ex-Secret Service agent, but it was more implied than actually spelled out. Artistic choice, or reluctance to call it what it is because of viewers or advertisers? His “husband,” such as that sham marriage is, is rarely seen.

We saw the love (demented as it was) between Cyrus and James, but since James was killed, the character hasn’t shown much of his sexuality onscreen. I know Shonda Rhimes is committed to diversity — and that Rhimes does not play — but I also wonder what battles are being fought behind the scenes (especially when ABC just changed leadership).

More recently, viewers of several CW shows have expressed their deep disappointment at the handling of LGBT-related storylines there. I admit I’m not familiar with many of the CW’s programs, but this blog post has some compelling data about how many LGBT characters – particularly young female characters – have been murdered or died onscreen.

It’s very disappointing, and I’m wondering why it’s happening, especially in the wake of marriage equality. Is it a corporate decision, as so many decisions are?

Rumors swirled around the DAYS debacle. It was letters from old grandmas watching that forced them to be fired! It was Dena Higley’s fault! (Well, isn’t everything? Another day, another post for THAT topic.)

And of course, struggles with diversity are much broader than LGBT characters. I tried to cover this earlier this year, riffing off of an earlier article by writer Aaron Foley., but in trying to cover the scope, I was probably not eloquent enough about it. (Then again, I’m a cisgendered dude who lives in a big puffy cloud of privilege, so there’s that.)

This article was in the New York Times a few weeks back, and is a great snapshot of what performers face when they are not, as the article states, straight white dudes.

All this was a bit of a long story to get back to the point I wanted to make with my opening paragraph: of all the love stories told on daytime thus far, I’ve still found the most magical and emotionally satisfying one to be GL’s story of Otalia.

There were bumps in the road, sure. There was the lack of a real, honest to goodness romantic kiss, a fact we can’t ignore. There was a bit of a bump in the story close to the end of the show’s run, with Frank and the baby (a twist that TPTB perhaps thought was necessary due to Jessica Leccia’s real life pregnancy).

But beyond all that, there was magic, more magic that I can remember from a soap couple in years (and certainly more than I’ve experience since). The exploration of the relationship, acted beautifully by Crystal Chappell and Leccia, and written with so much beauty and aching humanity by Jill Lorie Hurst, was a wonder to see. (For an earlier post about it, click here.)

It is no exaggeration to say that Otalia was much of the reason the show walked proudly into the final days of its run, versus hobbling in shame to the finish line.

So many of our writers, daytime, nighttime or otherwise, have forgotten to give us a few seconds to catch our breath, to show us the relationship instead of telling us it exists. Here, it all happened in a lush slow burn.

It may have perhaps been a reluctance on the part of TPTB to have characters say the word “lesbian,” but that lack of naming and labeling was part of its magic and beauty. Natalia and Olivia fell in love. We saw it, and we knew it before even they did. Those big purple dreams were magical, and any show worth its production budget should watch those scenes as a template for their own bibles.

Quick postscript: This rose colored view of Otalia doesn’t sweep away some of the problematic things that happened along the way. I know a lot of viewers (me included) took the lack of a kiss very personally.

My point: all the LGBT stories have been problematic, in some way. All other things being equal, I still think this story was so magical. Then again, it had a defined ending, which many other couplings didn’t really get, either because the story was cut short or the show itself was. (I don’t know what we’d call the ending of Will and Sonny, other than a mess.)

An Otalia Programming Note: If you want to see Jill Lorie Hurst talking about Otalia (and other stuff – not sure from just the teaser!) check out the Lady Parts vlog that will go live on April 7th.

The vlog was launched by Liron Cohen and her wife, former Soap Opera Weekly editor Mimi Torchin. Looks like they’ve been talking (in previous episodes) about a lot of interesting issues. It all looks (in my humble opinion) really interesting and well worth a look!

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