By Patrick Erwin
My soap habit was initially formed, as many of our habits were, through hand-me-downs. My mother diligently watched Days of Our Lives, Search for Tomorrow and Another World. My sisters loved Young and the Restless and were part of General Hospital‘s Luke and Laura craze. Even my Guiding Light habit came from a neighbor who watched the show every day.
The first soap I ever discovered on my own was As The World Turns. I discovered the show in1986, and the first thing that compelled me to watch was me flipping through the channels and exclaiming, “Hey! That’s Nola Reardon!” (Or rather, actress Lisa Brown as her ATWT character, Iva Snyder.) The second thing that compelled me to watch was one of the actors. He was tall and handsome, with big round soulful eyes. I was transfixed to the television as his character played weariness, heartache, resolve, and hope, with a glimmer of mischief and devilishness. The character was Craig Montgomery, and the actor was Scott Bryce.
Over the next eight years, Bryce was in a number of romantic entanglements and storylines. I always found it utterly fascinating to watch him at work, and see his character interact with nearly all of the cast. No matter what the story, Bryce sold you on what Craig was doing. Bryce’s Craig was a catch in Oakdale, and his dance card sounds like a Who’s Who of Oakdale ladies: his beloved Sierra, Betsy Stewart and, later, her sister Emily, Lucinda and her sister Sam, Iva and her sisters Ellie and, now, Meg. (I’m sensing a trend here!)
I was most fascinated by the subtext that Bryce would play during his scenes. Like the late Michael Zaslow, Bryce would always play a brilliant undercurrent. When Craig was making a mistake or was up to no good, that undercurrent would still make us root for him, and it kept the straight-and-narrow Craig from coming off as milquetoast. With certain actors — especially the divine Elizabeth Hubbard as Lucinda Walsh — that subtext would sing.
Craig was sorely missed from the canvas for several years. When he was brought back in 2000, he was portrayed by Hunt Block. ATWT decided to focus on Craig as a Machiavellian quasi-villain.
Block’s dry wit and humor was able to leaven this darkness to a certain degree, and Block’s work during Craig’s loss of his son Bryant was notable. But as time went on, the writing became more and more one-note, and so did Craig. Ostensibly justified by his anger at Bryant’s death, he became a master manipulator that put Carly, Rosanna and even his daughter at risk, and eventually he became involved in the baby-swapping scheme that sent him to jail.
The character returned from jail last fall, and was portrayed at that point by actor Jeffrey Meek. Whether it was the writing, the direction, or the actor, Meek’s Craig was almost unrecognizable to veteran ATWT fans. This nuCraig was a mustache-twirling villain who seemed to be looking for damsels in distress to tie to railroad tracks, a la Snidely Whiplash. So it was a great relief to fans when we heard earlier this year that Scott Bryce was coming back to ATWT to reclaim his role.
And yet, many months later, many of us are scratching our heads. I’d love to ask the powers that be at ATWT a simple question: If you weren’t going to let Craig Montgomery be the glorious, multifaceted character we all know Scott Bryce can play, why did you bother to bring him back?
In the first months of Bryce’s return, he seemed to have been handed a backlog of scripts that were written for his predecessor — all with a one-note, villainous Craig. Clearly, none of the writers currently penning ATWT have any knowledge of Original Recipe Craig, and are pulling from the ATWT bag of tricks. For the last several years, that bag seems to consist primarily of one trick — take a well-known Oakdale resident and make them crazy, mean, or demonically and unredeemably bad. (Hey, it worked for Barbara! Not as well for Adam Munson, though.)
It didn’t help that the initial story that Bryce had to play was Craig taking advantage of Lily to steal Worldwide, a plot that made little to no sense, and was only saved by the fabulousness of seeing three beloved pros — Bryce, Hubbard, and Martha Byrne — at work. From there, Bryce was flung into the Paul/Rosanna/Craig/Meg story. I’d love to explain the finer points of this story to you, but it’s a muddled mess that I’m not sure I understand. All four of the actors there (including the Emmy-winning Roger Howarth and Cady McClain) were saddled with plot that seemed to change direction daily. Yes, we want our characters to be multifaceted, but when they change personalities and motivation every day (today a villain, tomorrow a hero, next week an adulterer) it becomes indecipherable and unwatchable.
In all the scenes I’ve seen Bryce play, those soulful eyes still say a great deal, and he’s just as capable an actor as ever. I hope ATWT gets wise to the powerhouse they have in Bryce and crafts an appropriate story for him that shows Craig as a human with strengths and weaknesses, rather than as a one-note meanie. The show is having a hard time shading all of its characters right now. Many of the characters seem to share the same outlook and/or sensibilities — Carly, Meg, Alison, Gwen and Rosanna are, to one degree or another, all the same character — and I hope ATWT gets cracking and starts showing us some subtle shadings. There is no better character to start with than Craig Montgomery.