By Patrick Erwin
Days of Our Lives can be called many things, but “boring” is seldom one of them. The show’s twists, turns, and red herrings sometimes make The daVinci Code look like Dr. Seuss in comparison!
Headwriter Hogan Sheffer and executive producer Ed Scott have been trying to pull together some loose threads at Days. One big challenge facing the show is that those out-of-left-field twists and turns have made Days the soap that always cries, “Wolf!” Days is one of the most fantasy-based soaps on the air. Any story has to have an element of believability to it. On Days, however, reality can be relative. Love, lust, and consequences can play out in a vacuum (if they play out at all).
Let’s examine John Black, whose death has just opened a hugely controversial can of worms in Salem. Over the years, he’s been (a) a nameless, faceless pawn who then was (b) identified as Roman Brady, who he was thought to be until the real Roman returned. At that time, he went by (c) John Black, until he learned he was really (d) Forrest Alamain, who was Vivian Alamain’s nephew. He was later revealed to be (e) Tony DiMera’s half brother. Huh?
Fans have followed the saga of John, due to the popularity of Drake Hogestyn, who played John. Rumors are abounding that Hogestyn will come back as John, or another character. It may give the show a temporary boost, and the fans may suspend disbelief in this case. However, the show’s history begs the question: Does anything really happen in Salem? Does anything really affect the characters forever? Or are love, death, loss and happiness just fleeting feelings that happen in a vacuum? Fake-outs and a lack of payoff to a story make fans wary of getting invested. And if they can’t invest in what they’re watching…well, they just won’t watch.
John and Marlena fans may have been cheated, but John’s death certainly gave Deidre Hall some meaty scenes. Hall has been a fixture at Days for decades. Hall always reminds me of her time slot competitor at All My Children, Susan Lucci: both about the same age, with similar tenures on their shows. Both ladies miraculously seem to have keys to the Wayback Machine; neither actress seems to have aged in decades. Both are immensely popular and important to their shows. Neither is exactly a virtuoso performer, but both are proficient at what they do and generally play to their strengths. For Hall, her strength has always been her character’s empathy and caring nature, as well as her flirtatious, Lauren Bacall-style physicality and sensuality with her leading men.
The show did a curious thing during the first Jim Reilly regime: It had Marlena possessed by the devil, a gimmick that gave the show a huge burst of energy at the time. It’s tried to give Hall similar stories since, like being an alleged serial killer, with mixed results. The whole idea seems a bit like watching your grandmother curse: it may have made a huge and dramatic impact the first time, but seems more sad and pathetic as time goes on. Days now has Hal gearing up for a Jodie Foster-esque story to exact vigilante justice on John’s killer.
Days has puzzled fans by keeping their most popular stars on the sidelines. Kristian Alfonso (Hope), Peter Reckell (Bo), Stephen Nichols (Patch), and Mary Beth Evans (Kayla) have all been on ice. It’s especially confusing, since Alfonso and Reckell did a great job with the story of Zack’s death, and Nichols and Evans were brought back with great fanfare. Ditto for the actors in the DiMera storyline, especially Leann Hunley (Anna) and Joseph Mascolo (Stefano), who were both missed a great deal by fans and were both poorly utilized.
It’s not as if the show has a lock on its young set, either: The show broke up one of the best couples they’d had in years in Nick and Chelsea, and pulled them out of each other’s orbit. Longtime fans of Belle and Shawn are upset (and rightly so) that the show seems to be chasing a Belle/Philip pairing. And probably no story has fans up in arms more than the Lucas/Sami/EJ story. I like Alison Sweeney, but her Sami is neck-in-neck with AMC‘s Alicia Minshew’s Kendall for the Most Overexposed Character of the year.
And while I had high hopes for Hogan Sheffer, I’m mortified how the nonconsensual sex between Sami and EJ has been written. Rape is rape, and for Sheffer and company to suggest Sami would be attracted to her rapist is a deplorable message. The Colleen/Santo story, while not as lurid, was a badly conceived, badly executed story that made the actors involved look like idiots. It also cheated fans out of yet another payoff. Instead of a big payoff to the long-running DiMera/Brady feud, the story came to a whimpering halt.
I get that Days has traditionally been a big, sweeping fantasy. The show knows — or at least knew — how to do star-crossed romance and true love better than any other show on the air. Days has been trying hard to be other shows — to be General Hospital, or sci-fi, or even As The World Turns (Hogan Sheffer’s previous show). Instead, it needs to just be its bighearted, romantic, star-crossed self.