By Marlena De Lacroix
I have to admit I was very suspicious. Not more than two weeks after its new head writer Ron Carlivati’s debut, a soap reporter from the northern climes proclaimed One Life to Live the best soap of the year. As a veteran soap critic, I’ve always felt you had to watch a soap a couple of months at least before you declare a soap has improved and a watch about a year of it to deem it the “best.”
Soon, more critics were crowning it “best.” Are we all so desperate for good soap opera these days that we’ll jump on the latest soap that is some semblance of better and rave our hearts out? Yes, of course ! You all know how disappointing and incoherent most of our beloved soaps have become! And along comes a redeemer like OLTL!
Hallelujah! We have seen paradise! Not so fast, my dears. Carlivati already has done unexpected wonders with the scripts, as I’ll discuss here today. But the show still has an overwhelming number of problems, which I will discuss here in Part 2 of this column later this week. For example, the canvas is enormously unbalanced, weighted as it is toward male diva characters — for example. Todd Manning and John Mcbain.
But let’s start out on a positive note. Carlivati has already made thinking fans like you and I rejoice with his unexpectedly sophisticated, topical scripts. Sure it’s great to crow that Erika Slezak is being used again, as lifelong mega-rich girl Viki migrated to Texas to work as a waitress in a diner. But listen closely to what she’s saying! One day Viki actually advocated universal health care, when Gigi’s young son got sick and his waitress mother couldn’t afford medical help. A few weeks later she ruminated to David about how hard it is for Americans to live on shoestring paychecks, the kind she was getting on her current job. Viki, a soap opera character, making thoughtful social commentary! Viki talking about the real world! Quelle surprise! It was like Queen Elizabeth II suddenly advocating socialism.
Another thing that blew my mind was that in the long sequences when everyone was “coincidentally” staying on the same hallway at the cheap Paris Suites (Viki, Charlie, Marcy undercover, Todd and Blair for a night, David). Carlivati deftly employed some of the conventions of theatrical farce, a form of fast-paced comedy that often has its characters running in and out of many doors trying to evade each other. Think Alan Ayckbourn’s play, Bedroom Farce. Or the French farce Boeing Boeing, about a playboy (Tony Curtis played him in a 1965 movie version) whose three airline stewardess girlfriends all come home from the friendly skies at the same time.
Although Carlivati didn’t have the transplanted Llanview-ites running between rooms, he certainly had them all walking into each other’s rooms, sometimes narrowly missing each other, other times mistaking each other’s identities and then falling all over each other. On the lam mom Marcie in her wig missed Tommy’s biological father Todd by a wink. David calling Viki, “Niki” as soon as he saw her in the waitress outfit. Visitor Gigi finding Marcie’s wanted poster freshly posted on the candy machine, just left there by Todd and confronting Marcie. Meanwhile, over at the Buchanan mansion for Asa’s funeral, all the family mourners (Sarah, Jared, Natalie, Clint, Nora, David and Alex, and eventually Dorian) were also staying in guest rooms on the same hall or home, all interacting madly: kissing the wrong person (Clint and Nora), sleeping with exes, (David and Dorian), making out with your newfound ‘niece’ (Jared and Natalie). All you things you’d normally do after a funeral!
Farce in two parallel worlds! This is not just good writing in an era of dreck, it is sophisticated soap writing as art. Who knew this was still possible? Of course, these are only two examples of OLTL‘s improved writing, and the show has a long way to go towards the point where even I would think of declaring it best soap. Next column: Can Carlivati fix the show’s massive structural problems?
Meanwhile until the scab scripts start airing (why now, Lord, after we’ve suffered so long?) I’ll be relishing the sudden unusual intelligence of One Life to Live. Who can believe it’s still allowed on an ABC soap?