By Patrick Erwin
On paper, The Bold and the Beautiful should be the most solid show on daytime. The show was created by daytime legend Bill Bell and taken over by his son Bradley when he retired. In an era in which shows seem to change creative teams with the change of seasons, Bradley Bell has been head writer and producer for well over a decade.
The show has also benefited from having many of its frontburner actors remain so consistent over the years. Its four leading actors — Ronn Moss (Ridge), Katherine Kelly Lang (Brooke), John McCook (Eric), and Susan Flannery (Stephanie) — have all been with the show since its launch 20 years ago.
Flannery is obviously one B&B‘s genuine treasures. Her portrayal of Stephanie Forrester has been rewarded with several Emmys. The character of Stephanie is unique on so many levels: she’s a woman who hasn’t been made up (or placed under heavenly lighting) to look twenty years younger, but looks (fantastically) like a woman who’s lived.
Flannery’s Stephanie is also given story that allows Flannery to portray power, anger, rage, manipulation, and intelligence, as well as vulnerability and heart — in short, every bit as equal storywise as the leading man. Flannery’s biggest achievement is that even when Stephanie is calling Hannibal Lecter to mind, the audience follows her wherever she goes. B&B has wisely put Flannery front and center in many of its storylines, including the current story of Stephanie’s shooting, a story designed to bring Flannery back to the front burner after a brief absence.
But no matter how great it all looks on paper, B&B still baffles me as often as it thrills me. For example:
BRILLIANT: The exploration of Stephanie’s background. This was a watershed moment in the show’s history, with Betty White, still energetic and vital at 83, giving a great performance as Stephanie’s mother Ann (as well as Alley Mills as Steph’s sister Pam.) The scenes with Flannery and White, as a woman deep in denial, were incredibly powerful. More importantly, it made us understand so much about who Stephanie was, and how she came to be that way.
BAFFLING: The minute that story was done, its effects were seemingly forgotten. Any changes to Stephanie were apparently temporary, and the character didn’t grow or evolve. If anything, she became even worse, conspiring with Andy, the man who would eventually rape Brooke. We know Stephanie is damaged, but without any healing, viewers won’t be so willing to forgive Stephanie her misdeeds.
BRILLIANT: Katherine Kelly Lang’s depiction of Brooke’s rape was notable, not only for how fans reacted to the controversial story, but also because there was some long-overdue growth and maturity in both the character and in Lang’s portrayal.
BAFFLING: Again, once B&B got the storyline bounce it wanted, any real repercussions were shifted to the wayside. Instead of real change — or any kind of sustained look at how such an event would change Brooke — the whole thing seems to have been designed to lead into yet another Brooke and Ridge reunion.
BRILLIANT: We’re happy that the canvas has widened a bit, and that a few non-Fearsome Foursome characters are in semi-leading or leading roles. Jack Wagner’s Nick has brought a sense of old-fashioned masculinity to the show; Nick still has his pride and his balls intact. As a bonus, Wagner has chemistry with every single woman he’s paired with. I was not a big fan of Jennifer Gareis when she was Grace on The Young and the Restless, but as Donna Logan, Gareis has been a gust of fresh air. Donna combines intelligence and sexuality with a wicked sense of humor. Any scene with Gareis and John McCook is great fun, and always puts me in mind of that scene from Working Girl, in which Melanie Griffith’s Tess tells a captivated Harrison Ford that she’s got “a mind for business and a bod for sin.” Both Gareis and former Emmy-winner Heather Tom, as little sister Katie, have energized the old Logan/Forrester feud. And Y&R transplant Eileen Davidson was also a bonus for B&B viewers in 2007, giving Ridge his first viable non-Brooke, non-Taylor romance in years.
BAFFLING: The show has burned through more A-list talent in its time that either could not or would not weave into the B&B tapestry. How do you have women as talented and ageless as Emmy-winner Lesli Kay (Felicia) and Lesley-Anne Down (Jackie) on the canvas — and let them languish? Why take a core character like Winsor Harmon’s Thorne, an audience favorite, and treat him like a story incubator? In baseball, he’d be labeled a utility player — used only when a story needs to be sidelined, or take second fiddle, or to heat up characters and stories (like Donna) which are then redirected to other parts of the canvas. More recently, the show has brought back big names like Alley Mills (Pam) and Patrick Duffy (Stephanie), probably to fill out the suspect list in the Stephanie shooting. Instead of giving these two a meaty story of their own, they’ve been wasted as placeholders and props in that story. Whether they’re red herrings or the ultimate culprits, having a recurring character like Pam or Stephen involved is a big copout. (Murder mysteries are definitely not B&B‘s forte.)
BAFFLING: One final and ongoing head-scratcher is the state of romance on B&B. There is far too little of it, and what there is often happens at breakneck speed. As the Christmas carol says, it’s been said many times, and in many ways. But I’ll say it again here: The show needs to slow down the plot, turn up the heat, and link up people that we care about. We’re sick of characters who seemingly every other week change partners and dance.
B&B has all of the raw materials to be way more brilliant and way less baffling. It’s got the stability of fine actors in its cast, one of the finest dialogue writers daytime has ever had in Patrick Mulcahey, and a flexibility to tell focused, exciting stories in a half-hour format. Here’s hoping that after the writers’ strike concludes, writer/producer