The Bold and the Beautiful: Brilliant and Baffling

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 Bradley Bell will have a wellspring of ideas, and the storyline fairies will spread some of the magic around!

Comments

  1. James says:

    Brilliant analysis!

    Especially appreciated your comparing Winsor Harmon to a utility player in baseball since it’s always puzzled me why they haven’t given him more to do. When they do give him storyline, he’s always phenomenal. I thought he was robbed of an Emmy nod a few years back when he broke off from Forrester and went to Spectre.

    And you’re so right about Brooke and Stephanie never growing or changing; once their various storylines are over, their long term ramifications always are forgotten. Guess that’s the diva characters coming to play since divas don’t want to grow.

    For me, when this show is good, its great! When it’s bad, it’s miserable. But about 80% of the time, it’s on the good side. And I guess the fact that it’s so good so much of the time is why the few plots that don’t work (i.e., Rick-Phoebe-Constantine traingle) really stink.

    I do hope Bradley continues to find plot for Ashley. Eileen Davidson is soap royalty and certainly deserving of better treatment than was given some of the other big name stars they hired and dismissed as soon as they plot ran out for them.

  2. bakedghoti says:

    Agreed! Patrick this was a nice read. Marlena should write about B&B also and rip into the show’s pathetic state courtesy of Brad Bell. It’s great to know that your opinions can’t be bought by a B&B actress sending you some flowers.

    As a fan of B&B since it’s inception, the yoyo writing of Bell is just plain pathetic. All the elements of a great soap are there, yet he can’t pull it together. Here are all the problems of B&B, the soap that can never seem to reach its full potential thanks to Brad Bell:

    * The storylines are too fast-paced. Stephanie’s shooting is wrapping up next week since the shooter will be revealed (my money’s on Storm). Plots are never protracted to full dramatic effect.

    * Bradley Bell has amnesia when it comes to the history and storyline of B&B. He revises little details and big parts of plots merely months after they air. Ex. 1. Thorne sunk Spectra. Yet Nick and Jackie were able to buy it . 2. Nick and Jackie were in debt running FC, yet they were able to buy Spectra. 3. Nick stipulated that Eric could only get FC if he divorces Stephanie, yet Eric didn’t follow that. All these logical errors courtesy of Brad Bell!

    * No dramatic impact. They promised a brand new Brooke after the rape. Yet mere weeks later she’s going after Ridge again! Stephanie’s abusive past is revealed, yet she becomes even more destructive by consipiring with Brooke’s rapist!

    * The Ridge/Brooke/Nick/Taywhore merry-go-round is not merry at all. The soap needs to move on from this infuriating quadrangle. No one cared about Taywhore giving birth to Brooke and Nick’s baby! The story’s a clunker. Move on!

    * No racial diversity despite being set in LA! The time constraint of B&B’s 30 minute format is Brad Bell’s standard press release/excuse to justify this glaring offense! The fact that B&B has its first black male romantic lead says it all! Note: Keith didn’t count since he was only Spacey Macy’s talk-to friend during her first alcoholic phase!

    * No queer characters despite being set in the fashion world. Sergei was a stereotypical joke courtesy of Brad Bell. The name alone was borderline offensive!

    * Lack of equal storyline distribution for characters: B&B’s canvas is intermittently balanced. But majority of the time the storylines revolve around Stephanie, Brooke, Ridge, Taywhore and Nick. It’s only recently that majority of the characters are getting more equal screen time, which I credit to Kay Alden! Alden was able to balance Y&R huge cast, which is a feat Brad Bell cannot master!

    * Still no tribute to Darlene Conley. Brad Bell is not honoring her memory by not giving her a proper tribute onscreen.

    * Wasting talented actors: Still no long-term contract for William Devry (Storm), Eileen Davidson (Ashley) being saddled with Ronn Moss, Lesli Kay (Felicia) having no storyline of her own.

    What B&B needs to do to improve:

    * Stories revolving around fashion issues: anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders, plastic surgery addiction, rampant drug abuse, ageism, weightism, racism, the effects of fashion on body image issues, pro-fur, anti-fur, sweat shops, etc. These are all relevant issues in the fashion community, and they would be excellent stories on B&B. It shouldn’t be preachy. But these issues should be incorporated into the storylines.

    * More racial diversity: Put the actor that plays Lt. Baker on contract status. Bring ex-Y&R’s Victoria Rowell’s Drucilla. Have her begin her modeling agency in LA with Brooke and Donna. Pair Dru with Thorne. Have Dru become the new face of Spectra Fashions M Line. Bring in Keemo, Ashley’s part-Asian nephew. Let Keemo be a leader of an organization similar to PETA. Let him stage an extreme rally against Forrester’s Winter line using real fur.

    * New romances: Felicia’s bisexuality has always been implied on B&B. Pairing her with Katie would be a dynamite storyline since both actresses are excellent. Even if Brad Bell writes a crappy storyline, they can transcend his usual trash. Their romance would add a new layer to the Logan/Forrester entanglements.

    * Innovative storylines: As Stephanie recuperates, have Maggie come back to stay with her. Let it be revealed that Y&R’s Leanna Love is actually pretending to be Maggie (since Barbara Crampton played both roles). Nick and Stephen hire Leanna to spy on Stephanie and write a scathing tell-all about La Forrester since Leanna did the same to Victor. Leanna then discovers one of Stephanie’s secrets. Let Ashley reveal Leanna. Have Leanna become the new Editor of Eye on Fashion.

    * Remove the dead weight: Kill off Phoebe since she’s ruined by the incest “romance” with Rick; remove Bridget.

    * Permanently kill off Ridge: Ronn Moss is an inferior actor. Have Stephanie blame Brooke for Ridge’s death, thus adding a new dimension to their rivalry. Have Ridge leave his Marone stock, Forrester stock and all his money to Brooke, thus infuriating Stephanie and Taywhore.

    PS to MARLENA:

    How can I apply for a writing job at B&B? I went to the CBS website and there’s no link their for job opportunities. Do you know how I could apply?

    Marlena says: I never figured out exactly how soap writers were hired. As far as getting flowers sent to me by actors: it used to happen to moi all the time. But if their work was bad, I’d continue to call them on it.

  3. bakedghoti says:

    Oops, I forgot:

    Keep Alley Mills’ Ann Douglas! She’s priceless!!!!!!!!!

  4. indydavid says:

    I loved, loved, loved your ideas, bakedghoti!

    I wish TPTB would hire new blood – fans of the shows – who have ideas like this and can help make a show better.

  5. Blake says:

    I don’t watch B&B anymore, I’ll see it on tv from time to time and read news and happenings on the show, but I don’t watch it like I used to.

    And nice writeup. Bakedghoti! Now that I think about it B&B should takle those issues, especially being with the fashion industry. They need to have models as characters and have them deal with anorexia and bulumia and the pressures of weight (the people watching can certainly relate!)

    Plus I agree that there needs to be more people of color on B&B (and most soaps!), I don’t think even Brad Bell realizes how many non-white people watch B&B!
    And great idea to bring Drucilla there, since Y&R doesn’t want to use her (same as they did with Ashley). Dru would definately stir the pot!

  6. bakedghoti says:

    To indydavid and Blake:

    Thanks for the props!

    I would love to be Headwriter of B&B! Hahaha!

    Daytime lacks racial diversity, that’s for sure. The fact that Det. Baker is the first black male romantic lead on B&B after 20 years says it all!

  7. Cat says:

    Word word and WORD, Mr. Erwin. And thank you for writing about a show that does not get as much coverage as, say, GH, Days or Y&R.

    ITA with whoever said that Eileen Davidson is deserving of some major story tying her to the B&B canvas. I find that B&B has reinvigorated the character of Ashley and love watching her.

    Also WORD on the state of the “utility” players on the show. Of course, I appreciate B&B’s loyalty to its Core Four (or Core 6 if we include Taylor and NIck) but right now it is William deVry, Eileen Davidson, Lesli Kay, Winsor Harmon, Heather Tom, Jennifer Gareis and Alley Mills who are keeping me hooked. I love watching any scenes they are in — they even lift the filler to a higher standard. Special mention to Ashley Jones who is hard-working, understated and convincing as Bridget.

  8. Levi says:

    I feel that Stephanie needs a NEW man. Let Eric feel the jealousies in reverse that Stephanie had. For awhile, let their chracters switch to Eric being the neurotic and Stephanie the in charge sensible one (although eventually Steph can be a bitch again)!

    Now B&B is gambling with the sudden new faces (mostly new actors) of Beth, Marcus, Steffy, Owen. So far I like, but B&B is known for uneven weeks. One week it’s awesome and the next slow and ho-hum.

    I feel Jackie needs to be used and show the fashion rivalry. Jackie might not be as great as Sally but to show fashion exsists on the show there needs to be a fashion show soon.

    Right now, the B&B is on uneven ground. I am not getting into Katie/Nick/Bridget too much. I thought the prom scene was stupid. She is dying but she can dance the night away…please!

    Now I am liking the Beth story…so far. I like the new actress Robin Riker and I hope she stays awhile.

    I like Steffy’s sass too and I am growing on her and Marcus together. Although, they show them every day and that might not be good.

    Sexy Winsor Harmon doesn’t have nothing to do and he is a great actor. I am sorry but I need to see some more Thorne shirtless cause I think he is the sexiest man on the show. That’s my selfish want…lol.

    So B&B is always up and down but still remians in the top 2 in the ratings although the 18-49 demo might not be as good ratings wise. So I think appealing to fashion and family is what those men and women want to see. And of course romance which the show is lacking.

    This is a small cast….use them and not keep them all shelved! We don’t need the same six characters 5x a week when 14 of them are not used as much. Balance is all this show needs and it will be ok.

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