By Patrick Erwin
Three weeks ago, before it even debuted, I recommended giving Guiding Light‘s new production style a chance. After a week or so of shows, here are some first impressions:
THE GOOD: Some of the new sets read very nicely on screen. In particular, the outdoor sets and the larger sets look great. Many of the outdoor scenes do a good job of doing what this whole process should do: namely, open up the perspective on what you’re seeing without distracting you from what’s happening on screen.
For example, there was a scene last week with Josh and Reva at a bridge after Jonathan left town again, and it really worked well because it did seem so natural — absolutely true to life that Reva and Josh would have been on that road, trying to follow Jonathan as he was leaving, and natural that they would be talking there after giving up the chase. I appreciated the set-up without it taking me out of the moment.
It’s still winter, so some of the outdoor scenes were in surroundings that looked a little dingy. Marlena told me she and Moose coincidentally visit the area where the scenes are shot (Peapack, NJ) quite often; and that it becomes especially beautiful and pastoral in spring and summer. So the show should look more lush and cheerful soon.
The bigger indoor sets also played out very well on screen. I’m not a big fan of Natalia or Rafe, her mumbly son with the soon-to-exit Gus Aitoro, but I did like a scene that played on the first day with Natalia sitting in a church with Rafe (as Daisy comes by to meet him). It reminded me a lot of the kind of sets that I’ve seen in play on British soaps like Eastenders. Their sets included very utilitarian places, like the corner bar and a laundromat, that lended a sense of reality to the show but also allowed for characters to cross paths in very organic ways. The courtroom set, and the multilevel Spaulding sets, look very interesting on screen.
THE BAD: I realize that GL wants to maximize its options when it came to sets, and they get an A for effort. But I got as claustrophobic as Alan Spaulding during some of the scenes that played out in the smaller sets. Much was made of how some of the new studio-based sets use existing areas (like the producer’s office) for filming. But the smaller sets didn’t look very natural on screen. Part of it may have been the way it was filmed; I’m not sure how they were shot, but in a few of the tight indoor scenes (like Harley, Dinah, and Marina in the nail salon), it looked almost like the digital camera filmed each performer’s words and then edited them together (versus back and forth dialogue). The same jarring editing played out when we saw two characters (Jonathan and Lizzie) talking in a moving car. In any case, when the visual canvas is so small and the facial close-ups are so tight, the faces of the performers loom above you in a way that seems far more creepy than “warm and inviting.”
Some of the smaller sets were just deadly dull and looked awful on-screen. There was a scene with Jeffrey and demon seed Will, after Jeffrey intercepted Will’s theft of a Taser. I understand that the setting was the school for troubled boys where Will is enrolled, but the scene was shot in a big, nondescript hallway with white walls. The end result made it look like it was filmed on someone’s camera phone and played out more like something we’d see on a public access channel, not a daytime soap! I came away with that same feeling after seeing the all-white Lewis Construction break room. The white walls and nondescript white surroundings really washed out Kim Zimmer (Reva) and Robert Newman (Josh) and made them look dull and uninteresting.
THE UGLY: The first thing that came to mind on Day 1, after turning off my set, was not about the new snazzy sets. No, the first thing that came to mind was, “So, they’ve been planning this for a year, they’ve promoted the hell out of this for the last month, and this was what we got story-wise on Day One?”
I don’t know what factors went into the storyline, or perhaps didn’t go into the story (with the recent writer’s strike), but it was primarily a no-action day storywise. It seemed to be designed to invite new viewers in and keep it light and simple for them so they could catch on. But the only major story twist that happened was the non-wedding of Jonathan and Lizzie. The rest of the show was hard to get through.
And it may have been said before, but it bears repeating: All of the wonderful sets and sparkly production techniques cannot make up for a boring, uncaptivating story that does not respect the viewers or the show’s history. There are fits and spurts of life in Springfield yet — we still care about some of the characters and what happens to them– but strict reality will bore us, and GL, to death. As much as I like Robert Newman, watching Josh Lewis fix the fridge was not what any of us meant when we said we wanted more reality. We wanted real people with real histories we cared about, having relationships with characters that make sense (instead of pairings that seem to be drawn from a hat).
Finally, I have to say that I absolutely loathe the new theme song. It’s generic and screechy, and sounds like it came from a commercial for antidepressants or a cholesterol drug. I may be a traditionalist (I loved the theme that played through much of the 1980s, as well as the “Hold On To Love” theme), but I did really come to love the most recent show opening, reciting Irna Phillips’ original poem for the show:
“There is a destiny that makes us brothers / None goes his way alone / All that we send into the lives of others / Comes back into our own.”
Maybe that’s because the words of that poem represent the show that, for me, I know GL once was, and that I wish it would be again.