By Patrick Erwin
Soap fans and critics alike complain loudly when we encounter the overused soap plotline. We can see most of them coming from a mile away!
We know, for example, that one woman, plus two men, multiplied by a short period of time = “Who’s the daddy” story. It seems like a good third of all soap characters have discovered heretofore unknown children, and some lucky lottery winners (Guiding Light‘s Reva, One Life To Live‘s Viki, All My Children‘s Erica and As the World Turns‘ John Dixon) have found more than one along the way!
And yet, every once in a while, even the oldest cliché in the book really works as a story. Recently a few shows have put a new shine on old chestnuts, with entertaining results.
Back from the Dead: Jesse, AMC. Characters coming back from the dead is one of the oldest soap clichés, and one that often doesn’t work. AMC tried to revive the formerly-dead Maria, then Dixie, with far less success. And I couldn’t imagine a character less likely to be revived than Jesse, who had been “dead” for more than 20 years. We saw die on screen! And yet, despite all those potential negatives, this story just worked beautifully for several reasons. One, of course, was the great performances by Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan. The writing was also beautiful and historically accurate (and as Marlena has theorized, was perhaps guided by the hand of Agnes Nixon herself). But perhaps most importantly, fans embraced Jesse (and Angie) and loved and accepted this idea in a way I don’t remember seeing recently on any soap.
The Evil Twin: Jeffrey, The Young and the Restless. In Ted Shackleford’s original go-around as William Bardwell, he made only a minor impact on Genoa City, and the biggest impact Will made was his exit. When CBS and Y&R decided to bring Shackleford back, the writers used the old evil-twin trick and brought on the character of Jeffrey. Talk about night and day! Shackleford is clearly having a blast playing Jeffrey, and has shown a mischievous and evil side we never saw in Will Bardwell (or in Gary Ewing)! The character of Jeff is a great foil for Judith Chapman’s Gloria, and often gives the over-the-top Gloria much needed humanity. Shackleford was hysterically funny in his recent performances, when Jeffrey was fighting over the Abbott mansion with Gloria, Jack, and Sharon. This is one evil twin who is far more interesting than the original!
Paternity Puzzles: Jared, Charlie, Rex and Shane, OLTL. One of the guiltiest clichés in Storyland is when paternity of a given character is in doubt. It’s one of the easiest plots for lazy writers to co-opt and graft onto a story. OLTL has had a paternity-palooza, hiding the true identities of Jared and Shane’s fathers, and creating a connection between Charlie and Rex (that may or may not be real). I’ve liked these storyline twists and turns. They’re clever ideas that bring Charlie (and Brian Kerwin) into the action in Llanview. The story gave Charlie and Jared, two newbies, a connection that made sense. And more than anything, it’s given Llanview an infusion of entertaining, fun male characters who aren’t the Dukes of Darkness (John, Todd, and Antonio).
I may be a traditionalist, but I’m hardly encouraging shows to embrace clichés. (We have a much poorer version of paternity blues to look forward to on GL, with the Bill/Ava/Lizzie mess.) But when interesting characters and good writing meet, even the oldest plots in the book can seem fresh and exciting