By Marlena De Lacroix
You ever think you’re going to hate something and you wind up liking it? I certainly chortled when I heard jail-bound Erica Kane on All My Children was going to escape from the cops during a police van crash and go on the run handcuffed to a bank robber named … Sugar.
Some AMC writer has to be an old movie fan, I thought! The Defiant Ones is a 1958 movie in which convicts Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis go on the run chained to one another after escaping following a train crash). And Sugar? Darlings, how many times we all seen Jack Lemmon/Tony Curtis in the 1959 drag comedy classic Some Like it Hot, in which Marilyn Monroe plays a sexy/sweet band singer named … Sugar.
I have a theory who that 1950s movie fan/AMC writer might be … but more on that shortly.
I actually thought Erica and Sugar were quite fun together all of last week. The Rosie Perez-flavored Sugar (whose given name is Carmen Morales) is a real shot of energy for AMC and the debuting Elizabeth Rodriguez a refreshing acting partner for Susan Lucci. Anyone who thought Sugar was an ethnic stereotype was proven wrong when Sugar turned out to be a fully-rounded human being.
This being a soap, before the second day was over, Erica and Sugar had confided in each other about their love lives. Sugar’s love Mondo had staged a bank robbery and he had left her literally holding the bag, and she’s fighting mad at him. Erica told her the story of herself and Jack (with lots of flashbacks).
“I saw the way that man at the police station looked at you, and he really loves you,” said Sugar. “Compared to him, Mondo is spit….” Now, if a soap character uses the word “spit” like that and Marlena still wants to stay tuned in, that’s really saying something.
The on-the-run sequence hasn’t been rollickingly funny, but at least it was an attempt at humor, something we’ve rarely seen the character of Erica do for a long time. (And her dear comic galpal Opal hardly appears anymore!). What made AMC my favorite for decades was its sense of humor, sometimes a very sophisticated sense of humor, sometimes a campy one. It’s that campy humor ingeniously mixed with a still human character that made Susan Lucci’s Erica the most popular character on soaps for decades. All hail Lucci, but Erica hasn’t had the opportunity to be truly funny or light in her very own storyline for at least 15 years. The endless troubles of those two albatross-y daughters Bianca and Kendall! Dudley Do Right Jack!
Yes, it’s about time to freshen Erica! I think the whole storyline starting with Erica’s conviction of Martha Stewart-style insider trading and her new association with Sugar is meant to give the character back her badly needed solo spotlight. And, as I read it, it may be attempt to show why Erica became the most popular character on soaps over the earlier decades of the show. A lot of young viewers who started watching in the 90s have no idea why the now pain in the butt mini-skirted mogul momma was once daytime’s Numero Uno.
That’s probably why during the on-the-run sequences, Erica told Sugar the story of her life, strategically recalling many by-gone eras (with lotsa of great flashbacks), including her early days with Jack. What a treat, since Erica’s history hasn’t been mentioned in years.
When Sugar asked her if she had ever killed a man, Erica told the early 80s story of her accidental murder of her lover Kent Bogard. When Erica was telling the Kent story, I began thinking …
Agnes, is that you? Who else is left at AMC, other than Lucci herself, who knows Erica’s history? I began to theorize that Agnes is writing this story. After all, Nixon’s greatest creation was Erica, and during her long and glorious tenure at the show’s helm, she wrote all of Erica’s stories. Speaking of Erica and Sugar, Ms Nixon loved to pair characters from different social strata like grande dame Phoebe and chauffeur Benny, and former hooker Donna and doctor Chuck. Plus, she’s renowned for writing ethnic/racial characters (think Jesse and Angie) who are fully-rounded human beings, not stereotypes.
Hey, didn’t I fantasize back in a column when Angie and Jesse came back to the show that Nixon was involved in bringing them back? Lo and behold, there were many rumors she was consulting on that story. And two weeks ago ABC released a picture of the now 80-year-old Nixon backstage with her good friend Warren Buffet, who is guest starring again. He’ll visit fellow business mogul Erica when she gets to jail.
Did the “retired” Nixon really create the Sugar and Erica story ? It’s just an educated guess. But I can tell you from the many interviews I did with Nixon years ago, she’s not the kind of person who would let Erica or her master soap creation AMC go down in flames with the rest of the now low-rated ABC soaps if she could help it. Her will of steel — and more — is Erica’s!