Thinking Fans Comment Update Aug. 28: Aaron enjoyed “1968” for its fun, escapism and heart … while Christian in Boston found the acting embarrassing … our own Soap Shrink discovered a compelling psychological adventure beneath the silliness … and more. See Comments below.
By Marlena De Lacroix
What did I do to deserve two Farah Faths on my TV screen? That’s what I thought last week when I tuned in One Life To Live to see a scene set in 1968, in which Rex (who was Bo) was in bed with Emma Bradley (Farah Fath), and in walked Gigi (Farah Fath), who had just journeyed back to that year a la Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future.
You have be an OLTL fan to understand all of the above. And even if you are, as I am, a regular viewer, the show’s six-week fantasy time travel story, in which the actors normally playing Bo, Rex, Gigi and other regular characters showed up as antecedent Buchanan family members circa 1968, seemed both charmless and nutsy. Why a soap in this minuscule-rated soap year would take such a huge risk to do a crazy time travel storyline like this during the crucial summer viewing months is beyond me.
Yes, the kickoff of this story (Bo and Rex get hit by lightning and are hurtled back to 1968, the year OLTL premiered) worked well as part of the two-part episode 40th anniversary celebration back in mid-July. But why oh why was it extended? It was some of the strangest soap I’ve seem since the early 80s when some soaps did teen/sci-fi storylines to mimic Luke and Laura’s on the run and Ice Princess adventures. Remember a real misfire on Texas circa 1982, an Indian-themed adventure story called “Hitopah”? My friend Chris, who actually loves shlocky soap sci-fi stories, said this OLTL story reminded him of some of the more way out Jim Reilly-brand stories on Passions. Also, remember just how bizarro some of the time travel stories were on Dark Shadows?
Well, the best that can be said about this OLTL story is that it was ambitious, and a daring try at being creative and imaginative. But it was a failure. Here’s why:
• Writing that lacked normal rhythm and clarity. The fanciful set-up for this story, the same as in Back to the Future, made the scripts clunky. Characters had to constantly explain who they and everyone else were. “She’s Olympia, not Lindsay,” the real Bo had to explain, for example And the explanations got so elaborate, many scenes felt like the infamous Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine. Bob Woods (Bo/Asa) and Rex (Bo) made great comic use of all the confusion, but after a while it just got to be a drag.
• Actors who can’t handle more than one part. How can I say this politely? If you have actors who can barely handle the one part they are playing on the show, why give them dual roles? Actors who are either solely former models, and/or are not trained actors, have limited reach! Fath (Gigi/Emma), John Brotherton (Jared/Clint) and especially Melissa Archer (Natalie/Maria) were just awful, and their 60s wigs and fake sideburns made it all a lot worse, almost tacky. The older actors handled the challenge better. I very much liked Loyita Chapel (Mrs. Bob Woods/Clint’s old girlfriend Dallas) as a young Renee. And Peter Bartlett (usually Nigel, the English butler) gave his Chuck Wilson a creative and off-Broadway-worthy acting twist by doing a broad, broad interpretation of Chuck, with a Wild West accent. (Bartlett is really American.)
• Questionable special casting. Yikes! I loved comedienne Lea Delaria in her 1999 OLTL stint helping Dorian conjure up the spirit of her dead husband Mel. But this time her acting as Delphina and Professor Del Fina was disappointingly weak, and the twin characters were given way too much air time.
• Budget. In order to do a storyline like this you need a big, big 1980s soap budget. The budget here was low to non-existent, and additional costumes and special sets would have done a lot to make the story more believable. I loved it in the recent anniversary episodes when Viki appeared in a Heaven that was just a bare stage but for filmy curtains. But the minimalist approach didn’t work well this time with the what should have been as vast as a Cinemascope 1968 storyline. Remember the real horses and Western town OLTL used when it first went back in time to Buchanan City in 1988?
Of course, there were some things that worked. John-Paul Lavoisier has certainly come a long way as a dramatic actor. Some of the closing reconciliation and love scenes between his Rex and Fath’s Gigi were very sweet, though not sweeping to overwhelming with emotion, as soap love scenes used to be in the old days. But Bob Woods had a fantastic scene with Phil Carey, as, after many many attempts over the years, Bo finally settled up with and said farewell to the ghost of his domineering, needling father Asa. It was heart-tugging to see Rex in Bo’s old Green Beret uniform, similar to the one worn proudly by the real Woods, back when he was actually in the war.
But regardless of the scant good moments, this 1968 story was such an unexpected bomb, especially after all the Ron Carlivati hype (and his Outstanding Writing Emmy!) I really have nothing against Farah Fath. She’s cute and charismatic, and she and equally cute and charismatic J.P. play the next big soap couple. But this Rex and Gigi pairing in this elaborate 1968 tale doesn’t tug at my heart, not like soap couples of old who had must-see soap romances, created with the highest of professional theatrical standards, a decent budget and authentically wise and heavily experienced soap writing and acting.