The “New” All My Children, Part 1 — Lifting the Fog of Stupidity

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Thinking Fans Comment Update: EricMontreal22, once horrified by Pratt’s arrival, is now “pleasantly thrilled” … likewise Donna L. Bridges, though still wary of Pratt, yells “Yippeee!” … but Cate disdains the suggestion of a  Reese bisexual romance storyline. See Comments below. 

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By Marlena De Lacroix     

A few weeks ago I realized I was receiving one of my best ever Christmas presents. I was watching All My Children and I realized, after twelve long miserable years out in the cold, I finally want to watch my old favorite show regularly again!

As I described in Take Me Home to Pine Valley, I’d  been alienated from my beloved AMC since 1996, when gimmick-mad, plot-driven headwriter Megan McTavish took over the show and filled it with empty-headed characters (like Ryan, soap opera’s most vanilla hero);  the dorkiest, most repetitive plots (all those kidnappings of Bianca’s and Kendall’s babies, and, worst of all, the dumbest, most superficial 

Although the show is far from great, or even good, after only three months with (Charles) Pratt at the helm, at least we have a headwriter who is actually thinking.

women (Greenlee and everyone else at Fusion.). How I longed for all the years going back to the 1970 premiere, when show was still written by Agnes Nixon, and later by such great writers as Wisner Washam and Lorraine Broderick.  I loved AMC!  The show was so intelligent, the women so smart and purposeful.  AMC was truly funny and occasionally campy, and it  always had heart.

Then slowly  — since October, as new headwriter Charles Pratt made his way through the introductory tornado stunt and into everyday scripts — it seems as if the fog of stupidity is finally lifting from Pine Valley.

Sure, show-hogging Ryan and Greenlee are still there, but at least they’re being subjected to campy torture by the divinely mad, bloody-knife-wielding “bride” Annie (Melissa Claire Egan, an Emmy winner, if ever I saw one). And for the first time there seems to be air in the room that is recognizably Pine Valley-fresh. Genuinely sexy, evil (and  psycho) Dr. David came back, agilely seducing fair maidens like Amanda,  again spiking drinks, like Krystal’s.  (Is it me, or is his villainy darker than ever?) Best of all for me,  Thorsten KayeZach was unmoored from the smother love of Kendall (who was in a coma), freeing classical actor Thorsten Kaye (I adore him) to do what he does best, namely recite long, sorrowful monologues, odes to lost love. I expected “Brown Penny” to pass his lips at any minute. (That’s the poem Kay recited often when he played Patrick on One Life to Live).

Although the show is far from great, or even good, after only three months with Pratt at the helm, at least we have a headwriter who is actually thinking. Refreshingly, he’s giving great actors like Vincent Irizarry and Kaye material that plays to their  strengths. He’s reviving and reshaping major characters by making the audience see them through another character’s eyes.  The best example of this is setting up a “romance” between long-ago spouses Adam and Erica.   Through Adam’s eyes, we see what the young, original Erica was: a character who was funny, smart, charming and just old plain beguiling, no matter how self-centered she was.  And through Erica’s eyes, we see an Adam who is so much more than a villainous brute — someone who has charm, delights in her beauty, and can actually have a good intention or two.

To reframe characters like these, most headwriters probably would thrust them into an action-adventure story and instantly transform their personalities, most likely into people the audience doesn’t recognize.  Pratt has avoided this cheap shot approach, and to his credit, it’s paid off.Eden Riegel

Pratt also used the “through the eyes of” technique when he introduced Bianca’s girlfriend Reese into Pine Valley. Through Tamara Braun’s own big brown eyes, Reese spent her first few weeks silently observing everyone in Bianca’s life.  I loved the day Erica showed up at Bianca’s place and learned Reese and Bianca were engaged.  “Oh, I have to throw a big, big, wedding for you two,”  Erica gushed, simultaneously showing both her egalitarian loving heart and her Entertainment Tonight celebrity-esque exhibitionist streak.

Pratt has impressed me as a writer so far, not with the flashy tornado, but with the small things.  I loved the way that before we knew Tamara Braunanything much about Reese’s “secret” and her parents, there were at least a dozen quiet scenes of her and Bianca hanging out with Miranda and the new baby.  Yes, a loving family headed by two women, enjoying everyday life right here on daytime television. It wasn’t anything flashy. Instead, it was a quiet statement of what AMC is now — and also used to be in the days under soap social issue story innovator Agnes Nixon (who did dozens of cause stories on AMC, including stories of AIDS and wife beating).

As in the old days of All My Children, better scripts have unleashed some amazing acting.  Braun and Emmy winner Eden Reigel were both electric and profound in today’s scene in which Reese denied being bisexual to Bianca, and Bianca talked about her own painful romantic past. Reese is lying, as we just saw Reese’s dad recall her past engagement — to a man.  Marlena can’t wait for Reese’s inevitable romance with Zach.  Kaye, Braun, Reigel — in addition to the breakthrough bisexual angle of the story being a publicity grabber, the performances of these three excellent actors  promise to be the acting trifecta of 2009′s soap year.

My old friend pjs, another AMC lifer who chose to watch during the awful years, calmly listened to all the reasons I personally find AMC watchable again.  “Yes,” he agreed, “the writing is a lot better and the town at least feels like a community again. But Pratt hasn’t found the heart of Pine Valley yet ”

“No, I totally disagree, pjs, “ I said.   ”They are right there on-screen, the most unlikely characters … and I’ll tell you who they are next time.” 

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Friday: The New All My Children, Part 2 – Finding the Heart(s) of Pine Valley

Comments

  1. Skylar says:

    Marlena, I had to take off AMC for about a month (darn final exams), but I came back this week and was pleasantly surprised at some of what I’m finding. Yesterdays scenes at the Chandler mansion with Erica moving in were absolutely brilliant – just the type of humor that this show had been lacking for quite some time.

    I can’t wait to see part 2 of this article, because I want to know who you think the heart and soul of the show lies in. I have my own ideas, but it would be interesting to see if we agree.

    Marlena says: LOL, Skylar, I couldn’t wait to finish grading the final papers of my students to write this column. In part 2, I’ll have some comments about the humor on the show.

  2. Cate says:

    “Marlena can’t wait for Reese’s inevitable romance with Zach. Kaye, Braun, Reigel — in addition to the breakthrough bisexual angle of the story being a publicity grabber, the performances of these three excellent actors promise to be the acting trifecta of 2009’s soap year!”

    I have to respectfully disagree. I don’t want to see Zach and Reese in a romance. This storyline should be about Bianca whose romantic life has been neglected and badly written too often in the past. The writers have promised a groundbreaking love story for Bianca but instead we’ve seen as much if not more of Reese and Zach than Bianca and Reese. I don’t think it’s grounbreaking and it’s made it hard to root for Bianca and Reese as a couple. Who, IMHO, are who they should be trying to get us to root for. I’ve come across few fans, especially Zendall and Bianca fans, who like where this storyline seems to be going. Most are disappointed.

    I can say, however that I agree about Pratt has done with Erica and Adam.I’ve been really loving them both since he tookover. He seems to get Erica more than B & E did.He also hads added depth to Adam. I hope he continues with their possible romance between them.They are really fun and entertaining in their scenes together. I love Jackson but if he and Erica can’t be together than Adam and Erica should.

    I have mixed opinions on what he’s given David to do. David is an interesting and fun but I feel he’s lost some of his complexity. Maybe its just that he used to have more people around who he loved and it was easy to see more sides to him through those relationships. But I’m still interested to see where this stoyline is going and I’m all for conflict between him and Tad.

    Marlena says: Oh Cate, I definitely respect your opinion about keeping the romance between Bianca and Reese. That would be the right thing to do. But this is a soap opera, and worse, an ABC soap opera which in these desperate for ratings times can’t be expected to do more than create storylines which are attention-getting and “daring.” I have to admit my anticipation of a Bianca-Reese-Zach triangle is based more on the fantastic acting possibillities than politics.

    If you’re familiar with all the controversy going on at the other ABC soaps (OLTL=sexism over Todd raping Marty twice, GH=violence, mob style over and over again for the last decade) then you’ll see why I’m certain AMC is going the bisexual route. Plus, the show has been alluding to an attraction between Reese and Zach for the past two weeks.

  3. Donna L. Bridges says:

    I have an almost total feeling of agreement, jumping up and down, waving and shooting off firecrackers and yelling Yippeeee!! The very little that is not that total embracing of every word you’ve said, exactly as you’ve said them has to do with (1) the fact that I remain leery of Pratt. The tornado worked against some things, if you ask me, and it didn’t sell me on anything or make me want to see more of that! And, so, I am afraid to let go and be happy with Pratt, nervously wondering if they will try that kind of big event or those many event event event driven stories that they could, and worrying for what might come up in February sweeps! I realize that you apparently were not keen on the tornado either, so we’re not far apart there, even on that “Item 1″ of mine. And, my (2) is that Reese was clear with Bianca today that she (Reese) is not a bisexual, which is what I’ve been reading from her all along.

    And, just for added emphasis, I am in love with the very authenticity of the relationship between Bianca and Reese and their girls and all of the storyline aspects so far. I am scarily fearless about it, too. If they put Reese together with Zach it would be appalling. For one, I’m in love with Team Slater, but, they do not have to be free of conflicts for me to continue to root for them. And, for two, since Reese is so clearly a lesbian rather than a bisexual (not that there’s anything wrong with that — being bisexual) it damages this being the first truly happy (for a time since this is a soap) unambiguous love relationship that Bianca has had! Oh, no, not that! Puhlease!! They have plenty of genuine real life and soap conflict without it being a woman who leaves Bianca and goes to a man.

    And I must confess that during the bad times, I left, I came back, and I repeated that over and over again. Now, I’ve been here since Angie returned, with no thought of taking this grand dame off of the TiVo! I loved Original Greenlee. I hate Fusion. I began hating Greenlee some time in there, which was a big shame. I’ve hated Ryan for years. I last liked him with Gillian, which is a long time. And, they way they play him constantly just makes that deeper & worse.

    Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I am very moved by your words. They make me think and pull my own thoughts and feelings together!

  4. Cate says:

    Marlena, I think the Reese/Bianca storyline could bring in ratings on its own if told right. I don’t doubt that AMC is going the bisexual route I just don’t agree with it. It’s cheap and it’s alienating some rather large fanbases. Bianca fans are tired of her sexually ambiguous love interests and want her with someone they can trust. It seems like Reese is really in love with Bianca but this thing with Zach is going to make it hard to be happy for Bianca if they do go through with the gay wedding. Bianca’s wedding should be a beautiful and positive event, not something we feel ambivalent or negative about. I know whatever happens between Zach and Reese won’t last but I don’t want to see Bianca’ family destroyed for a cheap stunt. That’s a really sad way to tell what should be a positive story.

  5. I missed many years of AMC due to my day job. I remember I watched the first episodes when Erica was anything but a lead heroine, so imagine my surprise when years later, I started telecommuting and Erica was the grand pubah of characters. My father who was retired adored her.

    I enjoy her with Adam, but not so much any other time. Mostly I find her character despicable, but at least the humor is a VERY nice relief.

    As for Vincent Irizarry — swoon. I’m so glad to see him back on an ABC soap. This multi-talented actor has given us a character who’s complex and dynamic. For some reason I sit back and chuckle as he continually lands on his feets like a cat–make that a panther. I hope at some point they will allow his character to regain some of the humanity, he’s always possessed. I don’t see him as a psycho, but fairly antisocial and narcicisstic. Still Irizarry is must-watch television: he’s sooooo good at being bad.

  6. Cher Liu says:

    I have to disagree with wanting Reese to be bisexual and going for Zach. For one, I will take TB’s word and her strong passion as she has stated that she only signed to play a lesbian role and her own belief in telling a deserving lesbian story. I understand this is a soap opera, but AMC has always been about social issues. Reese’s story represents many lesbians who come out only to be rejected by their family. To have her character disowned because she came out as a lesbian, only to have with her with Zach, is appalling. Besides they already had a bisexual character in Maggie. I respect your opinion, but I don’t know if AMC understands how important the Bianca/Reese story is to many people. Ratings is one thing but making a difference in people’s lives is another.

    Marlena says: Sure, Cher, I totally, totally respect your opinion! The problem is ABC has proven in the past it doesn’t care what fanbases it is offends as long as they get ratings and publicity out of it. The next couple of months should be very interesting in the Bianca/Reese story! As you said, I fully recognize this is a story which has a profound meaning in viewers’ lives.

    BTW, was Maggie’s bisexuality ever depicted on the show with her having an on-screen relationship with a man? There were long periods I was not watching AMC, and may have missed this …

  7. EricMontreal22 says:

    So nice that we agree! I remember a while back I said even when Pratt came on in August suddenly we had humour in many of the scripts–something that’d been missing from AMC for years. I was horrified at the choice of Pratt being hired on “my” show–I honestly thougth he’d do even worse than the last stints we’ve had–I expected Zack to become a mobster, or… Who knows, but I must concede I’ve been pleasantly thrilled.

    No, as you say, it’s not yet great or even always good, but I guess us AMC fans take what we can get — and to have a soap that more oftne than not makes sense to me, has characters I enjoy watching who do actions that *make sense*, has humour, some awesome dialogue writing (when Kate Hall’s name is on the opening credits as scriptwriter I know we’ll get at least one great scene) and I finally look forward to watching while I’m at work–it’s made me a happy fan.

    There are still major problems of course, several I think are ones that originate with the network and Frons. I love crazy Annie but find her Oak Haven situation with no sexurity too unrealistic for me, there are some wasted characters, some plto points that still make me scratch my head. But when all is said and done–I agree completely with your post. It made me proud to see Agnes on her creation last month and I look forward to Myrtle funeral episode–with kleenexes nearby.

    Marlena says: Eric, dear, we are united by our love of the old show, so Pratt must be doing something right! In Part 2 of this column, I’ll be writing more about the echoes of the old show visible in Pratt’s work. But who knows? Network interference is always a wild card with ABC Daytime. But I suspect there’s someone formidable at the show standing guard against the horrors of Frons. Part 2 goes up tomorrow.

  8. Cher says:

    Marlena, thank you for the response. Maggie was the character confused with her sexuality. She had boyfriends on the show, including Johnathon Lavery. But, she had feelings for Bianca as well. They had Maggie and Bianca kiss and then had Maggie turn around and say she is not gay. In the end, though, Maggie and Bianca left for Paris only for Bianca to come back to Pine Valley and say that Maggie cheated on her with another woman. AMC never had Maggie state she was a lesbian or bisexual, but I would consider her a bisexual character for the show.

    The Bianca/Reese storyline is just very important for me, because I love AMC, but there has never been a couple that I have been passionate about before. I understand what AMC has done in the past with Bianca, but it is really tiring to have lesbian characters on T.V always in the end turn to a man. I cannot express how much the Zach issue bothers me. It would just be demeaning to me personally for AMC to think about doing that. Bianca/Reese can have many conflicts that do not concern a man. I don’t mean to get upset but for once there is a couple on AMC that I and many others can relate to.

  9. Cate says:

    “Was Maggie’s bisexuality ever depicted on the show with her having an on-screen relationship with a man? There were long periods I was not watching AMC, and may have missed this …(quote)

    We saw her with men before Bianca but not after. She cheated on Bianca with a woman and that’s what ended their relationship. I’m not sure she ever explicitly stated what her sexual identity was.

    Frankly, Reese’s possible bisexuality and maybe even heterosexuality has taken me out of this storyline. I no longer enjoy Reese and Bianca’s scenes and can’t take any of their affectionate moments seriously. They’re not a real gay couple, just an obstacle for Zendall. I think if they go the route of having Reese being bisexual and into Zach, or worse, straight, it will have a very negative impact. It would only re-enforce negative attitudes and stereotypes about same-sex families and couples.

  10. esther says:

    Marlena, I wish the show was as good as your column made it seem. One problem I had with the Bianca/Reese/Zach/Baby story is it would have been more powerful to me (and less icky, come on!) if the baby was actually Reese’s biologically, not Bianca’s (course, i don’t watch carefully anymore so if that IS the case, feel free to correct me). Granted seeing Bianca give birth is a bigger deal/reveal, so maybe if they’d said Reese couldn’t carry so Bianca did and they wanted her to belong to them both….but having Bianca have Zach’s kid just has so much icky to me — that she would do that to her sister after all that went down with keeping Spike a secret and how that destroyed Greenlee/Kendall….just didn’t make any sense to me. Why would either Zach or Bianca risk losing Kendall’s love or hurting her like that?

    Marlena says: I agree with you totally, darling. Ick! Ick! Ick! I’ve actually mentioned the same story problem in Part 2.

  11. Donna says:

    I still don’t think AMC is anywhere close to having its heart back. Too many characters and stories I don’t care about and too many people not being seen that I do care about. Where are Jack and Tad? I adore those two men but Pratt apparently doesn’t. Strike one against him.

    I love A/E as frenemies but the thought of real romance between them makes me ill. Their magic is their frenemie relationship. Don’t take it any further. I think Erica and Jack have the magic romantically as does Adam and Krystal. Strike two.

    As to David being a one-note villain: I can’t stand the sight of him. They should have matched him up with Annie, who is dark just like him, but this continual drugging of women to manipulate them emotionally and physically is beyond sick and twisted and it’s rape, IMO. Strike Three.

    Pratt is not a writer for daytime. He does not know the meaning of true romance and all he cares about are the dark characters. That’s not what will draw me back to this show.

  12. Laura says:

    I for one hope they do not go the route of Reese and Zach. For one, it will mean that ABC copped out on what they were promising to be a “groundbreaking” lesbian love story by proving they are too chicken to have it be just about two women in love. Do they think viewers won’t watch? That in order to make it palatable they have to insert a man? Well they don’t give the viewers enough credit.

    Second, since it seems likely that Bianca and Reese are both not going to be in PV for the long term, if they do a bisexual thing with Reese it will only be a stunt, with no real story or anything meaningful behind it. And Pratt promised when he took over that he wanted to go back to real, character driven storylines that people could get invested in and not just stunt stories for the short term shock value.

    I will be very, very, very disappointed in AMC if they go that route for the reasons I listed above. It will prove that both Pratt and TPTB are chicken and that not only do they not give a hoot about the fanbases, but they don’t give a hoot about their viewers in general. It’s no wonder the viewers are leaving, why stay when you know no one cares about what you want to see?

  13. Nancy Jo says:

    I only agree in part- the part about that wonderful, gorgeous, sexy man that I also adore- TK! Now I don’t consider Kendall smothering & I consider Zach & Kendall together to be the greatest daytime love story that I’ve ever seen & I hope it never ends. If it does, then I may gone forever because they are what I’m watching for & why I’m still hanging around. Kendall completes Zach & as Myrtle would tell you, he needs her in his life & he loves her so. They are what I consider real romance & love in the afternoons. I am waiting with baited breath for the day they are back together & I find the very mention of some sordid affair between Zach & Reese to be almost as unconcienable as the initial baby-daddy donation act.
    Aside from that little bombshell, I would always agree with you that TK has never been used to his great strengths as a classically trained actor & it’s a real shame because he is so very talented. What we need is much more of Zach!

  14. Ruth says:

    The fact that Pratt put Zach in the middle of his “ground breaking” story turned me against Reese an Bianca as a couple. Why did Zach have to be the bio-dad? Why couldn’t they have discussed it with Kendall first? and if Zach was only going to be the uncle, why did Bianca every chance she got remind him that Gabby was his?? And all you have to do is ask and she’ll tell you Zach is the daddy,( but only she and Zach were suppose to know until Kendall was told) and what was the big hurry to have a family with Reese when apparently she knew NOTHING about her?? This story sucks and I can’t wait for them to go back to Paris..and for Pratt to go back to GH, the mob needs him.

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