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.
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, Zach 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.
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 anything 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.”
Friday: The New All My Children, Part 2 — Finding the Heart(s) of Pine Valley