By Marlena De Lacroix
Bonjour, everyone. This November will mark 20th anniversary of my becoming Marlena De Lacroix, soap critic. Marlena’s mission has always been to write the truth as I see it, no matter how impolitic.
But now, for me — I repeat, for me — it’s clear that we’ve reached the end stage of network daytime soap opera, a medium we have watched forever and loved so much. Perhaps that’s why I find watching soaps and writing criticism so difficult
For years, we’ve watched and believed plots that would be unlikely or even ridiculous if they actually happened. But the secret of great soap opera is that the best and brightest writers knew how to craft and pace storylines so that they were EMOTIONALLY believable. Not any more. Not now!
right now. Fans, posters and columnists are angry and hurt. A critic can beat soaps with a baseball bat every single week, but what’s the point? I used to write about soaps because they were fun to write about, sheer joy! Now, watching these shows’ desperate struggle to survive agonizes me.
So here are my thoughts on the painful soap world events and stories of the past few weeks:
The usual flow of actors coming and going, joining shows and leaving shows has become hyper-manic. The last two weeks saw at least a dozen exits and entrances and role switches by such big names as Sarah Brown (General Hospital to The Bold and the Beautiful); the shocking upcoming exits of megastars Eric Braeden (The Young and the Restless) and Thorsten Kaye (All My Children), and the bombshell that James Franco is coming to General Hospital for a limited stay. All this makes for exciting everyday internet fodder, but in the grand scheme of things, it is NOT good news.
What the industry is mostly doing (except for Franco) is rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic, hoping for survival. Every show seems to be hiring, looking for quick ratings hikes, and some shows are actually throwing Hail Mary passes in hope of a miracle. Others are betting the entire history and character of their show on a few really shocking stories. A few are good. But more are awful and some are entirely self-defeating. The Titanic just keeps on sinking.
The era of desperation has rendered the “reality” of some soap unbelievable, even for a soap fan who, like me, has accepted everything on every soap over for decades. In the last two weeks on Y&R, we’ve had a baby switch, powered by a fake baby death and a hysterical pregnancy; the needless operatic death of a very young woman, dying because of the actions of a longago evil, now ‘good’ leading man and a lady psycho, while another brave young woman is continuing to recover from an ovarian cancer operation. (Little Summer is still mysteriously ‘brain damaged.’) Meanwhile, the shot and dying (and now guilty) leading man needs a heart transplant, the source of the heart being argued over by warring families. And then there’s another death and the transplant. All this in TWO WEEKS! This is way beyond the usual intensity of November sweeps. It’s October insanity!
Years ago, this would be enough story to power four years of any soap. I don’t believe in the “reality” of this soap any more. I don’t care how absolutely beautifully a number one rated soap like Y&R is produced and acted. I have to believe a soap opera’s reality is somewhat plausible in order to enjoy it. Y&R is helter skelter! Other soaps are doing exactly the same thing — speeding up their storylines and piling on many storyline climaxes all at once, their stories are becoming impossible to buy. We are, after all, thinking fans.
For years, we’ve watched and believed plots that would be unlikely or even ridiculous if they actually happened. (Classic examples: back from the dead, the baby she forgot she gave birth to, the here-to-for unknown twin, the interrupted wedding.) But the secret of great soap opera is that the best and brightest writers knew how to craft and pace storylines so that they were EMOTIONALLY believable. (And long ago, the network still let them do this.) Not any more. Not now!
I’ve been watching and believing soaps faithfully for decades! I’ve always believed. In this Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque speeded-up soap world, I don’t believe anymore. And if we, the most faithful fans of soap opera, don’t believe, the end is coming faster than anyone realizes.