One Life to Live: Still Surprising After All These Years

By Ed Martin

One Life to Live showed me something last week that I haven’t seen in 30 years of soap viewing: A mass wedding of two dozen gay couples. This show has pushed the envelope in a number of crazy ways since the ‘70s, sending its characters to heaven, to an underground city and careening through time. What a pleasure it was 

OLTL‘s comedic elements are greatly appreciated and should not be taken for granted. Daytime executives and show-runners seem to have forgotten that funny characters and comic set pieces were de rigueur during the glory years of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, the two soaps that commanded the largest young audiences (while keeping veteran viewers engaged, as well) during the genre’s heyday.

to see the show execute a storyline that was out of the ordinary without being out of this world. It was a stunt, to be sure, but despite certain controversial undertones it made for a rich viewing experience laced with drama, comedy and romance.

One of the best things about this event was the way in which it became a point of intersection for several characters’ stories, advancing some of them while OLTLenhancing others. That is the kind of outstanding story

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SURPRISE SMOOCH:  Scott Evans as Oliver Fish (left), Brett Claywell as Kyle Lewis

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construction those of us who continue to complain about the critical condition of soaps today versus the ‘70s and ‘80s used to enjoy on a regular basis.

But the thing I will remember most about it — indeed, about much of OLTL last week — is the fun I had watching the eccentric characters and moments of inspired humor that were sprinkled throughout some otherwise very serious drama. That fun included Marco and Cole pretending to be gay in response to nasty comments from people who had gathered to protest the ceremony, Roxy (the invaluable Ilene Kristen) planting a big smooch on the loudest and most obnoxious female protester (played by Xanadu scene-stealer Jackie Hoffman) and the woman’s brief spontaneous smile that followed, and David’s goofy anxiety when forced to watch his beloved Dorian prepare to marry a woman simply to try and win the support of the town’s gay and lesbian community in its mayoral election. (Tuc Watkins, as the dim, dashing, manipulative cad David Vickers, is this show’s most important comic asset. What a shame that he isn’t utilized to similar humorous effect in the role of gay lawyer Bob Hunter on Desperate Housewives.)

Meanwhile, in a separate storyline, there was more unexpected humor in the introduction of Neville, the new butler for the London-based Buchanans and the cousin of the family’s all-knowing and ever-wise stateside manservant Nigel Bartholomew-Smythe. Peter Bartlett, who plays both roles, was clearly having a ball, especially when made up as the bespectacled, big-toothed Neville, who could pass for Austin Powers’ older brother. (Note from Marlena:   My beagle puppy Nigel Bartholomew Smythe –lovingly named in honor of both the original American character and his portrayer, Peter Bartlett — ran and hid under my couch when he saw Brit  Neville and his buck teeth!)

Given the arch seriousness of so many soap stories today, on OLTL and elsewhere, all of these comedic elements were greatly appreciated and should not be taken for granted. Daytime executives and show-runners seem to have forgotten that funny characters and comic set pieces were de rigueur during the glory years of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, the two soaps that commanded the largest young audiences (while keeping veteran viewers engaged, as well) during the genre’s heyday.

I’d also like to compliment OLTL for the seemingly effortless diversity of its multi-generational canvas and storytelling. It is damn near impossible to watch an entire episode of this show and not see people of different age groups and ethnic backgrounds caught up in the drama of it all (outlandish, intimate or otherwise) while being true to their particular social, cultural and economic backgrounds.

And speaking of sublime narrative inclusiveness, I’m half hoping that young Matthew never gets out of his wheelchair. I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I would like to see the OLTL producers and writers rise to the challenge of continuously creating compelling stories for a physically challenged character as he matures from adolescence to adulthood.

From what I have seen in their handling of sensitive gay issues I am certain they are up to the task. I also hope they will keep young medical technician Kyle Lewis and intrepid officer Oliver Fish (very well played by Brett Claywell and Scott Evans, respectively) on their canvas and continue to find ways to integrate an adult gay couple into the ongoing action. This could do a lot to draw in young viewers who have grown up watching the inclusive drama of MTV’s The Real World – or those who have grown tired of the relative dullness of the Luke and Noah story over on As the World Turns.

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Ed Martin is a veteran television journalist who writes for many national publications and websites. He blogs regularly at mediabizblogger.com.

Comments

  1. Jimmy says:

    I find OLTL to be a daily (okay, nightly due to SoapNet) destination these days. It took ten years (and several failed attempts) but I managed to find a soap that gives me nearly as much satisfaction as my dearly-departed _Another World_. As you said, it is nice to see characters of diverse backgrounds interacting, and although the show has a few characters that I don’t really care for (every show has them, even in their best times), there many more that I tune in to see. It’s also admirable that the producers manage to turn out a great-looking product despite the increasing budget cuts. I hope their move to larger facilities is a sign that ABC really cares about keeping it on the air, because their lead-out and their lead-in programs are…well, there is room for much improvement.

  2. Marilyn Henry says:

    How nice to read some positive things about OLTL, which is, in my opinion, using all the best componates of soap opera to make a very watchable show. We still get to see our favorite vets, Viki and Dorian, and they actually have stories most of the time, we also the younger crowd, and the teens, and all in-between ages, plus wonderful secondary actors. Not every actor is Emmy-worthy, but many are, and that makes good watching, for the most part (Wasn’t Charlie wonderful the other day!?) . And we actually have humor as well.
    Okay, some of the stories are a bit outlandish, but I’d rather have that than the one-story-all-the time about two-or-three-main-characters format that some other soaps have fallen into. Soaps are on every day, all year long, so it is easy to quickly over-expose an actor who is on day in and day out with one main story and only a couple of sidekicks. That is SO just plain tedious.
    Best of all, I can actually LIKE most of the characters on OLTL ( unlike a certain other, dark and dreary soap I seem to be tied to by habit).

    I do hope moving to the bigger studio helps rather than hinders the progression of this great soap. It is the jewel in ABC’s crown, if only they knew it.

  3. Яснеев says:

    Абсолютно согласен

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