JJ and the Rehabilitation of General Hospital

By Marilyn Henry

There already have been big discussions on the internet about Jonathan Jackson returning to his role as Lucky on General Hospital. Newer viewers who don’t know his work are jolted; other long-time viewers are thrilled. I don’t know whose bad   

In the last few weeks, the show seems to have turned a corner. Good grief, did they lock mob-obsessed Guza in a closet and allow someone else to spin actual soap tales for awhile? Who knew it could happen?

taste decides the direction of the insulting promotional ads, in the vein of “The REAL” Lucky is back, or whatever. They got so much flack over Greenlee ads you’d think they would learn, but obviously TPTB are basically without taste.Jonathan Jackson

That aside, I am loving having Jonathan back on the show. The character of Lucky has been stunted for so long. Suddenly what I’m seeing now is an excellent actor giving the part of Lucky some intensity, depth, naturalness and truth. Amazing. JJ makes the role rich, worth watching – with face, voice, body language.

Greg Vaughn was indeed handsome, but there was never a moment I believed he was Lucky Spencer. He was too old for the part, too unexpressive, and they wrote him as a stiff-necked, up-tight type, and not terribly bright. Impossible to believe that could be Luke and Laura’s kid, especially after JJ originated the role so differently. Vaughn was an OK actor, I guess, but not special at all. That’s my perception. A lighter role he might have handled better, but not Lucky Spencer who had been raised on the run, who had a dad like Luke, who understood when the law helps and when it doesn’t.

Watching JJ today – well. Lucky is alive again. JJ has given him personality, wits. I hate that he and Luke are at odds and they have to continue to have him disdain Luke, but at least he does it with some sense that he actually loves his dad and simply cannot go along with his dad’s attitudes and habits. And we have to remember that this isn’t the same Luke who was such a good father/pal to him. And they did have that falling out when Lucky was told by Nick that Luke raped Laura way back in the disco days. Some of that hurt is still there, but in their scene on the dock, I felt he was ready to be angry with Luke, but that he deeply loved him, too, and was trying not to show it.

And in the scene with Liz – he expressed more in that short scene than I felt Lucky had in years. I really felt the scene, I was drawn into it and surprised afterward, because GH hasn’t engaged me that much in years.

Now if they could somehow repair Luke – but that doesn’t seem possible now that Luke himself confirmed he cheated on Laura 20-some years ago. They certainly don’t need Ethan now, but that whole mess with Luke may not be repairable.

In the last few weeks, the show seems to have turned a corner. Families, some decent dialog, a little history, vet sightings, real emotions, real romance that wasn’t of the “wham, bam, thank you, ma’m” type, and getting rid of the dispicable Claudia – good grief, did they lock mob-obsessed Guza in a closet and allow someone else to spin actual soap tales for awhile?

So GH is nearly watchable and even enjoyable these days – wonder of wonders! Who knew it could happen?

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A note from Marlena: Film historian Marilyn Henry is a longtime General Hopital viewer and who has written extensively about the Spencers.  She wrote the mega popular three-part “Legend of Luke and Laura” series for my Afternoon TV magazine back in 1982-3, and many GH-related pieces since then for marlenadelacroix.com. 

For Marlena’s perspective on Jackson’s debut see my response to James Mills’ message in the Comments section.

Comments

  1. tammy says:

    Thanks for putting into words exactly what I’ve been thinking.

    Now, can they just seal that closet like a bomb shelter? I mean, the day I saw Audrey, Lesley AND Bobbie I nearly (wet) my pants and mourned the fact that so many people are unused.

  2. disgruntled soap fan says:

    They CAN repair Luke- with a short story arc explaining that Luke and Holly were lying to protect Ethan from enemies of his real dad- Robert Scorpio. That none of that Singapore stuff ever really happened, it was all a ruse. Believe me, I want this fixed so bad- I would buy it.

  3. James says:

    For the first few years Greg was on GH, every time I saw him, I never could remember who he was. I knew he belonged there, that I’d seen him around the hosptial and police station some, but never could place his character. I usually assumed he was one of the background players being given a line or two for the day. Then someone would come into a scene and call him Lucky and I’d remember him.

    It was only after the drug storyline that I began to immediately recognize Greg as Lucky.

    Contrast that with Jonathan Jackson who I instantly recognized as Lucky before he even said his first words, “Remember me?”

    And seeing Lucky and Luke on the docks chatting in the next episode, it just felt like I was home, that no time had passed at all.

    Given that the writers gave JJ that one-sided phone call with Laura while visuals of other scenes played out, I’m guessing the writers intend to do something with Lucky. That makes me glad, because JJ’s Lucky is a character I always adored.

    With luck, now that “Elizabeth’s first love” is back on screen, they’ll realize there’s no need for Ethan, de-Spencer him, and ship him back to New Zealand or whatever land of mumbling people he came from.

    Marlena says:

    I think ABC screwed Greg Vaughn over mightily. By all accounts, he was the nicest guy in the world, beloved by the GH cast. He did good work in a hard job all these years. I’m glad he’s back to 90210, but I also think ABC Daytime owes him another role on another one of their soaps right away.

    Personally, I don’t like to compare actors in the same role, although it is entirely natural for soap fans to do so. That is why I ran Marilyn’s piece — I’ve known her three decades and no one is more knowledgeable and passionate about the Spencers than she is.

    I think JJ is amazing, and I was stunned by his performances last week. He is so accomplished, has so much depth. Can an adult grown up Jackson — Lucky — be capable of great tenderness and intense soulfulness and survive in this bang-bang, over-the-top soap day and age, especially on a macho, violence-filled show like General Hospital? (Yes, I know Geary has, but Luke has not been very soulful of late!)

    I agree with Marilyn. Something is changing on GH. Christina has called her father a monster and I love the tender scenes between Alexis and her daughers. Has mob-obsessed Guza lost his grip on the show, as we have all desperately wanted for years? JJ’s arrival is only another step in that itty-butty change. I say Guza has got to go NOW. My suggestions: bring in Sri Rao, who wrote the immensely human second season of GH Night Shift, and do it NOW. And bring back Genie Francis pronto!

  4. horselover says:

    Columns like these make me uneasy. General Hospital, under the leadership of Phelps and Guza, is good? Say it isn’t so. I watched a few of the JJ clips online and I admit I got suckered in a little. However, I have been burned SO MANY TIMES by this regime that I no longer trust them. How long will JJ’s Lucky be “cool” before he’s sacrified at the altar of Sonny & Jason? I don’t know.

    Maybe GH has turned a corner but I need way more proof. I agree with “disgruntled soap fan” that if they made it so Luke and Holly only pretended that Ethan was their son so that Luke didn’t cheat on Laura with his best friend’s wife, I might be willing to tune in again. Better yet, make Ethan a Scorpio and give supercouple Robert & Holly their well deserved kid along with giving Robin and Mac some more airtime, then I would really know TPTB are serious about changing the direction of this show. Until something like that happens, I just don’t see the Sonny and Jason show changing all that much just because Jonathan Jackson has returned to the show.

    Marlena says: This column is Marilyn Henry’s opinion, Renee. Since I wrote the answer to James’ question below, I watched today’s show and it was sweeps mob junk a go go and GuzaGuzaGuza (despite that JJ was on the episode.) I actually almost got nauseous watching Sonny pleading for Jason to rescue Carly from Claudia rather than the police! And Carly is delivering a baby again under accidental circumstances? (She’s in the cabin with crazed Claudia; remember the last time when Sonny shot Carly mid-delivery by accident?) As always in Guzaland, there is no right and wrong; the “victims” are really the villains. How many times can they ask us to root for Sonny and Carly the vile? As I said, the show cannot fully change unless they get rid of Guza and the mob entirely!

  5. Beth says:

    I am going to preface this by saying I am a fan of both Jonathan and Greg. I adored Jonathan back in the day and I completely believe Greg was the victim of ridiculous backstage politiics that dictated he be used as primarily eye candy and not as an actor, aided by the fact he is a nice guy and most likely would never ever call TPTB on it.

    I am uncomfortable about talking about the “small improvements” in relation to General Hosptial. It’s sweeps. Guza and company ALWAYS seems to wake up and write for sweeps. It’s why they always subumit their big sweeps episodes in for Emmys. They don’t tend to write for any period except November and February. (For some reason they never seem to do much with May…) They are goign to give Jonathan better writing than they ever did Greg becaues they made such a big hairy deal about brining him back and acted like EVERY single last fan has spent the last ten years waiting for his return. I know some have but some certainly did not. However are they going to continue with that? My gut says no. Lucky Spencer…regardless of the actor playing him, as always been one of the characters fans have argued SHOULD be the center/romantic lead of the show. Yo know instead of Jason and Sonny. Since I have seen on hysterical soap magazine covers declaring they are both gone forever and GH will never ever be the same, I am assuming they are staying put for the time being. And as you said Marlena….as long as the mob is front and center…that’s not going to happen. Don’t most of us suspect that Dante is going to end up destroying his career to protect Daddy Sonny when that secret blows? Was anyone really shocked when instead of calling the police Sonny begged Jason to stop Claudia? Not to mention…was it the police or the mob who FINALLY figured out Ian Devlin didn’t act alone?

    Lets talk around the end of March/April…see what the writing is THEN….Lets see Dante actually take Sonny down and send him to prision. Lets see Jason actually get convicted of one of the many murders he’s done in “self-defense”. Lets see James Franco be soemone OTHER than a killer obsessed with Jason out for revenge. Lets see Mac Scorpio get a love life. Lets see Alexis not treated as a neurotic nutjob for wanting to protect her daughter. Lets not have ALL the women in Port Charles fall all over themselves to praise how wonderful and fabulous Jason and Sonny are! Lets have Jax, Lucky, Patrick, Matt, Mac, Edward and this is where I would normally lump in Nik but he’s on my bad list since he is odius to me right now, but lets see THEM win the girl, solve the case, figure it out and NOT TELL JASON SO HE CAN GO SAVE THE DAY! Lets not have shows where every single segment is 100% about the mob and a storyline only the mob is in. Lets have recurring characters OTHER than Sonny’s bodyguards and lawyers have a story. (oh Kelly and Lainey….where are you?)

    When I see that…then i will say GH has improved. But until Guza and Phelps (and Frons…lets not forget him) go…I’m going to stick to my beleive this is the side effect of sweeps. and yes I have been accused of being a hater, cynic and a crybaby fan….but after 12 years…this show has burned me far too much to be anything but a cynic.

    Marlena says: Bravo, bravo Beth!!! It’s been twelve long years of Guza….

  6. LindaV says:

    I agree completely with Marilyn’s assessment – in fact I just wrote a column on the same subject for Eye on Soaps. It is nice to see that those of us who remember JJ in the role have not been disappointed in his return. I have to admit that my tendency to fast forward has all but disappeared and I really think there are major signs of improvement, probably due to the new writers added recently. Great column!

  7. renee says:

    Marlena, you are so blessed to have such rich readers. I almost got sucked in to watching GH again. I’ve got the free time since I kicked Y&R to the curb months ago when they just went masochistic with women with all that Adam making Ashley believe she was pregnant when she wasn’t then taking Sharon’s baby for Ashley, and Kitty Patty resulting in the death of Colleen in the lake where her dad died and her heart going to Victor who makes me nauseous and why couldn’t Eric just stay gone from Y&R for good (sorry I know you like him but I’ve never seen an interview where he doesn’t come across as arrogant and superior). HowEVAH, LOL I do read all the comments and horselover and Beth let me know despite the awesomeness of having Jonathan back, and it is awesome (gosh I love that guy except when he tries to make movies), GH is just throwing us a few gold nuggets hoping we won’t notice their land is still nothing but sludge. Silly rabbits, tricks are made for kids. Guess I’m still only with BandB and AMC.

  8. Jenn says:

    I’m a little late in responding to this entry, but I just wanted to add that I agree that the show has become fairly enjoyable in recent months. I also agree that JJ’s return has breathed new life into Lucky Spencer. I in no way mean any disrespect to Greg Vaughn, but JJ has a certain charisma that is hard to come by. And now I feel the Lucky/Liz/Nik triangle from all sides. Before, it felt so one-sided, where we only got Nik and Liz’s side of the equation, their forbidden feelings for each other, but on JJ’s very first day back, we got to see Lucky’s point of view. I also think JJ has a little more of an edge to him, which is strange since he’s still as baby faced as he was last we saw him, and GV looked much more mature in the role, but he seems more suspicious, more intuitive, and less blind to what’s going on. Let’s face it, after the whole drug addiction storyline, Lucky has pretty much been Liz’s doormat, so it is refreshing to see him with renewed spark and energy. I also think it was a brilliant move, having Luke witness Liz and Nik kissing, because it finally brought Luke into Lucky’s storyline. Father and son have had… well, really no storylines together in YEARS. So it is finally giving TG something a little more profound to portray, rather than Luke’s constant drinking and running off on these so-called “adventures” (oh and discovering long lost sons who was procreated while apparently cheating on the love of his life). I would much rather the aging Luke be a more prominent presence in his family’s lives than acting like he’s going through a permanent mid-life crisis.

  9. Melanie S says:

    I’ve only just read this piece today and I’m glad that I’ve had time to watch JJ’s return as Lucky for awhile before commenting about it here. I hate to be a spoil sport, but I’m not as impressed with JJ’s return as others are. I think it’s just okay so far.

    There seems to be a misconception that it’s only newer viewers that are jarred by JJ’s return and that all longtime viewers are thrilled. I’ve been watching GH for 20+ years, watched JJ in his original run and loved him, but I’m going through an adjustment period w/ his return. JJ is a good actor and very likeable, but I’m not seeing anything earth shattering. I like his interactions with Luke/TG, Nik/TC, Liz/ReH, but that’s mostly due to nostalgia more than anything else. He’s doing a fine job, but I’m not seeing all this Intensity and Truth. And while I agree JJ is a much more sensitive Lucky, must he look like he’s about to burst into tears in every scene (even ones opposite Jason, Mac, the mayor)?

    I also think it’s unfair to dismiss GV as just being a pretty (and unexpressive) face. He did the best job he could with truly lousy material. When he was given a chance (as w/ the drug storyline) he ran with it. He had wonderful chemistry with many of his costars and made Lucky sympathetic even though he was often written as a jerk and buffoon. Not an easy task. It took a few years, but eventually I did accept and appreciate GV’s Lucky.

    I know that I’ll eventually accept JJ’s Lucky once again, but it’ll take some time. The fact that they write decent material for JJ will probably help – too bad GV didn’t have the same advantage.

  10. Michelle says:

    I do not believe that JJ is a good Lucky even though he was the original Lucky Spencer. JJ looks to much like a child and is not in the least bit intimidating. It is like he is the kind of person who investigates who stole a little kids candy. GV was all that and then some. I am not happy at all with the change back to the original Lucky.

  11. Pumpkinoodle says:

    Although some story lines under Guza are a bit heavy-handed, I can honestly say that I’ve returned to GH because of his stories. I was a long-time AMC fan until until Dixie was killed off. I quit watching that moment, flipped over to GH, and was instantly hooked. Under his writing regime I’ve enjoyed the Carly/Jax marriage, the development of Maxie and Spinelli’s sweet friendship, Sonny & Kate’s try at normalcy, Claudia & Johnny’s sibling connection, Jason & Liz’s forbidden romance, Robin & Patrick’s relationship, Olivia & Johnny’s clear chemistry, Liz and Nicholas’s forbidden romance, Diane and Alexis’s very real friendship, the strong young ladies in Alexis’s family, and most recently Lulu and Dominic’s sweet romance. I love the strong women on the show, and yes, they often encounter conflict. Through these conflicts we see just how strong and amazing they are. Lulu and Maxie couldn’t stand each other, but Maxie risked her life to save Lulu several times. Slowly Maxie let Lulu in, a task that’s difficult for the mistrustful Maxie, and they now have a strong friendship based on loyalty.

    I don’t like everything. I am frustrated that Kate has no storyline, and I didn’t like how dark Claudia became. Still, I tuned in, and I keep doing so. I have never watched a soap and enjoyed every storyline. Who does? Without Guza we wouldn’t have Dominic or Olivia or Spinelli or the Liz/Nicholas/Lucky triangle. These are good stories, and I can’t wait to see more.

  12. Preacher'swife says:

    It is supposed to be General HOSPITAL NOT

    General Gangsters! Please bring back the Quartermaines! & For Heaven’s sake film whole episodes in the Hospital Bring back Laura to go with Luke!

  13. Southernbelle says:

    It is interesting to look back on people’s perceptions of Jonathan’s return. Now, almost a year later I am still thrilled that he is back. He has breathed new life into Lucky which Greg couldn’t do for a second during his entire run. Call it writing, but it’s also called acting. Sure he was given a raw deal, but so what? He’s a big boy, he’ll get over it. As Tony mentioned just the other day, Jonathan IS Lucky and no one else can compare. I am really liking General Hostpital as of late and with VM’s return I am hopeful it will only go up from here. All I can say is, thank you Guza for bringing Jonathan back. You did one thing right, finally.

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