By Connie Passalacqua Hayman
aka Marlena De Lacroix
In the effort to salve our wounds this summer, the canceled All My Children and One Life to Live sacrificed an essential element of soap opera: believability. All these people back from the dead simultaneously! Dixie! Leo! Zack! How are we supposed to buy any kind of reality behind it? On OLTL, the back-from-the-dead tale of the two Todds was explained away by the back-from-the-dead Irene Manning in a backstory so convoluted and fantastical, it might as well have come from the Passions playbook. I didn’t believe any of it.
As I watched, I was reminded that even the most well-intentioned of soap headwriters can tip or even sink an entire summer. As our soaps passed from old
Prospect Park’s Royal Pains, on the USA Network, is modern and smart without trying to copy current fashion or wallow in political correctness. That’s a good formula for soap storytelling.
hands to new and then newer still, anything could happen – and did. We know this only too well, and have come to expect the worst from each new regime.
Thus, the impending hand-over of our cherished AMC and OLTL to a company called Prospect Park for production in new online versions makes us nervous. We are overjoyed that the shows will continue, but …the new owners are free to do whatever they want. How will they treat our shows?
If Prospect Park treats their new acquisitions the right way, they could make soaps a lot better. They could make them seem fresh and alive again by restoring the heart and soul that has often been so compromised during the long slow decline. And, happily, there is reason to be optimistic.
It turns out that Prospect Park is no stranger to good television serial drama. In its own backyard the company is already producing a series that offers elements of good soap opera as guideposts. That show is Royal Pains, now in its third season and airing on the USA Network.
It’s the story of a concierge doctor who takes care of patients in the wealthy Hamptons in the summer. A modest young physician named Hank (Mark Feuerstein) and his wheeler-dealer brother Evan (Paolo Costanzo) run HankMed, along with their highly competent Indian-American assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty), curing patients with McGuyver-ish medicine, their brains, a little bit of humor and lots of warmth.
Hank and Jill, (Jill Flint) a hospital administrator, are having a soapy, on-again, off-again romance as are Evan and Paige (Brooke D’Orsay), a wealthy but flaky heiress. Hank and Evan are very close and are trying to reclaim their relationships with their jailbird father (Henry Winkler) as well as their wealthy but estranged grandfather (Ed Asner.) Dark and soapy in a Barnabas-like way is HankMed’s mysterious ultra-rich benefactor, Boris, whom Hank is trying to save from a fatal disease. Meanwhile Divya is in constant conflict with her traditional Indian parents over her arranged marriage — she wants to marry for love.
I like this show. It reminds me of good soaps. As in our soaps, HankMed has become an extended family unit whose members really care about each other. It’s classy. It has no poop jokes and unlike today’s sitcoms doesn’t deal in sarcasm or meanness. Like soaps of old (Dynasty, anyone?), it has luxe production values with nice sets and a beautiful locale. No Peapack cheapness here. And as in the soaps of the glory days, the women of this show are intelligent professionals. Most of all, Hank’s Hamptons feel a single place, a village like those fabled towns where soaps were lived, a place you’d like to visit every day. Soaps haven’t captured this feeling in a long time.
Royal Pains is modern and smart without trying to copy current fashion or wallow in political correctness. That’s a good formula for soap storytelling.
Can a show about a very caring doctor really point the way to better soap opera? Prospect Park has a lot to deal with as it takes on our shows: salaries, time slots, and all sorts of production decisions. As demonstrated by this bizarre soap summer, anything can happen. Bringing back the quality, believability and intelligence of soaps, using the success of their own Royal Pains as a guide, surely would be the best decision of all.