Marlena says: Soap fans everywhere are cautiously optimistic that, against all odds, there’s been a hopeful turn in the heretofore bleak fortunes of soap opera. Ratings are strong and even improving for the four network soaps that survived the death watch of the past few years, and Prospect Park is said to be moving full steam ahead to bring two of the casualties back from the dead.
Is it too soon to rejoice? Skeptic that I am, I’m not ready to shoot off fireworks at my country retreat just yet. But I’ve has detected one tiny, tiny bit of anecdotal evidence that audience-building may, indeed, be possible: My recently retired husband Moose, long impervious to the many charms of soap opera that have inundated him daily for so many years, has been espied of late … actually watching General Hospital.
At the risk of frightening him away, I asked him to share with Thinking Fans, whose analytical powers are legendary, after all, what it is about GH that has finally captured his attention. He agreed. Listen and learn, GH producers. Or, at least, have a chuckle or two.
By Moose Goodfellow a.k.a. Old Ed, husband of Connie
I have joined the ranks of the Instantly Irrelevant, filling those weeks between Social Security direct deposits with such typical Old Guy activities as having morning coffee with Al Roker on the Weather Channel, getting haircuts, hauling trash to the dump, and standing in line at the pharmacy to pick up meds.
I’ve also, I am here to admit, begun watching the soap opera known as General Hospital.
Not enough yet to count myself a fan. Not enough yet to even be able to follow all the parallel storylines. (Happily, my spouse is a living soap opera encyclopedia, so I’m never left without exhaustive backstory.) But enough to be intrigued by certain characters, even to care about some, and to admire the efficient flow of the character-driven storytelling.
None of this is a big deal, since no one really cares what I think, a hallmark of my new demographic. But my wife, observing that I stay awake through almost the whole hour, thinks my new interest may portend audience growth. Well, she’s right about one thing: soon there will be a lot more of us in the Old Guy demographic.
Marriage to Marlena, delightful as it continues to be, sometimes feels like a residency in the soap opera department of the Museum of Broadcasting, complete with ongoing seminars on all things soap. Luckily for me, my wife has lovely friends, like the formidable pjs, who can discourse engagingly on the subject of soaps for hours and never repeat himself.
I’m grateful for the education, and over the years, came to appreciate many aspects of this uniquely American genre of serial drama, and respect the efforts of the industry that sustained it. But, to tell the truth, I never had any idea what the hell was going on.
I admired the durable work of those iconic actors and actresses whose skilled angsting filled so many hours. I smiled when everyone dressed to the nines and carefully accessorized in order to have arguments that went on for weeks in beautifully appointed rooms equipped with crackling fireplaces. I saluted the deft turn of phrase and the shocked close-up that created the signature cliff-hanger at the end of a scene.
At the same time, I cringed when it became evident that the networks weren’t providing diction coaches for their ill-prepared young hires, many of whom seemed to define acting dramatically as merely getting louder. And too many of the poorly staged shootouts and fight scenes were shoddy imitations of prime time and movies.
But I’m going on and on … another characteristic of my new demographic. So I’d better get to the point now and tell you what I like about the new General Hospital.
— Overall, I like the modern tempo, the get-on-with it style of storytelling that is the new normal.
— I like the story of the young doctor, Patrick, who is succumbing to a full court press from his conniving colleague Britt, yet at the same time nursing a probably deeper yen for Nurse Sabrina. The friendship between Sabrina and his daughter Emma is heart-tugging, and I find myself rooting for Sabrina, played with sweet vulnerability by Teresa Castillo. Marlena, soap opera’s version of Johnny Carson’s Great Carnac, predicts this will all be resolved at the Nurses’ Ball.
— Patrick isn’t the only male on General Hospital who doesn’t know which end is up. Spinelli, the neo-Shakespearean oddball who used to speak of himself in the third person, also vacillates between two women, and is forever doing the Wrong Thing while claiming to try to do the Right Thing. Bradford Anderson has wrung out just about all the sympathy the character has to offer, which, I gather, is the idea. The New Year’s Eve on the Roof device borrowed from the several versions of An Affair to Remember is one of those writerly “Holy crap!” ideas that sound good at first, but is hard to make work. This one didn’t. The resolution – an encounter and medically unlikely impregnation of Maxie by Spinelli – might have sunk the whole story. But the nimble team in the GH writers’ room got past it, giving us a wrenching human dilemma: does Maxie live with her big lie, and go on letting Dante and Lulu think the baby she is carrying is theirs? Again Ms. Carnac advises, Maxie won’t keep the secret for long.
— Every time I’ve seen Tony Geary on the screen, he’s been bludgeoned, smacked around, burned, shot, hung, tied and gaged, sliced, diced and full of bruises and scabs. This actor is soaps’ Rock of Gibralter. He’s been doing this for years, and always makes it work. This time he’s been in a crummy Turkish prison, where he wound up in his quest for the real Duke Lavary, a favorite character of Marlena’s. Seems some cretin named Faison, the Moriarty of this melodrama, was posing as Duke. There was an unmasking at one point – they kind of lost me on this one – in which the real Faison was exposed, looking exactly like Macavity in Cats. Both Geary’s Luke and the real Duke, it turns out, are in love with Anna, the local sheriff, of all things. Will Luke duke it out with Duke? Don’t tell me.
— Then there’s Todd, inexplicably the object of uncontrollable ardor by any number of excellent women, each of whom could have her pick of the good men on this or any other soap. Evidently this Todd business was transferred from anther soap. Now he’s in jail, in a cell across from the taunting Johnny, another miscreant who committed double vehicular homicide a while back, says my wife. Thinking Fans, who have long complained that on GH, no bad deed goes punished, home the new, smarter regime will mete out some justice.
— Intriguing as these characters are, the best of the lot for my money is Kelly Sullivan as the split personality Connie and Kate. It was Ms. Sullivan’s vivid, operatic (in a very good way) performance that caught my eye in the first place and made me sit down and watch. Her acting is big and expressive and crystal clear, all eyes and sneers and frowns, swinging from peevish adolescent meanness to tearful desperation in a heartbeat. Yet – pay attention, young’uns – it all comes from deep within. She is modern soap opera’s Claire Trevor. (Memo to youth: go to YouTube, look up Key Largo.)So that’s it, one Old Guy’s take on the soap opera that seems to be altering the previously accepted belief that soaps are all dead shows walking.
I’ll be back soon, because I know how much producers and writers love to listen to fans tell them how to run their shows. In my next essay, I’ll do about 5,000 words on ways the already winning General Hospital can capture the soon-to-be-prized but now neglected Old Guy demographic.
A preview (spoiler alert): With pitchers and catchers just around the corner, why doesn’t Port Charles have a baseball team? … How about having Luke win over Anna by taking her to a classic car show in his 1966 Mustang? … And how about a new musical soundtrack: Kassie DePaiva singing the Julie London Songbook?
Is this better than hanging around construction sites giving advice? I’ll say!