By Marlena De Lccroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman
It’s way too early to judge the work of The Young and the Restless’ new executive producer Charles Pratt Jr. We’re familiar with his resume (head writer/executive/producer of All My Children, General Hospital, Santa Barbara and Sunset Beach, primetime producer of Melrose Place et al.) But he’s only been on the Y&R job seven weeks. Even so, there are some early hints: This past week, the controversial Pratt launched four sweeps month stunt plots simultaneously in a snow storm! Before we discuss them, however, let’s review Y&R’s week-old disaster plot action:
Plane Crash: A plane flies to Chicago with a secretly blind Neil, his wife Hilary, his son Devon, Jill, Colin, Cane and Lily on board. Neil announces to all that he is not blind anymore and he knows Hilary and Devon are in love and having an affair because he secretly witnessed them sleeping together while they thought Neil was blind. Neil has something undisclosed in his briefcase. Suddenly, the plane crashes and all survive on the ground unharmed except for Hilary, who is severely injured and comatose. She periodically wakes up. Devon goes off to find help. Neal vanishes.
Building Collapse: At the Undergound, Victor finds out Nikki is drinking again and confronts her. The building the Underground is in collapses with Victor, Jack, Nikki, Phyllis, Avery, Joe, Nick and Sage trapped inside. In the rubble, all are unharmed except Jack who is severely injured and comatose but who periodically wakes up. Victor rescues Jack with CPR. Nikki, Phyllis and Avery escape while help arrives. Victor and Jack are trapped in the basement. A semi-comatose Jack, who has secretly known Victor’s dead son Adam is alive, utters the word “Adam” and Victor knows something crucial is up.
I Know What You Did Last Summer: On Valentine’s Day Abby inexplicably invites Kevin, the young marrieds Summer and Austin along with Mariah, Courtney, Noah and Fen to a cabin in the woods. Fen secretly spikes the punch. Everyone collapses and then wakes up. Austin falls out of the armoire, presumably dead. All are accused, but especially Summer. Abby is suddenly disclosed kissing Austin the night before while Mariah confronts her. Outside, Austin’s body vanishes. The youths convene to discuss what to tell the police. Will they get their story straight? Did Austin fake his own death? Ho hum!
The Towering Inferno: A fire suddenly breaks out at Lakeview Towers in lovers Chelsea and Billy’s apartment. Chelsea and all believe Chelsea’s late husband Adam is dead, but the audience knows Adam is alive and secretly masquerading as Gabe. Sage and Adam/Gabe live next store to Billy and Chelsea but are absent when the fire starts. Chelsea escapes with Katie and Johnny. Billy remains in the burning apartment with Connor. Billy is periodically comatose but wakes up. Adam/Gabe arrives and rescues Connor but leaves his enemy Billy in the smoke. Later he returns and rescues Billy. When last seen, Adam and Billy are escaping the burning building.
Oy vey! Can you say overkill? The four disaster plots are achingly piled on. Every daytime soap headwriter interweaves character storylines and hypes them in some shocking manner for sweeps month, but this is way too much of a fun thing. A great role model for Pratt would be the late, great headwriter Jim Reilly (Days of Our Lives), a master creative genius at stunts, who was always original and never dreamed of doing his vastly entertaining and oft- hilarious sweeps stunt plots more than one at a time.
Worse I’m incredibly annoyed that Pratt is copying his 2008-9 All My Children debut. On that show, after his debut under the umbrella of a stunt tornado story, Pratt set the world’s soap stunt record with six, count’em six, starring such characters as Kendall, Bianca and Zach. Pratt’s entire AMC stint was much despised. .
Clearly Pratt’s muse for all of this is the late Irwin Allen, creator such 1970s classics as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, all of them unabashedly cheesy, over-the-top movie fun. His name identifies the disaster movie genre embraced by so many imitators then and since. But even Allen, who pioneered the burning set and the rock and roll camera to simulate thunderous explosions and building collapse, confined his story-telling to one disaster at a time. His formula called for intersecting human dramas of marriages saved and parents and children reconciled played out against the disaster du jour, in a world saved ultimately by heroic first responders and the selfless sacrifice of military personnel who die trying to save people.
Sentimental, exciting, romantic, heart-warming and even a bit tear-jerky. Pratt provides dollops of all these elements, and evidently the stew is tasty to some viewers – he did well in the coveted 18-34 ratings category two weeks ago.
But for moi, a soap must have some grounding in real life to be believable, and these unoriginal plots don’t make it. Pratt throws in everything including the kitchen sink, much of it disconnected and out of the blue. For example, this week, apropos of nothing, Police assistant Kevin in the cabin plot revealed he is also a short story writer who has written a story with a murder scenario that is similar to Austin’s death. What?
Even worse is the fact that these multiple disaster plots are being produced by Jill Farren Phelps, who has done swell sweeps plots on six soaps. (Santa Barbara, Guiding Light, Another World, One Life to Live, General Hospital and Y&R ). Her 35 year soap career is a soap phenomenon! While some dislike her, I’ve always admired Phelps, if not all her plots. It is she who hired Pratt for Y&R after working with him on GH. Phelps often has exquisite taste in her hires. Time will tell if this is one of those times.
Beside Phelps, what also redeems poorly written plots like these is the high quality of the actors and the production crew. Y&R has always had some of the best! The sets, particularly the plane crash and building collapse, are wonderfully Irwin Allen-esque. But the disaster plots are not at all organic to past or present Y&R, as created and headwritten by the late Bill Bell, who would NEVER do stunt plots, though some have been tried since he stepped down from the show in 1998.
Overall plot-saving kudos have to go to the actors, most of whom are longtime Y&R veterans and soap superstars like Peter Bergman, Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott who play Jack, Victor and Nikki in the building collapse plot. I’d also like to single out Kristoff St. John who is always great as Neil, but has been dynamite here and in his entire blind, wife Hilary unfaithful to Neil with his son Devon, plot. The work of longtime vets like these and Tristan Rogers (Colin) and Jill (Jess Walton) in the plane crash plot, or Joshua Morrow (Nick) and Gina Tognoni (Phyllis) also in the building collapse plot, or Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea) in the Towering Inferno plot, make Pratt’s stale disaster stunt plots more palatable.
And so this week the building collapse and plane crash aftermath go on. Will I be watching? Yes, I can’t take my eyes off Pratt’s own four-ring circus of disaster stunt plots. They are that bad, By the end of his entire Y&R stint, will I have to ask if has there ever been a daytime headwriter who is as creatively impoverished as Pratt? Hope not for all our sakes!