General Hospital: Spencer Becomes a Burn Victim

Nicolas Bechtel

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Who could have imagined there’d be an ongoing end of sweeps storyline that is so shocking it could practically upstage the mighty and controversial six month old Luke/Fluke story on General Hospital?

But here it is: ten-year-old Spencer (Nicolas Bechtel) was severely burned on face and body this week in a fire that broke out in the living room of  Wyndemere. Thankfully, he was rescued by Nikolas (Tyler Christopher) and Patrick (Jason Thompson), but when last seen at the end of the week was in Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston.

Shriners is a real place, of course – one of a network of 22 world renowned nonprofit hospitals that specialize in treating children with burns, orthopedic conditions, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate.   Initially, Spencer was taken to General Hospital, then transferred to Shriners for the advanced care he could receive there.

Shriners is partnering with ABC and GH in this storyline set in a real hospital, dramatizing the invaluable work it does for victims and their families. Thousands of children have been treated in burn units like the one Spencer currently occupies, and thousands of parents like Nikolas have been at their bedsides throughout.

I am of two minds about the entire fire story.

First of all, I am very disturbed by it.  Whatever happened to the old soap rule that you don’t do stories in which children are harmed or killed? (The rule has been broken several times in the past.) It is felt that mothers especially can’t bear to watch children being harmed.   GH must be desperate to do such a story, and that doesn’t work for such a classy show. The last time I was so disturbed by an endangered child story was in 2008 when twelve-year-old Michael Quartermaine (then Dylan Cash, now Chad Duell) bought a gun to imitate his mob boss father Sonny.

But this storyline does provide a service for the viewers that is admirable.  The storyline is great for the prestigious Shriners, which has never advertised on daytime before. And it’s even greater for GH.  This storyline, which is sprinkled with commercials for Shriners, is a public service,  and a feather in the cap  all those at the network, and especially executive producer Frank Valentini and headwriter Ron Carlivati.

The fire started after Spencer’s birthday party when Cameron (Michael Leone) accidentally knocked a swag bag onto a candle as he was leaving. Emma (Brooklyn Rae Silzer) and Spencer were alone dancing and unrealistically didn’t hear the alarm or smell smoke.  Emma escaped unharmed and ran for help to her father who was elsewhere in the mansion with Nikolas. Spencer went back into the fire to get his personalized boxing robe, a gift from Sonny he had received at the party.  Part of the roof caved in and Spencer was trapped.  He suffered the burns when the fire escalated. Nikolas and Patrick found him in the nick of time and rushed him to General Hospital.

At General Hospital something very unusual happened.  Absurd chief of staff, ex-criminal Dr. Liesl Obrecht (Kathleen Gati) — the chief of staff  of General Hospital always was and should be always a good guy — was given the honor of revealing Shriners participation.  As you know, Obrecht is always the personification of evil — until now.  I was shocked.

This storyline was designed as well to capitalize on the talent of the Bechtel, a child actor I have praised in the past.  This charmed child can do anything, comedy or drama.  Of course, the story wouldn’t work without Christopher.  He is always so natural.  I love their father and son scenes together, especially in this storyline. They are so powerful. Near the end of the week there was a scene in which Nicolas assured Spencer that the Shriners doctor would help him recover. I cried!

So this week, I will continue to watch the Spencer is burned story with tissue in hand.  As intended!

For more information about Shriners Hospitals for Children and how to make donations, click here.

General Hospital: The Ginormous Furor over Fluke

Is it Luke or Fluke? (Photo: michaelfairmansoaps.com)

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

In many, many years, there hasn’t been a soap controversy of the magnitude of the furor over the year-old  “Fluke” storyline on General Hospital. While some love  it (I gave it a rave in two prior columns,  but more on that later) many really hate it.  Just look at all the negative remarks about the story on Facebook, on soap site message boards, and in the responses to my last two GH columns. (They are “Divine Soaps Plots Make GH Must See TV, Parts 1 and 2,” which ran respectively here on February 1st  and 5th.)

Viewers are sounding off that the Fluke storyline is too cartoonish, has many inconsistencies, doesn’t grow from who Luke really is., has gone on way too long, isn’t our beloved GH and on and on and on, a million other complaints. Everyone is talking about the Fluke storyline.  I even spent a full two hours last week over brunch discussing the Fluke story with my always brilliantly spoken GH fan friend  pjs, who has watched GH since its inception in 1963. The waiter gave us a really quizzical look!

As for me, I’m a bit embarrassed. Marlena believes it is her job as a critic to criticize soaps that are not character-oriented, have inconsistencies, and have characters that act out of character.  Despite its problems, I loved the story because of the continuing suspense and Tony Geary’s bravura acting.
Because of those strong elements, I was and still am entertained by the Fluke story, and have been able to forgive all the story’s transgressions.  But for how much longer will I be so charmed?

For the first time this week, I felt  tired, no longer  having the patience to  wait for the reveal of who Fluke really is when Luke, behind bars for the setting up the boat explosion (that didn’t happen) declared he was the real Luke Spencer. (Fingerprints were found – supposedly — confirming this.)

Plus, I am really confused. How could the  Luke Spencer  I’ve watched since 1980 do so many  awful  criminal things,  among them trying  to  control people (like Jake and Ava) into killing other people, committing  actual  murder himself? And endangering the lives of people the real Luke loves (his closest relatives Bobbie, Lulu and Tracy, not to mention all the other innocent passengers) by having Jake plant the bomb in the boat?  Does Luke have DID, a gimmick story most famously used on One Life to Live with the character of Victoria Lord in the 90s?  (She exhibited six personalities including that of Viki and Niki, her “split personalities”  who were periodically seen earlier on OLTL over the years.) Or, besides DID — if he has it — is there another explanation for who “Luke” really, really is?

I’ve read on message boards and heard rumors that the Fluke story is yet to continue in the next few months with Luke’s past played out, explaining the roots of his possible DID. The reliable ABC Soaps in Depth magazine reported today that  two  actors are being cast to play young Luke and Bobbie and shared that the show is looking for an actress in her late 60s who has  had a hard life. Will she be cast as    Patricia Spencer, the sister  who Bobbie  and Luke talked about only once many years ago in GH history prior to the Fluke story and has never been seen before?   Was Patricia in her younger years involved in the cause of Luke’s possible DID?

So, chers lecteurs, where is this Fluke/Luke story going?  Only those in the GH inner sanctum know for sure.  Although I have a few regrets, I’ll still be watching the story as it progresses because, despite everyone’s complaints,  I am still intrigued by it  Are you?  Will you keep watching?         

The Bold and the Beautiful: Inconsistencies and Smokin’ Seduction

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Heather Tom: award-winning weeping

Storyline inconsistencies bother soap viewers who want their storylines to be thoroughly believable and linear (not to mention being true to a soap’s actual history).  We’ve seen plenty of them in the unfinished (as of this writing) Fluke story on General Hospital. Now I’d like to complain about one on The Bold and the Beautiful.

This week we saw divorced spouses Bill and Katie get re-engaged with Bill giving her a gigantic ring and a pledge of his forever love.  When the hell was their courtship?  When last seen Bill was madly in love with Katie’s sister Brooke, for whom he had left Katie.  Bill and Brooke would have been married if Ridge had not stolen Brooke away from the beach side ceremony in Dubai.   Bill continued his pursuit of Brooke, but Brooke told Bill to go back to Katie when Brooke left for Italy and ended up being gone many months.  During that time Katie broke up with Ridge for basically little reason.  So when did Bill fall out of his mad love for Brooke and fall in love with Katie again?  And when did Katie fall in love again with Bill?  We never saw any of this.

And isn’t Katie absolutely crazy to want to remarry her rotten ex-husband?  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Bill wants to reunite his family with their son, Will.   As I said, Bill originally left Katie for her own sister Brooke and that was disgraceful. Hasn’t Katie grown up at all since the break-up and when did she forgive Bill?  Despite Bill and Katie’s inexplicable current happiness, I’m sure trouble is ahead because 1) Brooke is back in town now, although she’s given Katie and Bill’s engagement her blessing, and 2) multiple Emmy winner Heather Tom as Katie is so good at her trademark crying scenes.  Why Katie would want to wear Bill’s big old gaudy engagement ring is a mystery to me.  Will they really remarry?

Hot Stuff

Speaking of B&B, did you see the really, really smoking hot seduction scene in which Ridge, suddenly a painter, painted an almost nude Caroline, who posed backless in a sheet in Ridge’s modest new apartment?  Wowsa!   They kissed at the end of the episode and Monday I guess we will learn whether that kiss led to them making love.

Young Caroline and older man Ridge are together despite Steffy and Brooke’s rabid objections.  And Brooke told Deacon she plans to steal her multiple ex-husband Ridge away from Caroline. I don’t think so. Ridge is too much in love with Caroline.

Yes, this Ridge and Caroline romance might be a bit unpalatable because of the older man-younger woman thing and that Ridge was once married to Caroline’s aunt Caroline, for whom she is named.  But the always sexy as hell Thorsten Kaye and the very beautiful Linsey Godfrey have undeniable chemistry.

By the way, we’d like to wish Ms. Godfrey, who was seriously injured when a car ran into her on a sidewalk in L.A. last week, a speedy recovery.   

Divine Suspense Plots on General Hospital, Currently Must See TV — Part 2

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Maurice Benard

I’ve said some negative things about General Hospital headwriter Ron Carlivati (particularly when he was writing One Life to Live) but in the last few months he has proven he knows well how to write soap opera.   As discussed last week in my rave over the “Fluke” storyline, he knows how to interweave plots and has been a master of creating suspense.  Let’s examine how Carlivati  has used or is using the element of suspense in other plots.

Sonny, Julian, Ava and Franco were all in jail: Sonny for the murder of A.J., Ava for the murder of Connie, Julian hiding out in jail from Fluke falsely confessing to the murder of Anthony Zaccara, and  Franco for the kidnapping of Avery, Ava’s newborn baby. Would they break out?  They did and got into a car accident.  Will they live or die?  Fluke sent Carlos and Johnny to kill them. Will they succeed?  Johnny didn’t succeed in shooting Sonny and shot and got shot by Julian.  Will Johnny survive his gun shot?   Johnny was injured and wandered off.  Where was he going?  And will he return to the show?

Carlos was sent to shoot Ava and shot her in the arm.    She fell off a bridge but lost her grip, at first hanging on a handrail but fell when Sonny tried to save her.   Will she be found?  Will she live or die?  Also, is Maura West, the best actress on the show (and arguably one of the best in daytime history, having played Carly on As the World Turns) coming back or leaving the show, as rumored?  I hope she stays because her performances are always excellent and Ava is a fascinating character.

Nathan and Michael stopped a bomb planted  in a party on the Haunted Star  by Jake on Fluke’s order just in time before it went off.   An escaped Sonny grabbed the bomb from Michael and dove into the water and it went off.  Is Sonny alive and will he be found?   Will this act of heroism exonerate him for his murder and will he stay out of jail?   There’s not much to GH   when major star Maurice Benard’s master criminal Sonny is yet again behind bars!

Amnesiac  Jake, who is really Jason but dosen’t know it, realized he is under the mind control of Helena Cassidine, who forced him to hold Sam hostage, but failed in trying to murder her and planted  the bomb on the Haunted Star.  Would he remember doing all this?  He did remember  Sam stealing a Chinese figurine Jason had given her which was found on Jason’s body.  Will Jake get his full memory back and realize he is Jason?  Will Sam figure out Jake is Jason, and what will this do to her?  How will this affect her new romance with Patrick?

Franco, who had a gun, also escaped the car crash but headed over to Shadybrook mental institution  where his mother Heather was about to inject Franco’s friend and lady love Nina with a syringe full of LSD.  Can Franco stop Heather and rescue Nina?  He did, but for some reason injected himself with the LSD.  Will Franco survive his LSD trip?  Franco and Nina kissed.   Will they have a big romance?

Questions, questions, questions!  Finding the answers compels moi to keep tuning in for fun, and not just duty. GH has certainly been divine when it comes to suspense lately!  

General Hospital’s Divine Suspense Plots Are Must See TV — Part 1

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Tony Geary

I screamed at the end of General Hospital on Friday!  There, sitting in the old Spencer house basement in the same chair in which “Fluke” had tied the real Luke, was a figure with a dead skeletal face — just like dead  Mrs. Bates, Norman’s mom  in the classic movie Psycho! This was just another shock in a series of fantastic interwoven plots presented lately on GH. Quel suspense! GH is now Must See TV every day.

Most of the plots are driven by Fluke (as in “fake” Luke, played by Tony Geary) the Luke lookalike who kidnapped the real Luke a year ago, put him in the Miscavage mental institution and then when last seen in the basement held hostage in the old Spencer house.   Fluke, the biggest badass in recent soap history, came to town impersonating Luke and launched a campaign of murder and mayhem.  He’s nasty!  He’s a liar!  He’s dangerous to the max!

In his latest scheme, Fluke planted  two ticking time bombs, one on tied up Luke  in the Spencer basement  and the other on the Haunted Star, where all of the real Luke’s loved ones have been invited   to a big party.  Among the attendees are the real  Luke’s daughter Lulu, his wife Tracy and his sister Bobbie.  Other townspeople on the boat include Julian Jerome’s son Lucas and Sonny’s son Michael, both objects of Fluke’s murderous grudges.

Tick, tick, tick … will the bombs go off?   We MUST tune in Monday and every day after that to find out!

Fluke, the double of Luke, of course is the phenomenon created by Geary and headwriter Ron Carlivati when Geary had to take six months off last year for a back operation.  He’s been the best, scariest villain!   Geary is so excellent in the double role of Fluke  and Luke, he’s guaranteed his eighth Emmy for Best Actor this year. In fact,   Geary hasn’t been this good since the early days of Luke and Laura in the late 70s and early 80s.

What is also shocking about this whole year long  Fluke plot and General Hospital in general is that none of the advance plot information has been given away in advance. In other words, there have been NO spoilers!  I can’t remember the last time that happened in the soap world.   So everyone is left guessing!  Who is Fluke?  Is he really the “late”  Bill Eckert, Luke’s lookalike cousin, whose grave was found empty last week when dug up by Shawn, or  an alternate personality of Luke’s if indeed he has DID (multiple personality syndrome), or someone else, possibly some character in the cast who has had plastic surgery to look just like Luke?  .  Why is Fluke so friendly and in criminal cahoots with Helena Cassidine (Constance Towers), Luke Spencer’s decades long enemy? And what part does Patricia, a never before mentioned or seen sister of Luke and Bobbie’s, have to do with this? We’re always left guessing.

The suspense on General Hospital these days is divine. And there’s more, in plots involving characters like  Sonny, Ava, Julian, Franco  Heather, Nina, Jake and Sam. We’ll discuss them in Part 2  later this week.   

The Bold and the Beautiful’s Most Excellent 7000th Episode Celebration

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

l

The late Darlene Conley

I remember it well.  It was in early March 1987 and I was visiting the office of the late Bill Bell Senior, the stupendously successful executive producer/headwriter of the The Young and the Restless at CBS Television City in Hollywood.  Mr. Bell (“call me Bill”) was gloating because the failed soap Capitol had just been cancelled, leaving way for his new half-hour soap to debut in the afternoon line-up. The date, March 23rd, would become a milestone in soap history: The new show, The Bold and the Beautiful, the story of a fashion empire run by the Forrester family, would go on to become a crashing success over the next 27 years.

In the last year or so, B&B has become the best soap on the air. It celebrated its 7000th  episode Friday  with a superb documentary style show, the like of which I can’t remember ever seeing in daytime.  The episode featured all the current cast, a backstage view of the making of the show, memorable scenes and great personalities from the past.

I teared up at the sight of the late, fabulous Darlene Conley, who played the one and only diva fashion designer, Sally Spectra. Like so many first rate soap actors, her roots were in the theater, and she never forgot that era of her life. Once I shared a cab with her through the New York City theater district. Stepping away from la Darlene for a moment, she was wistful and almost worshipful as she reminisced about her theater days in the 60s and 70s, when she played small roles in so many big shows.

There are many reasons why B&B is so successful.  Tightly focused on the fortunes and misfortunes of two families, the Forresters and the Spencers, B&B is chock full of love stories and romantic triangles.   It’s the only half hour soap and it offers a fast, easy viewing experience.   The show, as executive-produced and head-written by Bill Bell’s son Bradley Jr. (after whom a studio is dedicated in this documentary) is consistently well written, and sumptuously produced.

B&B is unique in its international appeal: it is most viewed soap opera worldwide. The documentary shows screaming foreign crowds and  fans on the street and  in filled up stadiums greeting the B&B cast.   The show spares little expense in doing frequent location shoots in such places as Paris, Amsterdam, Monaco and Dubai.

Right now, the Rick-Caroline-Ridge-Maya triangle is the storyline in the forefront. The day before the special anniversary episode, Rick, who is shacking up with Maya at the Forrester mansion, was shown firing a pistol at Ridge and Rick’s legal wife Caroline when he discovered them kissing. Was the shooting scene a fantasy or was it real?  Was the gun even loaded?  We’ll find out Monday.

The only regret I have about the 7,000th episode is that more was not shown or made of the show’s backbone of 25 years, namely the great Susan Flannery, who played the late Stephanie Forrester and retired about a year and a half ago.  Stephanie was the show’s true matriarch.  Of course Maya thinks she’s the new Forrester matriarch now, but we’ll have to see about that. 

Many Questions As a New Headwriter Comes to The Young and the Restless

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Christian LeBlanc, too good to waste

The Young and the Restless is getting a new headwriter. He is veteran Chuck Pratt, who wrote for Santa Barbara, General Hospital, and All My Children, amassing an uneven record with enough successes to give Y&R fans hope for improvement of their show. Anything is likely to be better than what has been happening on Y&R.  To put it mildly, the show hasn’t been very entertaining lately because so many storylines have left viewers scratching their heads. I count four ill-conceived tangles in the plot department that desperately need to be fixed.

Whose idea was it to stage a gigantic weeks-long catfight between Phyllis (Gina Tognoni) and Kelly (Cady McClain) over Jack (Peter Bergman)?   As you know, Kelly was living with Jack when Phyllis came out of her year-long hospital stay in a coma in France, came back to Genoa City and  promptly reclaimed her man.  Since then Phyllis has done all sorts of crazy things to torture and trick Kelly, including slapping her and luring her into a hotel room ambush while Jack, that wimp, stood passively by. It’s just a garden variety clichéd exercise in two women clawing at each other over a man – a storyline is so sexist it’s offensive to any thinking woman.

Then there’s the yucky storyline in which Devon (Bryton James) is romancing his blind father Neil’s wife Hilary (Mishael Morgan), and has had sex more than once with her. All the while, Devon is  telling his father stories of a made-up girlfriend.  Neil (Kristoff St. John) was blinded by electrocution while renovating the house he bought to surprise Hilary. But Devon and Hilary’s deception may be undone: lately, Neal is seeing beams of light and is beginning to doubt his son’s accounts of the pretend squeeze. Whose twisted idea was this, anyway? This storyline can only end badly, perhaps in tragedy.

Then there’s Michael, who got a diagnosis of prostate cancer and withheld the knowledge of it for weeks from his wife Lauren, confiding only in his brother Kevin.  What kind of man does this?  Christian LeBlanc plays this sensitive soul masterfully and is wasted on this kind of folly. Michael is very much in love with and close to Lauren (Tracy Bregman). But having him keep this secret from her is jarringly out of character.   I guess you have to give Y&R points for doing a prostate cancer storyline (which I can’t recall ever being done on daytime before).  But how will this storyline end?  Will Michael die because the cancer has spread because of his failure to take action?  Yikes!  Many times Emmy nominated Leblanc is too valuable to Y&R to lose him.

Then there’s perennially alcoholic Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) who is proud of the fact that she hasn’t had a drink since Thanksgiving.  So, why, why, why does she keep a bottle of liquor and a glass permanently on display in the Newman living room?  All she does is endlessly stare at it. No real recovering alcoholic would do this. Of course, husband Victor (Eric Braeden) is obnoxious enough to drive any woman to drink, but Nikki has put up with him through all these years and through many marriages. Just for the heck of it,  (“It’s business’) Victor has seized control of the district which houses Nikki’s son Dylan’s (Steve Burton) coffee house Crimson Lights and wants to tear it down.   Nikki is furious at him. But will she leave Victor once again? Will she again succumb to the bottle’s lure? What do you think?

We’re rooting for you, Chuck. Get this once reliable vehicle out of the mud and on the road again. 

 

The Bold and the Beautiful: A Rare Magnificent Storyline

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Linsey Godfrey, stellar as Caroline

In decades, I’ve rarely raved about a single storyline.   But the Rick-Maya-Caroline imbroglio that has played out over the last month or so has just been superb.  It’s a can’t-miss-a-day  tale of betrayal, ambition, narcissism and, above all, surprise.

Eric Forrester decided he wanted to take a year off and wanted Rick to take over as CEO of Forrester Creations.  But he would only give Rick the reigns if Rick would reconcile with his wife Caroline. Rick complied, nominally, even though he had caught Caroline sharing a few innocent kisses with his brother Ridge. However, unbeknownst to anyone, Rick was carrying on an affair with his ex, Maya, Forrester’s lead model who is an ex-con and a major, major gold digger.

Rick had the company ownership transfer papers drawn up and just after Eric signed them, Rick revealed to everyone — especially a stunned Caroline — that he was still carrying on with Maya and wanted to run the company with her as his partner. Newly in power, Rick moved Maya into the Forrester mansion, replacing Stephanie’s over-the-mantle portrait with one of Maya.  Caroline was left reeling, and so far has not stopped begging Rick to come back to her.

The real appeal of this story is that it was produced with something rare on today’s soap operas: genuine surprise. Caroline and Ridge — and the audience — were shocked during the revealing scene in which Rick announced he was going to run the company openly with his mistress.   Caroline’s surprise and anguish were especially poignant.  And the betrayed father Eric lit into son Rick with a fury.

Of course the success of a storyline like this has a lot to do with the acting. I’ve always thought of Karla Mosley (Maya) as a good to average actress, but she has been wonderful here, the kind of wonderful that invites an acting award nomination. Jacob Young has been great as always as the scheming, betraying husband.  But the superstar among stars here is Linsey Godfrey as the betrayed wife Caroline.  Beneath the grief and the shock, Godfrey finds strength that is as touching as it is admirable, and you can’t help but to root for her to get her husband back.

And the fun of this storyline isn’t nearly over. There’s still lots to play.  Will Caroline persist in her efforts to get Rick back or just give up?   Can Maya live peacefully with her conscience? Will she ever develop a sense of guilt out of stealing another woman’s husband?  Will Rick stay with Maya or, underneath it all, does he still love his legal wife Caroline?  It’s a great story, and I’m staying tuned.  

No One is in Jail on Nashville, a Great Nighttime Soap

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Connie Britton (left) and Hayden Panettiere in Nashville

What’s to write about?   Everyone on General Hospital is in jail, or should be. Sonny has finally been arrested for the murder of A.J. Quartermaine. Carly and Duke are there, too, for helping Sonny cover up the killing.  Heather is in jail and presumably will be transported back to Ferncliff.  Franco and Nina aren’t in jail, but should be for kidnapping Ava’s baby.   And so should Ava, for the long ago murder of Connie.

So this week, let’s go somewhere new. Do you watch Nashville on ABC? It’s my favorite nighttime soap, and I’ll bet a lot of daytime soap fans agree.

Nashville is everything a daytime soap producer might imagine in his/her wildest dreams. For openers,   it’s a superlative job of world-building, capturing as it does with such impeccable authenticity the world of today’s Nashville, Tennessee – a thoroughly modern metropolis of the New South that also occupies a fabled position in our popular culture as the home of our uniquely American country music industry.

It’s not entirely fair, of course, to compare this weekly primetime juggernaut, with its audience of nine million and per episode budget of $4 million, with daytime soap opera’s five-days-per week worlds-without-end marathon. But it’s not the glitz and glamor and the fabulous music that make Nashville so compelling. It’s the series’ old-fashioned heart and soul of family drama – intersecting stories of love gained and lost, striving broken spirits who cry out and sometimes lash out in pain, and ambition both triumphant and failed, all at the confluence of family and fame.

Behind it all is the flow of creativity that all the characters share, the desire to make music that is their own. This becomes a struggle that infuses all the story lines, a battle between artistic honesty and fakery that is not unlike life itself.

Nashville is built around the world of Rayna Jaymes, a storied country superstar whose career is on down the line, as they say, at the point where she needs and wants to take charge. She does so by launching her own record label, the demands of which clash painfully with her other lives, as mother, wife and conflicted lover. Connie Britton plays her so truthfully, we can easily believe there is a real Rayna, right up there with Tammy and Loretta and Reba.

Rayna is divorced from Nashville’s slick mayor Teddy (Eric Close), engaged to fellow country superstar Luke Wheeler (the equally believable Will Chase), yet continually crossing paths with the man who surely will always be the love of her life, the alcoholic fabled guitarist/songwriter Deacon Claybourne, played by Charles Esten, who surely is the most attractive man on television.  Rayna and Deacon were lovers long ago and even have a daughter out of wedlock.  They have tried to rekindle their love on several occasions, but it’s just not right. I admire greatly that these characters are all truly adults, trying to honor their choices and do the right thing for their families and children. And all without saccharine.

Nashville’s parallel story line follows the fortunes of Juliette Barnes, one super self-centered hellion of a country/pop upstart from hardscrabble roots who launches herself as Rayna’s competition, becomes her nemesis, then her partner, then the object of public scorn. She’s played brilliantly by daytime alum Hayden Panettiere, who grew up on soaps on Guiding Light and One Life to Live.

Panettiere may be the bravest woman ever on television or in film. Rene Zellwegger deserved the kudos she earned for gaining weight for the title role in Bridget Jones Diary, and Panettiere goes her one better. In real life, Panettiere really is pregnant and has gained the usual pounds. Her Juliette is pregnant, too, proudly looking the part without either slimming camera tricks or insulting fat suit. A real woman playing a real woman. How refreshing.

There’s a whole bushel of intersecting secondary stories, each populated by superb acting talent to die for. These include Jonathan Jackson as aspiring songwriter Avery Barkley, father of Juliet’s baby. (You may recognize him from GH, where he grew up playing Lucky Spencer.)  Wonderful, too, are Clare Bowen as Deacon’s talented songwriter niece Scarlett, Sam Palladio as her ex Gunnar Scott, one time songwriting partner who belatedly learns he has a six year old son, and Chris Carmack as Will Lexington, a closeted country hunk who has made it big and is terrified he’ll be found out. What unites them is the steady stream of their soul-revealing music.

All of this is the work of Callie Khouri, who brought smart, flawed and therefore true-life women to the big screen in Thelma and Louise, now a classic. There’s nary a misstep in her Nashville, not a single thing I would change, not a moment when I want to look away from the screen. That is remarkable for such a broad and complex canvas. But Nashville doesn’t feel complex. Its storylines flow together like the lyrics of a country story song.

If you haven’t been tuning in – which I doubt – catch up somehow. You’ll be glad you did.

Heavenly November Sweeps Performances on The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

It’s been quite an eventful November sweeps so far.  Stories built over the course of a year or more usually reach their apexes if not their conclusions  over sweeps months (February, May, November) and writers plot their most dramatic action to stretch over these months.   This November’s star plots on The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital varied in quality but mostly  offered actors who pulled out all the stops and gave their best, sometimes Emmy-worthy performances during the month. Let’s partake of the feast:

The Young and the Restless — This was finally the month that Sharon’s long held secret – that she had switched the DNA results and Summer was really Nick’s biological daughter, not Jack’s as all had believed for the last year — was disclosed.  It was Phyllis (Gina Tognoni) who forced Sharon (Sharon Case) to disclose her lie on the very staircase where Phyllis had taken a fall, resulting in a coma that lasted a year. Tognoni (once Kelly on One Life to Live) was particularly forceful here, full of rage and tears, all aimed at Sharon.  Also giving a fine and very affecting  performance was Peter Bergman, whose Jack tearfully and shockingly found out that Summer wasn’t his natural daughter after all.

The Bold and the Beautiful — This is the month Eric picked his successor as CEO of Forrester Fashions.  His first choice was his son Ridge — until model Maya disclosed at a board meeting that Ridge had been kissing his sister-in-law and design collaborator, Caroline, who is Rick’s wife on the sly.  Jacob Young gave a particularly sympathetic and believable performance full of great depth as the betrayed Rick, as did Linsey Godfrey as the shattered Caroline.  Thorsten Kaye showed what a bastard normally good guy sly Ridge could be by brushing off responsibility for his amorous action.  Rick was finally chosen CEO.

General Hospital GH took us through several weeks when secrets were disclosed all over the place.   Roger Howarth was just delicious as Franco exposed his bride Carly mid-wedding ceremony as a cheat and a liar.  Carly had covered up the fact that Sonny killed his adopted son’s natural father A.J.  Laura Wright was extremely harrowing as the betrayed Carly, as was the even more betrayed and shocked Michael.  Chad Duell has been giving the performance of his GH career in this plot denouement   Also very good has been the always dependable  Robin Mattson, whose escaped criminal mental patient  Heather got mixed up in the almost wedding and held several characters including  Jordan and Sean hostage.  But best of all was long time acting couple Finola Hughes and Ian Buchanan, as police chief Anna had to arrest her lover Duke for covering up Sonny’s presence at A.J.’s murder.  These two actors always shine together, but were particularly effective and heavenly here.

And November sweeps isn’t even half over yet.