Days of Our Lives: A Soap in a Vacuum

By Patrick Erwin

Days of Our Lives can be called many things, but “boring” is seldom one of them.  The show’s twists, turns, and red herrings sometimes make The daVinci Code look like Dr. Seuss in comparison!

Headwriter Hogan Sheffer and executive producer Ed Scott have been trying to pull together some loose threads at Days.  One big challenge facing the show is that those out-of-left-field twists and turns have made Days the soap that always cries, “Wolf!” Days is one of the most fantasy-based soaps on the air.  Any story has to have an element of believability to it.  On Days, however, reality can be relative.  Love, lust, and consequences can play out in a vacuum (if they play out at all).Days logo

Let’s examine John Black, whose death has just opened a hugely controversial can of worms in Salem. Over the years, he’s been (a) a nameless, faceless pawn who then was (b) identified as Roman Brady, who he was thought to be until the real Roman returned.  At that time, he went by (c) John Black, until he learned he was really (d) Forrest Alamain, who was Vivian Alamain’s nephew.  He was later revealed to be (e) Tony DiMera’s half brother.  Huh?

Fans have followed the saga of John, due to the popularity of Drake Hogestyn, who played John.  Rumors are abounding that Hogestyn will come back as John, or another character. It may give the show a temporary boost, and the fans may suspend disbelief in this case.  However, the show’s history begs the question:  Does anything really happen in Salem?  Does anything really affect the characters forever?  Or are love, death, loss and happiness just fleeting feelings that happen in a vacuum?  Fake-outs and a lack of payoff to a story make fans wary of getting invested.  And if they can’t invest in what they’re watching…well, they just won’t watch.

John and Marlena fans may have been cheated, but John’s death certainly gave Deidre Hall some meaty scenes.  Hall has been a fixture at Days for decades. Hall always reminds me of her time slot competitor at All My Children, Susan Lucci:  both about the same age, with similar tenures on their shows.  Both ladies miraculously seem to have keys to the Wayback Machine; neither actress seems to have aged in decades.  Both are immensely popular and important to their shows. Neither is exactly a   virtuoso performer, but both are proficient at what they do and generally play to their strengths.  For Hall, her strength has always been her character’s empathy and caring nature, as well as her flirtatious, Lauren Bacall-style physicality and sensuality with her leading men.

The show did a curious thing during the first Jim Reilly regime:  It had Marlena possessed by the devil, a gimmick that  gave the show a huge burst of energy at the time.  It’s tried to give Hall similar stories since, like being an alleged serial killer, with mixed results. The whole idea seems a bit like watching your grandmother curse:  it may have made a huge and dramatic impact the first time, but seems more sad and pathetic as time goes on. Days now has Hal  gearing up for a Jodie Foster-esque story to exact vigilante justice on John’s killer.

Days has puzzled fans by keeping their most popular stars on the sidelines.  Kristian Alfonso (Hope), Peter Reckell (Bo), Stephen Nichols (Patch), and Mary Beth Evans (Kayla) have all been on ice.  It’s especially confusing, since Alfonso and Reckell did a great job with the story of Zack’s death, and Nichols and Evans were brought back with great fanfare.  Ditto for the actors in the DiMera storyline, especially Leann Hunley (Anna) and Joseph Mascolo (Stefano), who were both missed a great deal by fans and were both poorly utilized.

It’s not as if the show has a lock on its young set, either:  The show broke up one of the best couples they’d had in years in Nick and Chelsea, and pulled them out of each other’s orbit.  Longtime fans of Belle and Shawn are upset (and rightly so) that the show seems to be chasing a Belle/Philip pairing.   And probably no story has fans up in arms more than the Lucas/Sami/EJ story.  I like Alison Sweeney, but her Sami is neck-in-neck with AMC‘s Alicia Minshew’s Kendall for the Most Overexposed Character of the year.

And while I had high hopes for Hogan Sheffer, I’m mortified how the nonconsensual sex between Sami and EJ has been written.  Rape is rape, and for Sheffer and company to suggest Sami would be attracted to her rapist is a deplorable message.  The Colleen/Santo story, while not as lurid, was a badly conceived, badly executed story that made the actors involved look like idiots.  It also cheated fans out of yet another payoff.  Instead of a big payoff to the long-running DiMera/Brady feud, the story came to a whimpering halt.

I get that Days has traditionally been a big, sweeping fantasy.  The show knows — or at least knew — how to do star-crossed romance and true love better than any other show on the air.  Days has been trying hard to be other shows — to be General Hospital, or sci-fi, or even As The World Turns (Hogan Sheffer’s previous show).  Instead, it needs to just be its bighearted, romantic, star-crossed self.


  1. Justin Murphy says:

    The show needs a big Brady-DiMera showdown, not this complacent thing with Sami and E.J. being this happy couple raising the twins while Lucas has visitation rights. There is a way to wrap up all these storylines in anamazing way which enthralls the fans by giving the vets much needed screentime while allowing the next generation a chance to step up to the plate.

    The Cruise of Deception was a huge payoff for Days fans around 1990-1991 which ended old storylines and started new ones. They could get all the major characters in one big location, and give the fans the long awaited Brady-Dimera showdown they’ve been waiting for involving Marlena, Roman, Bo/Hope, Patch/Kayla, Stefano, Tony, and even Anna and Lexie.

    Such a storyline would also be a great way to wrap up the triangles between Shawn/Phillip/Belle and Sami/E.J./Lucas.

    And for Nick and Chelsea, they could’ve had Jeremy force himself on her in a drunken stupor, and intensify the Nick/Jeremy feud. Instead of killing the rapist the way Chelsea and Stephanie’s sorority did with Ford, they could draw from history with the Bill/Mickey/Laura storyline. With Bill taking up for grandson Jeremy, and Mickey siding with live-in nephew Nick. Of course a sane Laura could provide a sympathetic ear to Chelsea also.

    What do you think?

  2. I thought John was both an Alamain (on his father’s side) and Daphne Dimera’s son or at least that’s how I puzzled it out in my brain.

    Love, loss and death on DOOL do play out and I don’t see it as a vacuum as situations do play out over the canvas. The only thing is months or years later, the show will take it back. This is better than when things we expect to play out never happen.

    Supposedly Days couldn’t afford to use the veteran actors you mentioned so characters like Bo, Hope, John, Marlena, Patch and Kayla were put on ice as a cost saving measure. Though having scenes with characters just reading letters to newly created flashbacks with Sami and EJ look-a-likes was a waste of resources.

    I do agree they completely squandered Nick and Chelsea. Days is known for their great romantic scenes and when they consummated the relationship we saw absolutely nothing. The characters broke up and then ignored one another for months, it was just that bad. With Belle and Shawn, I’m sort of torn as the relationship break up effects me a lot less with different performers in the roles. They aren’t the same kids that went to the Last Blast together.

    Sami/EJ/Lucas is the story that ate Days. Whether or not one sees what happened with Sami/EJ as rape or not, it just took way too much time away from everything else. Colleen/Santo causing a family war for generations and Grandpa Shawn being de-aged was ludicrous. At this point, I pretty much have given up watching this plot. I just don’t care, and don’t get me started about Sami’s babies.

    Days used to be (at least back in the 80s) big sweeping romantic fantasy, with romance and true love. Now they seem to want to get more bang for the buck with more sensational plots at least after the success of Marlena’s possession back in the 90s.

  3. Smelly Kelly Jay says:

    I refuse to watch DOOL after the debacle that was the Salem Slasher story a few years back. I grew up watching “The Edge of Night” and was hoping that DOOL’s huge murder mystery would be a decent throw back to the great stories the former show told. I watched DOOL everyday for much of the story, looking for clues, trying to figure out whodunit, in spite of the show too often coming off to me like bad episodes of “Saved by the Bell.” I mean, mixing Bonnie’s zany antics with the ghost of Maggie dressed up as a fairy godmother while the rest of the town mourned Maggie was so tacky and tasteless. I put up with it all, hoping the payoff would be awesome, but I gave up around the time Marlena woke up from her embalment and was chuted to the island of the living not-so-dead. That story was a gruesome, offensive, insulting cheat and cop out. . . and badly done as well. It missed emotional beat after emotional beat, skipped over important details, rewrote recent history, and eventually petered out. It was just awful. They lost me as a viewer and, to me, represented the very worst of the genre.

  4. Wow, all of the other comments are so articulate and thought-provoking – kudos to you all! All I can say is that in the past year Days has gone from must-see exciting to boring to (what the heck?) and then back to boring. In all honesty, I’ve pretty much given up on it anymore…

    I also want to thank you, Patrick, for your well-written articles. I’m glad to see you aboard at Team Marlena and always enjoy reading your newest post!

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