One Life to Live: Don’t Anoint It Best Yet! (Part 1)

By Marlena De Lacroix 

I have to admit I was very suspicious.  Not more than two weeks after its new head writer Ron Carlivati’s debut, a soap reporter from the northern climes  proclaimed One Life to Live the best soap of the year.  As a veteran soap critic, I’ve always felt you had to watch a soap a couple of months at least before you declare a soap has improved and a watch about a year of it to deem it the “best.”

Soon, more critics were crowning  it “best.”  Are we all so desperate for good soap opera these days that we’ll jump on the latest soap that is some semblance of better and rave our hearts out?  Yes, of course !  You all know how disappointing and incoherent most of our beloved soaps have become!  And along comes a redeemer like OLTL

Hallelujah!  We have seen paradise!   Not so fast, my dears.  Carlivati already has done unexpected wonders with the scripts, as I’ll discuss here today.  But the show still has an overwhelming number of problems, which I will discuss here in Part 2 of this column later this week.  For example, the  canvas is enormously unbalanced, weighted as it is toward male diva characters — for example. Todd Manning and John Mcbain.

But let’s start out on a positive note.  Carlivati has already made thinking fans like you and I rejoice with his unexpectedly sophisticated, topical  scripts.  Sure it’s great to crow  that Erika Slezak is being used again, as lifelong mega-rich girl Viki migrated to Texas to work as a waitress in a diner.  But listen closely to what she’s saying!  One day Viki actually advocated universal health care, when Gigi’s young son got sick and his waitress mother couldn’t afford medical help.  A few weeks later she ruminated to David about how hard it is for Americans to live on shoestring paychecks, the kind she was getting on her current job.  Viki, a soap opera character, making thoughtful social commentary!  Viki talking about the real world!  Quelle surprise!  It was like Queen Elizabeth II suddenly advocating socialism.

Another thing that blew my mind was that in the long sequences when everyone was “coincidentally” staying on the same hallway at the cheap Paris Suites (Viki, Charlie,  Marcy undercover, Todd and Blair for a night, David).  Carlivati deftly employed some of the conventions of theatrical farce, a form of fast-paced comedy that often has its characters running in and out of many doors trying to evade each other.  Think Alan Ayckbourn’s play, Bedroom Farce.  Or the French farce Boeing Boeing, about a playboy (Tony Curtis played him in a 1965 movie version) whose three airline stewardess girlfriends all come home from the friendly skies at the same time.

Although Carlivati didn’t have the transplanted Llanview-ites running between rooms, he certainly had them all walking into each other’s rooms, sometimes narrowly missing each other, other times mistaking each other’s identities and then falling all over each other.  On the lam mom Marcie in her wig missed Tommy’s biological father Todd by a wink. David calling Viki, “Niki” as soon as he saw her in the waitress outfit.  Visitor Gigi finding Marcie’s wanted poster freshly posted on the candy machine, just left there by Todd and confronting Marcie.   Meanwhile, over at the Buchanan mansion for Asa’s funeral, all the family mourners (Sarah,  Jared, Natalie, Clint, Nora, David and  Alex, and eventually Dorian) were also  staying in guest rooms on the same hall or home, all interacting madly: kissing the wrong person (Clint and Nora), sleeping with exes, (David and Dorian),  making out with your newfound ‘niece’ (Jared and Natalie).   All you things you’d normally do after a funeral!

Farce in two parallel worlds!  This is not just good writing in an era of dreck, it is sophisticated soap writing as art.  Who knew this was still possible?  Of course, these are only two examples of OLTL‘s improved writing, and the show has a long way to go towards the point where even I would think of declaring it best soap. Next column:  Can Carlivati fix the show’s massive structural problems?

Meanwhile until the scab scripts start airing (why now, Lord, after we’ve suffered so long?)  I’ll be relishing the sudden unusual intelligence of One Life to Live.  Who can believe it’s still allowed on an ABC soap?


  1. Marlena, you knew I was waiting for this column, didn’t you?

    I am cringing in advance of part two of your OLTL critique, but for now, I am happy with what you wrote!

    I am enjoying OLTL more now than I have in a long time. It gives daily doses of laughter (did you catch the Clint/Dorian/David “Oh My God” exchange?) and good old soap suspense (Will Marcie get caught?). Gee, even the Marty stuff is passable!

    The “all roads lead to Texas” stuff was improbable to be sure, but it did give us weeks of seeing our fave veteran performers do something they have not done for awhile – act! Seriously, even Marlena can’t resisit the daily doses of Nigel Bartholomew Smythe, right?

    Yes,we get too much of John McBain. And yes, Todd’s a diva. But they are not the focus of the show, thankfully. And it’s time to clean house – Miles, Vincent, Layla. But the rest is perfect, centered as it is around the Buchs, Lords and Cramers.

    I’ll be waiting anxiously for part 2. Don’t keep us waiting long!

    By the way, Marlena, if OLTL isn’t the best soap right now, what is?

    Oh Dale, you know me too well! I am in ecstacy over the abundant use of Nigel; I love Peter Bartlett so much I see every Broadway show he does. And you beat me to it — you devil — calling for a housecleaning of all those irrelevant characters! I live for real soap writing like this, but what we see in each day’s OLTL script is so-o-o different from the usual soap drek-ola, it’s almost too good (and funny!) to be true. But a soap isn’t all writing; more on this in a few days, dear.

  2. Chere Marlena,

    Well, it may be too early to declare OLTL the Best Soap of the Year, but I will say it is currently the Most Entertaining and Satisfying Soap on the air.

    The show feels much more balanced. The vets are getting storylines, there’s humor and pathos, the have nots are getting represented, social issues getting mentioned. Feels better than it has in more than a decade.

    Ron Carlivati certainly knows the show’s history and he’s honoring it, which puts it miles ahead of most of the other soaps. Bringing back Alex for a short gold digger stint was genious. Having the seemingly forgotten RJ visit Lindsay was a nice touch, made even nicer by Bo mentioning RJ’s even more forgotten brother Hank. David seeing waitress Viki and immediately assuming she was Niki was so in keeping with the show. Asa remembering that he had a (rarely mentioend) grandson named CJ. Remembering that Chuck Wilson was a major part of Asa’s life when he first arived in Llanview and giving him a grandson was a breath of fresh air.

    Oh sure there are still some problems. I completely agreee and will look forward to your next column. But compared to other shows (Days, AMC to name just two), OLTL is shaping up nicely.

    Its the first soap I want to watch on my Tivo each day, out of 6 that I record daily. And that”s the best complimentI can pay it. .

  3. Marlena, I am in accord with your OLTL critique -for the most part. I am actually enjoying the Paris diner and the people there. Sure , Moe, Gigi and Noelle are pretty stereotypical but they are likeable.

    I did think the name Paris was a little too “look how clever we are” from the writer, but soaps are so bad right now, I’ll grin and bear it.

    I do believe OLTL is very good compared to the other soaps but nothing happening that I can’t miss for a day or two or even a few weeks.

    Maybe my “problem” is that I have outgrown soap operas. Much like I outgrew playing with Barbies, reading comic books, and blowing mammoth bubbles with my Bubbleyum.

    Marlena says: I’m sorry you feel you’ve outgrown soap operas. I strongly suspect the problem was the soap operas who over the last decade or so didn’t grow up–get mature–with you. They’ve been dumbed down and I’m sure you’ve grown in the opposite direction. I grew up through the decades with soap operas, but that was in an earlier era when soaps were consistent and had some intelligence and integrity. But now you like OLTL–a soap that has rare intelligence–so maybe there’s hope for us all!

  4. I am definitely enjoying OLTL more than I dreamed possible just a few short months ago. Granted, not all the stories are flowing together quite as seamlessly as I would prefer, and the pacing for the Marcie/Tommy storyline is dragging. Generally however, I think Ron Carlivati is doing a great job of keeping the stories moving, improving the cast integration (for the characters I most care about anyway), and keeping me surprised. His use of comedy has vastly improved my enjoyment of the show as well.

    The main problems I have had with the show in the past are being corrected.

    Look for Part 2 of my OLTL column later in the week!

  5. Ugh. Not a fan of social commentary in dialogue–especially coming from high and sanctimonious rich woman Viki who never had to work for a dime in her life. Oh she worked, but she never HAD to try to find a job on her own. To hear her lecturing David about those poor folks in Texas, and how happier she is struggling for every dime, yeah, whatever. How about digging into your deep pockets and help these poor folks? She’s a jerk.

    Marlena says: Coggie mon cher ami, I know I can always count on you for an independent, alternative view. But I just don’t think Viki has never been smug about her wealth and she’s been too busy the last thirty years coping with one personal problem after another to look down on poorer folk. Maybe OLTL can introduce the concept of charity to soaps as you suggest. What can I say? I have always been fervent Viki fan.

  6. I agree that its too early to name a soap best soap or most improved so soon after there has been changes with a head writer or executive producer.
    Reminds me of a few years ago on Guiding Light (I believe it was 2004) when they got a new executive producer (Ellen Wheeler) and head writer (David Kreizman). Right after they joined the show it was so much better than it had been in years, they had great stories like Phillip turning into a major control freak and power hungry, Harley and Gus’ breakup during their wedding, etc. And they brought on the fabulous Gina Tognini to play Dinah Marler.

    So the show was a big improvement and the viewers and the critics were loving it, but it just ended up getting our hopes up because the show went right back to being lame again (and has been ever since!)

    So hopefully OLTL will stay at this creative peak and not go back to the way it was earlier this year.

  7. i was just about to make the same point as blake, and take it a few steps further.

    In his review of the season opener of “friday night lights” “boston globe” television critic, matthew gilbert, posed a question:

    “Tonight, when “Friday Night Lights” returns for a second season, it will ask viewers a simple question: How forgiving are you? Does your loyalty extend beyond one stumble?”

    so are we soap veiwers just patient, or masochistic? sometimes i wonder if we’ve been treated so badly for so long that we haven’t internalized the abuse (sorry, i’ve got the flucan’t think of a better word), but i’m not sure that i’m all that far off the mark.

    Btw, here’s what gilbert went on to say about fnl:

    “But a huge event such as murder is out of sync with the real-life tone of the show. One of the great things about “FNL” has been the way it makes ordinary smalltown life into something so rich in pain and heroism and struggle. There are murders everywhere else on TV, and “FNL” stands out in part for providing serious drama without dead bodies. ”

    Same thing goes for daytime.

  8. Oh, I hope you read my wax-poetic about OLTL. It is yummy–the acting top notch. David Vickers the other day? WOW….love that man! (why wasn’t he on Wisteria Lane for the tornado though!? Hmmmm).
    We also GOT OUTSIDE shots! Yes, they ventured outside to actually film. Unlike cheap GH which denotes “outside” when people wear sunglasses to Emily’s funeral.
    If OLTL was on at 3, it would kick butt in ratings, imo.

  9. Hi there…Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts coming..happy Wednesday.

  10. bakedghoti says:

    Marlena! Thank God you have a website where we can interact with you. You are one of the best soap journalists. Thank God you commented on all this glorification of OLTL! Can you imagine Nelson Branco? I think he’s the journalist you’re referencing in the beginning of your article. He has the audactiy to compare Carlivati to Douglas Marland!

    I loved your old column, and I love reading your new forum!

  11. Sheila Williams says:

    Well Marlena, I agree with everything you have said about OLTL, but they have lost me and many others as fans of the show because of the lack of diversity they have on the show. They had one of the most talented AA actress on the show and they didn’t even fight to keep her on the show at contract time and the few that are left on the show are simply there to support other people on the show. They got rid of Tim S. and hired Jerry Van Dern, who was on GL for years and didn’t do much for that show either. You are right that they have gaged the viewers to death with the constant sightings of the two diva’s on the show, ME and TSJ, which I am a fan of both, but Ron C has not done anything that would bring me or many of the fans that have left back to the show, especially since the show is no longer has front burnner AA on the show. They need to do whatever it takes to get REG back on the show and put Tim S. back on contract, maybe they would win some of the fans back, but from what the ratings are showing, apparently they don’t care if they win back the viewers, because they continue to cut of their noses to spite their faces.

  12. Sheila Williams says:

    Great job on your review. Again I agree with all you have said.

  13. I think that OLTL has improved, but who knows with the way things are if it will continue to improve or fall into a slump.

    Viki being a waitress in some ways, I’m sorry does harken back to Niki and some of her adventures with the less wealthy side of town. What I did appreciate was once David heard what Viki was doing that he wondered if people at the diner would accept her as rich. She has been lying to them for months, and when she may have been able to help them, she stepped back and did nothing.

    The material at the ranch and the Bon Suites were pure farce which is a lot different than what was airing before. If they had everyone act at the ranch that way and Asa had just died, it wouldn’t have been funny. And Bo not being there would have been shameful if it was a funeral. A will reading after Asa’s been gone a few months at least gave them time to breathe.

    My only guess that this stuff got past ABC is that they weren’t paying attention.

  14. Marlena! I’ve been a fan of yours since the olden days, when I’d have to sneak the soap mags in and out of my parents’ house like so much contraband! I don’t think the internet existed yet.

    I suppose the only way to proclaim a soap the “best on the air” is to objectively watch every single soap opera. Does anyone have the time? I can’t even stomach the last ten minutes of AMC that I record every day and then, inevitably, fast-forward through. So I would never claim that OLTL was the best. What I think can be said about the show, though, is that it is the best it’s been in several years. True, there are still weaknesses – some that can never disappear so long as the current cast remains intact. But Carlivati has nicely covered up many of those weaknesses already, and he’s making some very unexpected and interesting choices elsewhere on the canvas. I can’t find much to complain about at this juncture – I’m still reeling with delight that I’m no longer forced to watch DH’s material.

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