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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Soap Art

Remember that week in May I ran to my MySpace page day after day, praising the one-two punch of the BE takeover and Nash's death on One Life to Live?

This is going to be one of those blogs.

Last night, I caught up on about four episodes of Young and the Restless that I came this close to deleting (only because, as Sandy Cohen said in Season One of the OC "A Clear Tivo is a Clear Mind")... but a sudden case of insomnia left me sprawled out on the couch, immersed in Genoa City.

All was good - cliffhangers all around - Chloe is Kate! Nikki finds Victor! Just your average, run-of-the-mill Friday episode, filled with gorgeous men in tuxedoes, great veteran divas, and enough secrets revealed to get you back after the weekend.

But then... then there was Tuesday's episode.

There were three different threads running through the episode - Nikki confronting Victor after finding out he's alive, Victor's children reading the letters he wrote them back in Genoa City, and Jill, Kay, Cane and Esther reeling from the news that Chloe is really Kate.

First up, the structure of this episode was beautiful. I don't know who wrote the breakdown, but the seamless flow from Victor and Nikki in Mexico to the reading of the letters back home (alternating from one letter to the next in Victor's voice-over flawlessly, even though all three letters held very different messages), and then somehow folding into the juicy scandal of the Chloe/Kate story without it being jolting... just perfect.

And those letters! Look, if I was writing scripts, and somebody handed me a breakdown where half of my scenes were letters being written in voice-over for the entire scene... now that's a challenge! How do you make that compelling? How do you keep it suspenseful, when it's just a person standing there, reading a letter? When we wrote the Santo/Colleen letters on Days, we always cut away to Ireland. Trying to pull off a whole scene of just reading a letter is deadly. Y&R pulled it off though, and did it so theatrically, I really thought I was watching a play performed on stage. Intricately cutting off the voice-overs at just the right moments (Sharon interrupting Nick by bringing Noah in, Heather surprising Adam when he was in mid-sentence), only whetted my appetite to hear the rest of the letter further in the episode. They also managed to break up the letter-reading by giving some of the most important moments to Victor's voice-over... but then at just the right time, Victoria read a passage out loud to JT (the passage about her strength and her graciousness), or Heather sneaking Adam's letter out of the trash and reading aloud the passage that angered Adam so much earlier in the episode and made him throw it out in the first place - that Adam should inclue Victoria and Nick as part of his family. And these moments... Victor's soul opened up and left raw, revealing things his children have always wanted to hear... their quiet, wordless reactions, as they hung on each and every word their father wrote. It struck me on so many levels, moved me to tears frequently.

To intercut this with the terribly sad and frustrating scenes where Victor told Nikki he will continue to remain "dead", and no longer feels his home is with his family... after you've heard how much he loves his children in these letters? It gave me shivers. What was so magical about Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott's scenes was how little dialogue was involved. There was so much focus on the silences... on the reactions (Victor's stone-cold stare into the distance when Nikki admitted she fell off the wagon over her guilt was terrifying)... it wasn't about exposition, or melodramatic scenes being over-written. And book-ending the episode with two location scenes - the first when Victor found Nikki lying in the sand, and the last where Victor left her in the exact same place, as she cried and screamed his name, only to get no response from him at all as he walked away with his head held high... it was just simple, gut-wrenching, elegant, masterful.

But lest anyone think this all sounds too heavy and too morose... there was just enough soap with Kay, Jill, Cane and Chloe to bring a smile to your face. Jess Walton fired barbs right and left in her evening gown, while Jeanne Cooper tapped her carefully manicured nail against her cheek, absorbing the news that Chloe was her maid's daughter, and may or may not have carefully orchestrated the plot to get Jill's son pregnant. (EDIT: Okay, I have to keep that last sentence as I originally wrote it this morning before my coffee because it's just SO DAMN FUNNY. Obviously, you all know what I mean. I can't stop laughing. Thanks, Rashad, for pointing it out! No wonder I'm an unemployed writer!) For the first time since Cane was introduced I almost... almost ... forgave them for resurrecting Phillip. I still think it's a retcon that's nearly as bad as Erica's Reverse Abortion on All My Children... but the possibilities of Jill and Esther's kids sharing a child almost makes up for it. Almost.

There was such a sense of balance in this episode - of soapy camp that reined itself in and wasn't too over the top on one side of town, and gut-wrenching honesty and realness over on the Newman side. It was theatre at its finest.

Thanks, Maria and Hogan... and the entire cast and crew of Young and the Restless. When Tuesday's episode ended, I felt like I'd just been moved by an incredible painting in a museum. I encourage everyone who didn't see it to check it out on Soapnet this weekend during the marathon. Even if you don't know the show, and don't know its history, you'll still be affected. The Kay/Jill story is one any soap fan can connect with (let's face it - it's a soap story that's been done before many times, although I can't remember the last time it was done this well)... and the Newman story is about emotions we all understand - whether you're a Y&R fan for thirty years, or just for thirty seconds.

In a month where most soaps are throwing out purple gas, killer black bears, demons in swimming pools, and gay scandals in made-up foreign countries, it was refreshing to see thirty-nine minutes of entertainment that can only be described as art - plain and simple.

UPDATE: I've just learned Tuesday's breakdown was written by Maria and Hogan themselves, and the script was written by Janice Ferri Esser (Welcome back to Genoa City, Janice!) Congratulations to everyone on a truly beautiful episode, and on a stunning display of just how wonderful the art of collaboration can be in this industry. It's definitely one that will be remembered when 2008 is all over.

UPDATE 2: In case there was any question, I give praise when something really hits home for me. Be it Nash's death on OLTL, Jesse and Angie's wedding on AMC, or Tuesday's episode of Y&R. Again, this is just my personal opinion, and I do try and remain as objective as possible. However, you guys also know that I've worked with a lot of these people and know them as friends (and some, not-so-much-friends). So while that can certainly color one's opinion, I do try and keep an open mind. And none of these entries where I praise a show should be taken as me kissing ass so they'll hire me. In fact, to be fair: 1) On OLTL, I don't like all the camp going on, 2) On Y&R, I think Victor came home WAY too fast and we missed out on a lot, and 3) I didn't like AMC's musical beds sextet that dragged on during that great Hubbard wedding. See? I don't necessarily like every storyline my friends write. :-)

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