Monday, January 9, 2012

One Life To Waste

Soon, perhaps not soon enough, One Life To Live, the ABC daytime soap opera, will be over...maybe. It may get a regeneration in the form of an online web series... or not. Whatever happens, its time on network television is running out, and will it go out with a bang - or like a cancelled comic book?

I often hear people use soap opera as an example of good storytelling in comics - "..the stories have enough of a soap opera-element to get the reader to want to ask ,'What happens next?'" Unfortunately, soap operas on television often belie this idea - they are the best examples of bad storytelling. Stories that have no plot last over a year, then extended if popular/unpopular because the writer has hit a dead end. Characters linger on past their sell-by date, bad teenage actors, weird plot connections, and worst of all, new characters are introduced either to pander to trends or further the current plot. One Life - set in an expanding working-class New Jersey town - has got it all - The Buchannon family were introduced to capitalize on the popularity of Dallas and never went back to Texas. A popular baby-switching storyline that featured Judith Light and Tommy Lee Jones (!) did not end until most of the principal characters had already left. Inner-city ghetto Angel Square and the Vega/Delgado families (Carlotta, Antonio, Christian and Tea) did not exist until the mid-90's. Before that, the show was mostly quaint New England coziness with looming skyscrapers thrown in. It was the middle-child among the ABC soaps, and , if you ask my Mom, the best years were 1993-1995, "...when they ended they story lines fast - on the next day, Joe! The next day!"  Oh, and the years when Jill Larsen played Ursula - a loony who liked to flirt with other loonies by showing her talent at building homespun electric chairs. You really had to be there to see that one. Then there's Eternia - the show's nadir. A fortune (well, in TV talk it was a fortune) spent imagining a lost city built by more-alive-when-dead tycoon Victor Lord and had all the excitement of a Land Of The Lost marathon. Eternia...Eternia - why does that sound familiar? ;)

Then there's Todd Manning. Former gang-rape leader turned tabloid newspaper magnate. As played by Roger Howarth, the character was the Joker of Llandview, PA (Didn't I just write that the town was set in New Jersey? Well, I guess Eternia took up so much space to build that all the people had to move to Pennsylvania, because the writer's have it set there, now). Always the first suspect in every crime (usually outwitting the slow-as-shit ne'er-do-well Commish, Bo Buchannon, and his comely wife Nora - the town DA) and represented by his ex-wife Tea Delgado (played like a Red Shoe Diaries character by Florencia Lozano, who often outsmarts everyone by talking down to them in a condescending manner : "Your honor, my client needed to have a time out because he did not get apple juice on his last play date.") When Howarth left, we had to endure his replacement, Trevor St. John, who played the character more like a cheap thug - you really felt like the writers needed to give up the ghost watching him play a character that had run out of mileage. Howarth came back, but they didn't want to lose St. John, so a contrived "Identical twins" twist was drunkenly pulled out someones posterior, and we've had to swallow that one for the last year or so, even after St. John left and his Todd (Victor Lord Jr.) was killed off by Howarth's Todd (ironically one of the few crimes he was actually guilty of).

I'm really leaving out a bunch of stuff, here. All the bad teen romances, the musical episodes ("We were more stoned pulling this crap out than we were when they came up with that Eternia thing.") , "Very Special Episodes" devoted to social issues that featured characters created by demand of social interest groups, and ... and... well, if it was really any good, it wouldn't be replaced by a show where a group of people with no last names tell you how to pick out clothes. Seriously, even divine intervention (Oprah) turned them down.

(for more information about the history of this cancelled TV show - I guess it's up to fan-fic now - consult Wikipedia by typing 'Tea Delgado', 'Todd Manning', 'Victoria Lord Reilly Buchannon Carpenter Davidson Balsam Buchannon', or 'One Life To Live')

UPDATE - March 27, 2012:  I noticed the online web series plan fell apart and ABC has decided to take four OLTL characters and add them to the cast of "General Hospital" - John McBain, Todd Manning, Blair Manning (yeah, she married Todd again) and Starr Manning. It was the most graceful of transitions: A car carrying Starr, her daughter Hope and husband/boyfriend/baby-daddy (I forget if they got married at all) Cole Thornheart on their way to Port Charles was wrecked in a botched hit arranged by Sonny (Maurice Bernard), the mob boss with a cold heart of gold. Instant conflict! Plus, Instant trip to ... General Hospital - the place where gangsters go to get patched up. The soap used to be a sudser dealing with medical-type stuff, but that gave way to storylines involving spies, gangsters, noisy fist-shaking tycoons, Rick Springfield, Elizabeth Taylor cameos, weight-lifting aliens, Dancing With The Stars contestants and James Franco as James Franco. my big complaint about the show is the cost-cutting measure to use the dimmest lighting possible - it looks like my tv is about to go. Oh, and it feels like there are too many characters, too many models for the camera (some of the actresses here look alike and they're not playing twins). With the OLTL gang in place (hopefully Robin Strasser - Dorian Lord - won't be far behind), it's time for some serious spring cleaning. Oh, and brighter lights, please.


  1. One reason I feel that Soap Operas are dying out is that the utter schlock and luridness traditionally associated with the Soap Opera cannot compete with the utter schlock and luridness of today’s reality TV. For my money, you can keep both!

    Once upon a time, Stan Lee revolutionized the common comic book by adding Soap Opera elements to otherwise standard superhero plots. It worked – Marvelously (pun intended!)

    But, over the years, and like so many other things, that has been carried too far – to the point where uninitiated would-be readers, walk away, unable to get enough from the comic-book reading experience to make it worthwhile. That’s MY opinion, anyway!

  2. I would agree if I didn't know about the popularity of Spanish nightime soap operas. There's a sense that the American soaps were like antique engines running on moss-covered track. They didn't evolve much. In fact, the real reason why so many daytime soaps are getting yanked is because executives can get the same ratings with cheaper programming, like The Chew. Uncle Scrooge would approve.