Steamboat Episode 5 – The Ghost of GL?

I was prepared for this.  I knew it was coming, given the cast of this show.  Sooner or later the writers would pair characters on screen who were previously paired on their original soaps.  Such pairings would leave the viewer asking the question:  ‘Is this pairing better now than before?’.  It’s a risk.   The possibility exists that fans will decide that Steamboat’s writers should have left well enough alone and not begged the comparison.  Judge for yourself before I give you my answer to the above question:

I’m a rabid Steamboat fan, and so every seeming inside joke is just a delight for me.  I was not a fan of  The Guiding Light’s “Rick Bauer’ and ‘Beth Spaulding’ (now Steamboat’s Michael and Tabitha).  I disliked the pairing immensely, so  I’m shocked to find myself rooting for Tabitha and Michael on Steamboat.  I know.  I know…Tabitha and Michael aren’t a couple .  In fact, Tabitha is deeply repulsed by the idea of even kissing Michael while in character and filming their show – so why would I want to see them happy and in love as a behind-the-scenes couple?  It’s even odder if you consider the fact that.  Tabitha and Michael are engaging though  exaggerated versions of their GL counterparts.  At the time ‘Beth Spaulding’ began dating ‘Rick Bauer’ (or sleeping with him for kicks and helping him cheat on his loving family), she’d become a cold and cruel shell – a far cry from the Beth Spaulding  fans  first loved.  Her mission was to make herself happy at everyone else’s expense, including Rick, Mel – his wife, and their daughter Leah.

Tabitha’s knee to Michael’s groin was the physical manifestation of Beth’s ‘knee’ to Rick’s  life (aiding him in ruining his marriage, ending the only real happiness he’d had in a very long time).  Beth caused Rick as much pain as Tabitha caused Michael – the only difference was the location of the pain. GL’s Rick, like Steamboat’s Michael, had a history of being cast aside and treated as  second best for so long that the thought of even the slimmest chance to get close to the object of his unspoken affections (Beth) was enough for him to run the risk of being used and discarded.  He’d talked himself into believing there was a shot of  real happiness with Beth even after her horrid personality change.

Michael is an even sadder sad sack character than Rick, tossed aside for the  sake of the pretty boys, secretly lusting for the ‘hot but crazy girl’, and hoping to have his shot at proving he’s worthy of being considered a real leading man.  Despite Tabitha’s warning in the last episode that she’d kill him if he even thought of kissing her in their upcoming love scenes, emboldened by Scott – he went for broke… and was broken.

Given the above comparison, am I suggesting that writer/actor Michael O’ Leary has  become the independent soap equivalent of the former writers of GL?  Are the two seemingly different shows already converging?  HELL NO!  What made Rick and Beth such a horrific pairing is that their relationship flew in the face of GL history and was built on purely selfish instincts – making them a danger to anyone who loved them, and to one another.  Beth was well aware of the unimaginable pain her husband/former father-in-law would inflict on Rick and didn’t care that she was putting him at risk;  Rick, who’d loved her and cared for her since they were  teens.  Rick, who’d always been a heroic good guy became the worst sort of man – a cheating husband who was willing to leave his daughter fatherless for a woman who didn’t love him.

Tabitha and Michael are such new and fresh characters that a pairing between them wouldn’t bring the same sort of baggage as GL’s Beth and Rick.  O’Leary is a competent writer who  knows how to take his characters to the brink and pull them back in just enough time.  It makes you both glad he pulled them back, and makes you wish they were back on that edge, again.  You feel as if you’ve missed something when they don’t go over that cliff, because you want to go with them.  The possibilities  for a Tabitha/Michael pairing are endless.  There’s something about rooting for an underdog like Michael.

The story is repeated countless times in films such as “Taming of the Shrew’, “Kiss Me Kate’, and even ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ (each film increasingly less sexist by the way).   Tabitha should never be ‘tamed’, just less abusive to Michael.  Everyone else is fair game. The running joke on the show is that he’s not the pretty boy of daytime and everyone feels comfortable reminding him of that.  He is, however, that character female audiences love.  Poor Michael is not the pretty boy, he’s the good man worth a thousand of the pretty boys.  He’s the man female audiences idealize even while being excited by the bad boys.   In the end, we still want the good guy to win.

Speaking of being out on that edge

Who the frack  gets shot at the end, PEOPLE?  I loved Michael and Dirk’s nonchalant response to the gunfire, but I need to know!   My money is on Rhonda.  Is  Tabitha the shooter?  Will she still be holding the smoking gun while wearing a gleeful… snarl?  Will Scott feel liberated by Rhonda’s shooting or angry that he didn’t get to pull the trigger himself?  HEY!   Maybe the victim getting the ‘Tabitha Treatment’  is the  poor hapless  Lactene girl, Candy.  There we have it.   One onscreen ‘too old to be my granddaughter’ character goes down.  Will the Steamboat cast get to keep Candy’s set and dump the Cedars Hospital green screen special?

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Kim Zimmer, Michael O’Leary, Scott Bryce, Michael Park…

Justin Deas, Orlagh Cassidy, Kurt McKinney, Beth Chamberlain and more.  Where are you going to find them all?  On the online series “Steamboat”.  I know, I know, yet another online series… you’ve got to check this one out.  It’s good (at least I think so).  It’s a mix of a modern day ‘Soap‘ and ‘Soap Dish‘, and will hopefully make it to air:

The problem with GL is this…

I am in awe of fans who love daytime to the point of working to save it, despite what writers and EPs have done by way of making the genre unrecognizable.  Fans are holding on to the hope that not only are daytime brass listening to their concerns, but that they’ll actually do something about them.  It’s not just The Guiding Light.  Daytime fans are in the same position no matter which show they watch.  I’ve chosen to focus on The Guiding Light because of long swirling rumors that the show is on the verge of cancellation (rumors that have persistently dogged this show and its fans for a number of years, now).

Below are five things that I believe have been consistently wrong with the show – five things that are easily corrected. 

1.  Get rid of the ‘live from Peapack’ shots.  Daytime is about fantasy, escapism, and about the impossible becoming plausible.  I have no doubt that Peapack has many homes with lush interiors filled with fine furniture, open floor plans, hardwoods, crown moulding, stainless steel appliances, and custom cabinetry.  It makes sense that the show’s budget doesn’t allow for location shoots in those environments.  Instead, the current interiors are shoddy, and frankly – they’re depressing.  I’ve jokingly referred to Springfield as the land of cheap knotty wood paneling and faux stone.  It’s no longer a joke to me.  I’m distracted by the bad decor and dark interiors when trying to focus on the characters and dialogue.  

It’s hard to see a man like Remy Boudreau  living in a cheap apartment.  His living conditions  make sense for a couple like Daisy and Grady, who have a hard time maintaining steady employment.  On any other show, willingly living in the conditions Remy lives in would be a sign of a character in emotional, psychological or financial distress.  We would ask ourselves if Remy was punishing himself as part of a deep depression, or  an unyielding sense of guilt for some perceived wrong.  The type of decor that’s prevalent on GL usually comes with a liquor bottle and bad attitude on any other soap – and on the GL of the past.

If watching someone like Remy (solidly upper middle/upper class) live in such squalid conditions, think about what it means to see the fabulously wealthy Spauldings live in roughly two cramped rooms, or Olivia live in a tiny farmhouse, or the Lewises wandering from place to place because they have no where to live at all – that we’ve seen.  The exception is Bill Lewis, who lives in a tiny hotel room.  From Remy to the Spauldings to the Lewises –  all are living in spaces that are the sizes of what should be their clothes closets.

Guiding Light is the least aesthetically pleasing show in daytime.  Beautiful people, ugly scenery.  If it’s true that the network is saving money by purchasing/renting the current locations, great!  But there’s a trade-off and given the ratings, I have a feeling that other (former) GL fans are having  a hard time looking at the show in it’s current state. 

2.  Make better use of the big moments and pay homage to your the show’s rich history.  There aren’t a lot of ‘big moments’ left on any show, but GL had the perfect opportunity to grab back some of the show’s glory and to reunite it’s signature couple with this one scene:

As Reva lay dying, Josh confessed his heart and soul to her.  They talked about how long and how deeply they’d loved each.  Josh told her that he  couldn’t conceive of a world that she wasn’t a part of (and we pretended not to remember that he’d already lived through a Reva “death” when she drove off a bridge during the course of her postpartum storyline.  We realized that he meant that he’d already had to live in a Reva-less world once before and that he couldn’t stomach the thought of doing it again).

What happened?  Reva came back to him this time too, and Josh moved on without her.  After all of his tears, his pain, and his comments about not wanting to live without her, not only did he move on but he moved on with her sister.  Both Josh and Cassie treated Reva’s survival as an ‘annoyance’; Josh most especially when Reva let him know that she wanted to save their marriage.  Every moment that took place after the ‘death’ scene made a mockery of Josh and Reva’s epic history. It just did not compute that when the writers could have cleared the coast for this legendary couple, they kept them apart.  The writers were so determined to break them up that Reva defied the laws of  nature.  She became pregnant with another man’s baby after twice undergoing menopause.  You figure that one out.  I can’t and wouldn’t want to if I could.

3.  Allow characters to behave as if they live in the same town.  Either that, or stop having them talk about how much they value family.  Why, dear writers, has Beth put more effort into planning a romantic getaway with her boyfriend than into helping her daughter heal after her kidnapping ordeal?

We’ve seen many more scenes of Coop and Beth pawing each other than we have of Beth embracing Lizzie and trying to help her, most especially since Lizzie has become suspicious that her boyfriend, Bill Lewis, potentially played a role in her abduction.  Is Beth aware of the fact that she’s still Lizzie’s mother?   This is a mother and daughter living in the same house and yet they have very little contact. 

Alan is no angel, either.  He was obsessed with Rafe’s medical care when Gus was alive.  He arranged for Rafe to meet with the top physicians in the country and was willing to pay for advanced medical treatment to control his diabetes.  Now?  Natalia is killing herself to get the medicine Rafe needs by paying for it at her own pharmacy and having it sent to the prison (uh, yeah, that would happen in the real world!).  Why haven’t the Spauldings mentioned Rafe and Natalia?   How has Alan managed to avoid running into Natalia given how many of the same places they both visit?

Why hasn’t Alan already pulled enough strings to have Rafe sleeping in a single cell -with silk sheets covering  his pillow top mattress?  That’s only, of course, until Alan could have him sprung from prison.  Alan has recently gone through a trial and faced prison time.  No sympathy for Rafe?  Is Alan only capable of being obsessed with one grandchild at a time?  Is interfering with Lizzie’s love life REALLY more important than keeping Rafe out of prison, or at least safe while he’s behind bars?  It’s hard to care about Alan’s obsession with Lizzie, given his lack of concern about Rafe.  

4.  Recognize that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery.  Guiding Light is working on solving one of it’s biggest problem – the shedding of old school characters and replacing them with newer characters who were meant to serve the same function, but somehow fall flat. In the mad dash to win over the 18 – 24s who were never planning a  mass defection to daytime, great characters like Edmund were cut loose to make room for pale imitations like Kane Manera’s Grady Foley.  Manera is a brilliant actor.  His choices are instinctual and highly consistent.  I like the actor, I just hate the writing for him.  Between the writing and the direction, there was never any hope for Manera’s Grady to become a likable character.  Where David Andrew McDonald’s Edmund was far more nuanced, and more choices about the character appeared to be placed in the actor’s hands, Manera’s Grady was more of a caricature of Edmund and every other GL bad boy.

Grady was never allowed a moment to be ‘human’ (as Edmund was).  Grady was never allowed to develop a backstory that would allow us to see him in a more vulnerable light, as Edmund was.  While Edmund acted out as a way of dealing with the pain of being measured against the impossibly perfect Richard; Grady was just one more sociopath in a family of sociopaths.  I’d like to say that I’ll miss Grady when he eventually goes, but I won’t.   There’s nothing likable or root-worthy left when it comes to this character, through no fault of his portrayer.  

5.  Don’t turn strong storylines and characters into ‘gimmicks’.

Watching Olivia and Natalia this past week, I wondered if the writers have thought about where they’d take the two after their current friendship/relationship ends, and eventually it will.  Will they go back to who they were before?  Are they forever changed?   

Is this only a matter of living in the same home and raising Emma together?  What makes their relationship romantic and not sisterly?  Was Olivia’s lifetime of desperation in every relationship before this related to never feeling loved by any of the men she dated/married.  Was she running from herself?  Does Natalia love Olivia because of who she is? Does she love her because she finally has a feeling of family and she’s been so alone since Rafe was imprisoned and the Spauldings pretend she doesn’t exist?

I like the slow development of their friendship/relationship, but if the writers simply throw them together after a kiss, won’t viewers perceive their relationship as a gimmick of some sort?  It’s already feeling gimmicky with Natalia holding Liv’s hands through the ‘My Two Mommies’ presentation and not ‘getting it’ that the teacher and other parents thought they were lesbians.  A ten year old would have picked that up! 

All it took was a teacher making a suggestion and Olivia has developed new feelings for Natalia?  It feels gimmicky that Olivia can’t use the word ‘lesbian’, but is able to plant a kiss on Natalia to illustrate her point – not long after Frank planted an unplanned kiss on her as well. It’s gimmicky – as Beth’s relationship with Alan was.  It’s becoming as gimmicky as Beth’s relationship with Coop is, or Bill’s amnesia that shouldn’t affect what Lizzie remembers about the kidnapping, or Marina and Mallet and their babymania-out-of-nowhere storyline, or…. you get the point.

If this isn’t a show living on borrowed time, it needs to act like it.  Slow down and take the time to work out the big and the small details.  We’re not going anywhere.