Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Love in the Afternoon--February 11, 2013

It's kind of...poignant, I guess, that I'm posting for the first time in eons. Because last year, right at this time, I was busy working myself into a cautiously optimistic frenzy over General Hospital. Frenzy, because of returning characters-specifically, Anna, who came back on Valentine's Day-and cautious, because, well, let's face it...the show had been so awful for so long, it was on the verge of cancellation, and it was really hard to hold out much hope that it could dig itself out of its, well...pit of despair. What a difference a year makes. It is kind of awesome. And not in a "I'm watching this because it's such a horrible train wreck" kind of way. It's really, really good. Silly sometimes? Yep. Campy? Oh, you better believe it. Does it still have moments where it stumbles? Of course. But the almost unprecedented 180-degree turn is mind-blowing. Of course, if any show was going to do it, it had to be GH. Because, in the stuff of soap opera legend, this was not the first time that GH had teetered on the brink. Thirty-five years ago the show was months from cancellation when the Luke and Laura storyline caught the fancy of pretty much everyone. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that THIRTY MILLION people watched their wedding. That's bigger than the audience for the most popular primetime shows now. For perspective, it's less than watch a Super Bowl, more than watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The new head writer, Ron Carlivati, and the new EP, Frank Valentini, so obviously get the genre and the audience, and what's more, they are willing to make it happen. In one year, they have gotten rid of a bunch of characters and stories that no one really cared about. They have brought back, at first in a trickle, and now, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the show, a deluge of veteran characters and actors. Even better, other than one kind of big screw up with the character of Robert, they have used the returning characters, if not perfectly, then at least in a way consistent with what we have known and loved about the characters for years. And even the flub of the Robert return last spring, can be forgiven, because of the pure excellence of his return in November and December--if you don't watch you only need to know that he revealed that his ex-wife's other ex-husband was actually Robert's former Eastern Bloc spy arch nemesis in a latex mask and he did this by melting off the mask with a pot of fondue. Seriously? It was one of the greatest things that has ever happened in the history of television. Is it perfect? Of course not. The introduction of some of the characters from One Life to Live has been awkward and really, in my opinion, only one actually dovetailed nicely into GH. Either because of the way they now film in blocks or because they are spreading out the scenes they have from the returning vets, we sometimes get a HUGE reveal (for example, last week Frisco saw Maxie at the end of an episode and it was for the first time since she was SIX and then that story was left dangling for three days. And when it DID get picked back up, they skipped over the actual reunion and we got aftermath) and then the story is put on ice for a few days. The pacing can be erratic. The November sweeps story involving Anna, Robert, Robin, Duke and Faison was jam-packed with awesome and action only to end very abruptly, with no real resolution (we left Robert's life in the balance for DAYS) and had to slog through several weeks of other story lines before we got something approaching an answer. There are still some characters that need to go. There's a fairly awful recast. And some of the newbies are either excruciatingly awful OR being used in an excruciatingly awful way. The only new pairing that's even shown a hint of sparkle is really just fortuitous because it involves two actors who were a wildly popular pairing on another show. The rest of the new couples range from just okay (Starr and Michael) to wrong place at the wrong time with a side of that could have been amazing (Todd and Carly) to meh (Alexis and Shawn) to OMG STAHP (Luke and Anna). But really...there are no fatal flaws. Yes, there are plenty of scenes where I'll take a bathroom break or swap the clothes from the washer to the dryer, but mostly I'm watching. And since I just spent a lot of time complaining about what's wrong, here's the far more important list of Top Five Things GH is Getting Right: 5. Doing what needs to be done to keep it under budget--The reason that the other soaps are gone is that the network knows that soaps, and really ANY scripted show, are expensive. It's tempting to replace them with much cheaper reality, talk or game shows. GH was very, very lucky. It's ratings were BAD. Worse, at times, than the other two ABC soaps, but because it IS GH and the flagship soap of the network and the most name-recognized soap to non-watchers, it got a pass. At least temporarily. There was also a rumor that Katie Couric, whose took GH's traditional timeslot lobbied for it when she realized the havoc the former AMC and especially, OLTL caused for the ratings of the replacement shows. So, yeah, LUCKY. That said, the spiraling costs coupled with declining ratings were a death sentence. I don't understand all of the intricacies of the way it's filmed now, but it has something to do with filming huge blocks of a single story at a time--so they don't have to keep changing out sets--and scrupulously sticking to the number of days each actor is supposed to shoot according to their contract. 4. Integrating the Storylines and Characters--I don't mean racially, although that wouldn't hurt them either. What I mean is that for YEARS the storylines existed in these weird little bubbles. Very, very occasionally there would be a big story with most of the cast. But it was a single story. And it wasn't that their stories were woven into it. It's that their story stopped while something like, a big fire at the PC Hotel happened, and then everyone went back to their business. Characters are TALKING to each other (not just to the others in their particular story and SOnny or Jason, may he rest) when their storylines don't necessitate it. Characters are involved in SEVERAL STORIES AT ONCE. 3. Refocusing the Show--Nowadays, GH is about the hospital and cops and ELQ with a taste of mob. Which is awesome, because for years it had been about people in the mob and...other people in the mob. The hospital was used primarily as a building where mobsters went when the got shot by other mobsters. Part, if not all of this, has to do with my number two reason. But the decision to centralize the show on Anna is brills. First of all, it's a proven thing. Anna was the show's main character for YEARS. Second, Finola Hughes is damn good. She's damn good for anything, actually. For soaps, she's AMAZING. Third, it's very, very, very easy to connect Anna to pretty much any storyline you can get going--she's the police commissioner, she has a history with the mob stuff (via Duke), she's friends with the Qs, she's connected to the hospital (via Robin and Patrick). Also...let's face it...Anna's just awesome. 2. Returning Vets--Obviously the coup is Finola Hughes as Anna and Genie Francis as Laura, but at this point we also have/had (albeit some of them briefly) Robert, Holly, Faison, Duke, Felicia, Frisco, AJ, Kevin, Lucy, with Scotty still to come. And not a character, but the Nurses' Ball! All of this tied into the approaching 50th anniversary of the show on April 1. 1. That This Happened--Luke contacted Robert from a Turkish prison to let him know something was hinky with Duke's return. The viewers and Robin find out that "Duke" is Faison IN A DUKE MASK (that Faison sometimes puts on a table and has conversation with). Robert came to Port Charles to investigate only to discover through one of Olivia's LSD-induced psychic visions that Faison was impersonating Duke. Robert unveils "Duke" who's attempting to seduce Anna by pouring hot fondue on him and melting that mask. That shit really happened, y'all. And I cannot stress enough how amazing it was. So get watching people! I'm kind of intrigued by what insanity they can come up with next.

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