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Marlena DeLacroix column on GL
Topic Started: Nov 29 2007, 03:54 PM (1,405 Views)
Steve Frame
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Sadly, Guiding Light is Operating at Diminished Capacity

Mes chers, today Marlena would like you to meet Patrick Erwin, a newspaper reporter and thinking soap fan who will be posting his reviews here once a week. Patrick is particularly interested in the Procter and Gamble shows. First up, his look at Guiding Light, a show we have all loved at one time or another. How and why has the oldest show in daytime become a shadow of itself?


By Patrick Erwin

Being a viewer of Guiding Light has been an exercise in frustration and patience for many of its longtime fans. The show may be 70 years old, but after several facelifts, it’s nearly unrecognizable.

When I started watching GL in the 1980s, the show was one of the most compelling hours of television, with talented actors portraying multifaceted, multilayered storylines. Peter Simon’s Ed Bauer was an exquisite portrait of a basically decent man, hounded by weakness and bad decisions. Maureen Garrett’s Holly was a captivating ball of contradictions – a woman with a stellar intellect overruled by her hate/love relationship with the mercurial Roger Thorpe, played to perfection by the late Michael Zaslow. GL was a smart show, for smart people, written by artists with great intellect (Douglas Marland) and
intense emotional range (Pam Long).

Those complicated, eminently watchable characters were once a GL mainstay, but the show has shed much of its skin in the last decade. This troubling trend began with the gimmick-laden writing regime of Megan McTavish in 1995, and continued through several more head writer changes. Executive producer Paul Rauch was able to steady GL to a degree, but the show continued to suffer under writing teams that were either at odds with Rauch’s production style, or too gimmicky and ratings-hungry (hello, clone storyline!) to care about history.

With the regime of Ellen Wheeler (executive producer) and David Kreizman (head writer), the show’s mantra seems to be “simplify, simplify, simplify.” More to the point? The show was dumbed down. Decades upon decades of important (if complex) history and characters the audience cared about were either completely jettisoned (Holly, Ross, Phillip) or severely sidelined (Blake). For years, longtime viewers have been encouraging “the powers that be” at GL to respect its history and go back to what worked for the show before. But lately, I’m beginning to think we should have been WAY more specific. The current GL is featuring a number of plot-heavy stories that seem to be made up of recycled material – almost brushstroke-for-brushstroke copies of earlier work.

Take, for example, the Josh/Cassie storyline. If you feel a sense of déjà vu here, you’re not alone. GL has a bad habit of repeating this story every time Josh Lewis is paired with someone other than Reva. The romantic pairing of Josh and Cassie hasn’t really clicked, and now GL seems to be edging toward repeating another past triumph by edging former princess and current Pollyanna Cassie into bad-girl territory. (She’s asking Edmund for help, and it’s not to move furniture or touch up her highlights!) GL obviously hopes that Nicole Forester’s Cassie will evoke the memory of Cynthia Watros and her Emmy Award-winning turn as nurse-turned-nutbag Annie Dutton.

Speaking of nutbags, we’ve also seen some déjà vu with the most recent storyline for Dinah Marler. I shuddered at seeing Dinah chase, and then bed, her mother’s estranged husband, Matt Reardon. This pairing makes no sense, but the writers at GL (going as far back as Megan McTavish in 1995!) just love this idea. No, I was never a big fan of the snoozy “Mattessa” pairing, but it seems like a huge slap in the face to have this happen. Dinah may be a couple dozen different kinds of crazy, but it seems unlikely she’d be so cruel to Vanessa. It’s another unoriginal storyline, and one that’s a real shame, since Gina Tognoni’s Dinah seemed to show real growth and substance in the last year.

Having Dinah kidnap sister Maureen underscores another storyline rut at GL: the sloppy and simplistic portrayal of its women characters. Aside from Kim Zimmer’s Reva, nearly every actress over 40 has been portrayed as a controlling bitch or maniacal crone. Beth became a shrewish harpy well before her head-scratching marriage to Alan. When storyline ideas dried up for Holly, she was designated the Nursery Rhyme Stalker, a resolution so silly it literally felt as if Maureen Garrett’s name was drawn from a hat. Perhaps the worst case of this is the way the character of Alexandra Spaulding has been written. During the character’s heyday, Alex was a masterful villainess whose intense nature masked her love for her family and her vulnerability. But the character was decimated by gimmick-laden writing that had her stalking Reva (don’t ask) and becoming a major drug dealer (ditto). Aside from Reva and Harley, the female characters on the show are apparently only allowed to be vapid idiots or demonic tramps. It’s a shame, because there are so many points in between we’d love to see.

Then there’s Rafe and Daisy, for example. Rafe is an obvious stand-in for Gus, while Daisy is meant to evoke Harley. Their romance, played out in juvenile hall, seemed to be meant to evoke Jonathan and Tammy, the only truly successful young love storyline GL has had in years. GL may have been bold to let Daisy have an abortion, but the teen pregnancy story is one they had already told before – with Harley, Daisy’s mom, and Bridget, Daisy’s former stepmother. (Not to mention Daisy’s confidant, grandma Reva, who had her own baby as a teen – Daisy’s father Dylan.) Throw in the fact that Rafe’s mother Natalia had also bore Rafe out of wedlock, and you wonder if, somehow, the news about birth control has completely missed Springfield.

It’s not like GL isn’t capable of doing better. Whether you love or hate some of the recent changes, it’s got to be acknowledged that there’s certainly a lot of creativity going on at GL. Characters like Doris and Ashlee hearken back to the days of characters like India — colorful, multi-faceted people we root for (even when they’re up to no good). The pairing of Reva and Jeffrey has not only sent off some surprising sparks, but has given Kim Zimmer her strongest love interest in years and may actually have achieved the miracle of making unlikable lout Jeffrey O’Neill more tolerable. I may hate what’s happened to Alexandra in the last few years, but her recent scenes with Cyrus sparkled. It’s clear these two have each other’s number, and Marj Dusay’s Alex clearly relishes the mental chess game these two have had. Cyrus and Alex, as well as Lizzie and Billy, have also made great use of something nearly all the other soaps have ignored – the idea of multigenerational storytelling.

The grand old “Light” may have reached the big 7-0 this year, but right now, watching the show makes me feel like I’m watching an elderly woman who’s suffering from dementia and is tarted up like a teenager. I have a lot of love for this show, and would love to see it come back to life, but right now, Guiding Light is operating at diminished capacity.

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I wouldn't mind seeing Cassie go crazy, but she will never compare to the greatest that was Annie Lewis!
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Sexy Jew

I agree with most of the column.

GL has been stripped of what made it stand out in the early 90s and what made it unique.

Yeah we are definitely seeing alot of deja vu and plenty of dropped plots or WTF plots. The entire Matt/Dinah thing shouldn't have happened, or at least shouldn't gone so far.
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