General Hospital’s Not-so-Lucky Elizabeth

GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Lucky and his sister teamed up to blast his brother and treacherous fiancée, putting a new spin on the idea of sibling rivalry.

It may have been a long (long, long) time coming, but the moment when Lucky confronted Elizabeth was entirely worth the wait. The longer the secret affair dragged on, the more Lucky looked like an idiot. He’s supposed to be a detective, yet he could not detect the clues in his own family? No wonder gangsters run roughshod over Port Charles!

Jonathan Jackson really knocked it out of the park when Lucky put the knock on Liz and his conniving brother. Lucky’s anger came across as righteous indignation, and the wrath of a man wronged. Jackson’s face was so contorted with pain and anguish that his red eyes almost appeared to be bleeding! He was like a vengeance demon. And he was entirely in the right.
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DVD: The Last Word (2008)

Bentley and Ryder

Whatever happened to Wes Bentley? You remember him, right? He was going to be the Next Big Thing after featuring in a showy role in 1999’s best picture, American Beauty. But he never really caught on. Winona Ryder was once a hot property herself; a rising kid star who had trouble transitioning to adult roles. Then everything went up in flames after a little shoplifting scandal. (How quaint that brouhaha seems now.) Well, these two cooling stars teamed up for a pretty cool indie drama about a man who writes suicide notes for hire via a website.

Evan (Bentley) meets with his clients to learn a bit about them before crafting passages that might capture each person’s uniquely personal pain in the form of an evocative final goodbye. Some clients chicken out, but some follow through; Evan tries not to keep track, but when he notices, he attends the funeral to observe. At one such gathering, he catches the eye of Charlotte (Ryder), the sister of one of his clients. Evan passes himself off as an old college friend of the deceased, and Charlotte pursues him until he agrees to a date. He neglects to confess his complicity in her brother’s suicide, and love blooms. Meanwhile, Evan tries to deal with Abel, a particularly persnickety client played by comedian Ray Romano.
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Robert E. Howard: One Who Walked Alone

Robert E. Howard

The date Jan. 22 has been important to me since I was a lad, because it marks the anniversary of the birth of pulp author Robert E. Howard in 1906. One of my true favorites, Howard is most famous for creating Conan the Cimmerian, but his oeuvre also included such colorful characters as King Kull, Cormac Mac Art, El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, and another particular favorite, Solomon Kane, a Puritan adventurer (and soon to be a movie). This was evocative stuff for a youngster, and Howard was the first writer I ever tried to emulate. I loved writing my own Conan stories.

I was introduced to Howard through the Marvel Comics series Conan the Barbarian, which adapted Howard’s most influential creation. As often happened when I was younger, I was inspired to track down the books that inspired the comics. The short stories and novels were colorful and quick reads that conjured amazingly vivid worlds. I loved the Conan Mythos; set in a universe Howard dubbed the Hyborian Age, a time before recorded history when men stood against magic and monsters. I was disappointed that Howard’s Conan output was limited, and after voraciously reading everything he had written, I moved on to pastiches written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter based on unfinished manuscripts, story fragments, proposals, etc., as well as other authors like Bjorn Nyberg and Andrew J. Offutt. They all tried hard to ape Howard’s dynamic prose, but there was only one master. I personally always thought comics scribe Roy Thomas best captured Howard’s voice. Later I learned that Howard was a contemporary of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft; the two corresponded, and Howard made significant contributions to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
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BEING ERICA returned for its second season on SOAPnet this week, and I thought the premiere (called “Being Dr. Tom”) really opened up the concept in an entertaining way that expands on the concept without compromising what has already been established.

The most important development saw Erica (Erin Karpluk) reunited with Dr. Tom (Michael Riley), but it was not easy. I enjoyed seeing Riley flesh out Dr. Tom. Hell, just giving him more to say than recycling quotations was a win. And, okay, so having a dark past is not the most original (or surprising) development, but it was well-handled. And his disconnect from daughter Sarah will no doubt connect with BE’s target audience. The seeds have been planted for an intriguing mystery — just what is the deal with Dr. Tom? Is he dead or alive?
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Webb of Intrigue: Spidey’s New Director

Marc Webb

So there’s a new director at the helm of the Spider-Man movie franchise: Marc Webb (no pun intended), whose (500) Days of Summer made such a splash last year, is taking the reins from genre fave Sam Raimi. Some reports indicate that Webb has signed to make a trilogy of films for Columbia.

First of all, a round of applause for all of Raimi’s hard work and creativity. His first two Spidey films were great fun, and the second is certainly one of my favorite superhero films to date; it will go down in cinema history as a classic. The third installment? Well… not so much. Spider-Man 3 fell into the textbook trap of how to ruin a superhero movie: overstuff it with everything (including the kitchen sink) you can lay hands on. So, the less said about that, the better. Let’s remember Alfred Molina’s stirring turn as Dr. Octopus, and Spidey’s heroic rescue of the runaway commuter train in Spider-Man 2.
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Make It or Break It: Payson Stays Broke

Lauren, Emily, Payson and Kaylie

MAKE IT OR BREAK IT is getting more and more soapy as it goes along. The-powers-that-be realized it is not a sports series, and thus ramped up the drama, and now, following the winter hiatus they are really upping the soap opera factor. While reigning national gymnastics champion Kaylie (Josie Loren) tries to balance the demands of new fame and jealous peers — not to mention her surly relationship with men’s champion Nicky (Cody Longo) – my favorite storyline is Payson’s struggle with career-ending injury.

Payson (Ayla Kell) has been coming into her own as a coach-like mentor while steadfastly refusing to embrace the role, because that would mean she had officially given up on making an athletic comeback. This has led to her becoming more and more detached from reality – to the point where she is planning to win the national title next year. Even Summer began to wonder if some kind of miracle cure might allow Payson to rebound from a broken back and return to the mats. Now, if this were a daytime soap, we viewers could be certain that she would find that magic cure. But MIOBI is a nighttime soap, and thus it eschews the facile, “inspirational” path. Payson’s admirer Nicky weaseled her an appointment with the best spine expert in the country, and the table was set for her Lourdes-like rebirth. Well, it didn’t happen. The top back man in the world assured Payson that her spinal damage is inoperable. Payson was so worked up with hope, and then so crushed. Kell did a wonderful job depicting Payson’s bubbling, cheerfully positive mania in the run-up to her consult, but was subtle with Payson’s grief. Kudos to Peri Gilpin for her moving portrayal of Kim’s pain, embarrassment and helplessness in the face of her daughter’s injury. “I let myself hope,” Kim sobbed.
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Archiving: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again…

No, you haven’t slipped backward in time through a wormhole; those recent entries below are back-dated from last November and October. I had to do a little housekeeping, archiving a bunch of columns from my professional blog on the Soap Opera Weekly Web site (where my blog is also called “Read at Joe’s” for simplicity’s sake). If you haven’t been reading ’em over there, then you can just scroll through these latest entries and get a concentrated shot of my views.

If you have been a dutiful reader and keeping up with both blogs, well, then you’re off the hook. For now. More new stuff will be coming here soon. And, of course, my Weekly blog still has more recent material that has not been archived yet.

Soap Opera Weekly: 11/22/09

I am really glad that GLEE is on the air, and that Fox has picked up the back nine, giving it a full season of 22 episodes.

GLEE is generating a lot of positive buzz and good ratings because the stories tend to be edgy and raunchy, often addressing the ugly realities of real teen issues like popularity, and sexual and religious identity. Sure, the cast looks politically correct (There’s a guy in a wheelchair, as well as various ethnic minorities!), but the way the kids are treated is so not PC. Artie’s (Kevin McHale) wheelchair was wedged into a portable toilet by “pranksters,” for example. This week’s episode, in which cool kids Finn (Cory Monteith) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) were knocked to the bottom of the social totem pole because of their association with glee club, was hilarious. From quarterback and head cheerleader to objects of ridicule and slushie attacks overnight!

Of course the songs are always a highlight, but I have to give special props to Puck’s (Mark Salling) rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” which was possibly better than Neil Diamond himself, and will make you forget every time you had to suffer through some drunken rendition of it at karaoke night. Will (Matthew Morrison, ex-Adam, ATWT) busted a move like Young MC, and Emma (HEROES’ Jayma Mays) finally got to strut her vocal stuff. I could have watched all night…

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/20/09

First impressions of GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Franco, as portrayed by movie star James Franco? Cautiously optimistic. Franco the actor did not have a chance to really do much beyond act all shadowy and mysterious. But Franco the character does seem really twisted — like someone out of one of those lurid prime-time procedurals. Okay, so he’s an artist, but that doesn’t make it right that he likes to play with corpses — and live girls playing dead bodies.

Was I the only one a little creeped out when Kate was instructing Maxie to do whatever is necessary to land the reclusive artist Franco for a Crimson photo shoot? Now, Kate is always very demanding, but the way she noted that Franco had been a recluse in recent years and how Maxie is such a pretty and perky blonde…well, it seemed clear that Kate was urging Maxie to seduce him. Too bad it looks like Franco’s idea of foreplay may just be to have Maxie lie in a chalk body outline. (Maxie is an “open-minded” chick, but that might be too much even for her.) Still, once she gets a gander at exactly how “facially challenged” he is, who knows what she would say?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/19/09

There has not been a more consistently wonderful show this fall than Fox’s GLEE. What started as a lark of a musical comedy set in a high school has matured into a complicated drama with deep characters and layered stories. And songs.

Take this week’s installment, which saw the choir kids assigned to work on ballads. The task uncovered hidden passions, some surprising, some not so much. Kurt tried to manage his crush on Finn by helping the football hero in his struggle to deal with Quinn’s pregnancy. Kurt’s romantic advice — which may have been colored by his wish to free up Finn for himself — led to a hilarious scene in which Finn crooned “(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” in front of Quinn’s mortified parents (which included DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ former Eve, Charlotte Ross). The staunchly conservative couple had no idea their princess was pregnant, and in a shattering scene, threw their wayward daughter out of the house! I felt sure Quinn would feel guilty enough to tell Finn he is not really her baby-daddy, but…no. The story also examined Kurt’s and Finn’s feelings for their dead parents (Kurt lost his mother at a young age, and Finn never knew his soldier father) in a heartbreaking sequence. Those heavy emotional sequences were contrasted with Rachel’s loopy schoolgirl crush on Will, which resulted in a fun mash-up of The Police‘s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap‘s “Young Girl.” And it all ended with an uplifting (if ultimately misguided) version of “Lean On Me.”

And that is what I like best about GLEE and makes it the most entertaining new show of the fall: It’s funny and sad at alternating (and unexpected) moments, just like real life. But with songs.

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