Soap Opera Weekly: 2/26/10

GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Sonny may be the capo di tutti capi in Port Charles, but not everyone is in awe of him. Two of those folks had big scenes this week, and what a surprise, they’re both lawyers. (C’mon, aren’t attorneys scarier than coffee importers? Admit it.)

I was cheering when Diane not only stood up to Sonny, she told him he was wrong for wanting to plead justifiable homicide in the death of Claudia. Carolyn Hennesy shined as she stiffened Diane’s spine and told Sonny what he needed to hear — no matter how much he plugged his ears. And she kept right on butting heads with the mobster, right into the courtroom. When he undermined her and made himself look like a thug by demanding a recess, she called him on it. Diane did the best she could to convince the judge that Sonny was a loving family man (even if he was charged with killing his wife). I felt bad for Diane arguing that Sonny was not a flight risk — even as he and Jason frantically made plans to jump bail! Poor Diane. Whatever her retainer, she’s not getting paid nearly enough!

The other legal eagle who defied the kingpin was newly minted federal prosecutor Claire Walsh, played by the newly arrived Dahlia Salem. On her very first day Claire strong-armed Ed, the weak-kneed prosecutor originally assigned to the case, to let her take down the mobster. And on her first time in court she declared her intention to lock up Sonny and then lambasted him in front of the judge as the criminal he is.

With these two formidable ladies before the bar, I wouldn’t advise acting against advice of counsel.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 2/18/10

Since my colleague Mala Bhattacharjee took up the banner for one of my pet shows (MAKE IT OR BREAK IT), I figure it’s only fair to beat the band for a show she turned me on to, BEING ERICA.

Produced in Canada, BEING ERICA follows book editor Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) as she undergoes a special kind of therapy. Rather than let her merely talk about past mistakes, Dr. Tom (Michael Riley) sends Erica back in time to correct her regrets; to put right what once went wrong. The premise may sound like a science-fiction geekfest, but absolutely no time is wasted detailing exactly how Dr. Tom moves Erica in time. Instead, all the emphasis is on how Erica interacts with the people she meets (friends, family and lovers), and how she feels about what she’s doing. (Usually, her sojourns give her a chance to dance; Karpluk does a lot of dancing.)

That said, this week’s episode was an especially good example of the flexibility of the series: Instead of sending Erica back in time, Dr. Tom gave her one day to live without consequences — her own personal Groundhog Day. Erica used her free pass to indulge in some…colorful behavior and really speak her mind. She dictated terms to her boss and scolded her sister’s husband for not being more considerate. Only when a tearful Sam confronted her did Erica realize why she doesn’t speak her mind in the “real” world: because words can hurt.

By giving Erica license to indulge her selfish side, Dr. Tom led Erica to realize just how self-centered she is. This exercise demonstrated that every action has a reaction. This is not a lesson you see on a typical soap, where very few actions have lasting consequences. Shoot your kid? Bah, squeeze out a few tears in a chapel and then go back to being a gangster. Somebody died? Just wait — they’ll be back. But on BEING ERICA, it’s not so easy to recover from crimes of the heart.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 2/12/10

SURVIVOR, one of the two* so-called “reality shows” that I enjoy, has returned with another all-star edition, and last night’s premiere of HEROES VS. VILLAINS was the best season opener in years.

It may seem strange that the series could be revitalized by looking backward, but the-powers-that-be appear to have captured lightning in a bottle with this cast by gathering well-known characters from previous seasons and grouping them (sometimes mysteriously) into “Heroes” and “Villains.” The “good guys” were identified by TPTB as having played the game with sportsmanship and integrity, while the baddies were defined as playing selfishly or particularly deviously. While some Villains’ credentials are obvious (Jerri, Coach), some are less-apparent (Courtney?). Even a few Heroes are judgment calls (I don’t even remember Candice).

But whichever sides the contestants were placed on, they were playing for keeps! The opening reward challenge, a battle for fire that involved wrestling with opponents — was a brutal physical confrontation that left Stephenie with a dislocated shoulder, Rupert nursing a busted toe, and Sugar topless!

Both sides played their roles to the hilt: the Heroes ran an orderly, friendly camp with a solid shelter, water and even domesticated chickens, while the Villains lazed around their camp, boasting, preening and chortling over the Heroes’ injuries. One very unexpected development: The possibility of a camp romance between Black Widow Jerri and Dragon Slayer Coach — complete with giggling tribemates egging them on.

SURVIVOR: HEROES VS. VILLAINS is set up to be a fantastic season. Now I just have to decide who will be my favorite…

*Oh, that other “good” unscripted series? THE AMAZING RACE, which debuts this Sunday at 8 o’clock.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 2/08/10

The latest CAPRICA saw some characters undergo big changes: Amanda (Paula Malcomson) was compelled to resign her position at the hospital, and husband Daniel’s (Eric Stoltz) company took a financial pounding even as he endured a physical beating from Sam Adama (Sasha Roiz). The Graystones had been on top of the 12 worlds, but now they are pariahs.

But perhaps no one has changed as radically — and certainly as willfully — as Joseph Adama (Esai Morales). As the bloody pulp that was Daniel gasped “Adams” at his tormentor, Joseph sneered, “It’s ‘Adama’ now,” signaling his transformation from genteel gangster who engaged in polite bribery, into a guy who ordered his brother to pound Daniel; a thug who literally gets blood on his hands. But Joseph is still completely devoted to his daughter, just like any other doting father. Heck, he sounds eerily similar to a certain gangster who claims to import coffee in upstate New York, on a little show you might have heard of called GENERAL HOSPITAL. One could argue that Tamara (Genevieve Buechner) and her mother Shannon (Anna Galvin) — or, more precisely, their loss — are fueling Joseph’s descent into the criminal underworld of the Ha’la’tha. And it is a descent that is rapidly spiralling out of control. Witness Joseph casually suggesting to Sam that he should take out Amanda Graystone to “even out” the two families’ losses. That shocking order constituted the second jaw-dropping CAPRICA ending in two weeks.

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Family trauma is really taking its toll on this show, which is proving to be much more soap opera than space opera — just as the-powers-that-be promised.

Soap Opera Weekly: 2/05/10

Out of the mouths of babes: GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Kristina and Molly this week gave voice to many of the criticisms about Sonny that viewers have been screaming at their own TVs. (Or…uh, so I understand *coughcough*) The basic truth is that Sonny is a bad person, and he harms everyone around him. Even a child can see that. Among the obvious facts that these kids saw: Kristina pointed out that her father had no justification whatsoever for shooting Dante. And Molly pointed out that killing a police officer is “murder with special circumstances,” which would mean life in prison without possibility of parole. Only Michael defended Sonny (and did it by impugning Dominic — how like his father!). Poor Morgan began to doubt his friendship with Dominic because of Michael’s insistence that Dominic was an untrustworthy lying rat. (There is an untrustworthy person in your family, Michael — but you already want to be in his footsteps.) Luckily, Morgan was grown-up enough to realize Dante is sincere. Kristina had her own moment of doubt when she backpedaled and defended her father to Kiefer — and that wishywashiness reflected GH’s ambivalence toward the mob kingpin. Is he a creep or not? Molly put it all in perspective by asking, “Does anyone doubt that Uncle Sonny is guilty?” Nobody did. And that’s the problem with Sonny: Everybody knows he’s a bad guy, yet they continue to hang around him at great personal cost to themselves. So why is he the hero of the show? There’s a saying: “And a child shall lead them.” GH would do well to follow the lead of Morgan, Molly and Kristina, who all see Sonny for what he is.

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think Jax and Ronnie were taking their cues from the kids. They actually had to argue to convince people (Carly and Olivia, respectively) that Sonny should be arrested. Olivia’s recalcitrance was somewhat understandable (but only somewhat), while Carly was just in denial and repressing her memories, as usual. Liv may think guilt will chew Sonny up inside, but she hasn’t seen him for 20 years. Sonny only has a passing acquaintance with guilt; he discards it like a bad one-night stand. Bottom line, ladies: Sonny hurts your children. Give him the boot. The End.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 2/04/10

The truth about GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Dante is finally out after months of secrets and lies, so I asked Lisa LoCicero (Olivia) if she thought the climax of the story fulfills expectations. “I don’t think we could have made it any bigger or truer, so yeah, I really hope so,” she declared. “I think people are really going to like what we did.”

One aspect of the story I really liked was LoCicero’s performance as the grieving mother. She told me why she made the acting choices she did. “You can’t always think; sometimes you fall apart,” she explained. “Initially, of course, it’s just shock. As an actor who never experienced something that enormous it’s impossible to know what that would really do to you in the moment. As it played out I tried to stay true to what that would be.”

LoCicero pointed out that Olivia feels even worse because she had an indirect hand in her son’s shooting by deciding not to tell Dante or Sonny about their connection. “She said all along, there’s no way to know how Sonny would have reacted if she said he’s your son and he’s an undercover cop,” LoCicero noted. “He might have shot her in the head right where she stood. I mean, there’s really no way to tell with Sonny how that kind of information — and betrayal — was going to affect him.”

Clearly, he did not take it well…

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Soap Opera Weekly: 2/01/10

Watching GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Sonny try to kill an unarmed cop in cold blood, I realized that the character has finally passed the point of no return. GH has been dancing along a precipice with Sonny for so many years (never identifying the contents of those mysterious “shipments” that are worth killing over, for example) but now the-powers-that-be have finally pushed him over the edge. And he’s gone.

Sonny shot an officer of the law after he had clearly displayed his badge and identified himself. There was no wiggle room in this scene; it was no “bang-bang” situation (pardon the pun) where there was no time to react. Sonny had a long, long time to think about what he was doing, to discuss what he was doing — to think twice about what he was doing. And then he did it. Sonny’s crime was made even more heinous by the scene’s editing. While going to commercial after Dante identified himself was meant to be dramatic, the practical effect make it feel like Sonny had the entire commercial break to think about what to do next, in addition to all the time he spent talking to Dante. Thus, GH made shooting the unarmed police officer a conscious decision. It might (and I stress the might part) have felt different if Sonny’s shot was depicted as a sudden, gut reaction; on instinct he whipped out his gun and fired without thinking. It could have been made to look like a crime of passion (or at least negligence). But instead, Sonny calmly drew his weapon, pointed it at the policeman, talked to him about the situation, and then said, “Goodbye, detective,” before coldly shooting him in the chest. A killshot, by the way — not an attempt to slow down the cop so Sonny could flee. The gangster meant to put him down.

And why Sonny shoot Dante? Pride. Sonny is actually innocent of Claudia’s murder. He didn’t do it. So he did not have to kill to protect himself; self-defense was not an issue. Sonny was ashamed that he had been fooled for these many months — fooled by an undercover cop so completely that he was ready to turn over the keys to the kingdom. So he lashed out. Okay, he may have feared that clearing himself of the crime would point to Michael, but using deadly force to protect someone else who is not even present does not wash Wounding Sonny’s pride does not count as a deadly threat — even if he is a megalomaniac.

The big question is, where does GH go from here? How can Sonny come back from the premeditated attempted murder of a police officer? The argument will no doubt be made that shooting his own son is “punishment enough.” Don’t you believe it. Because it’s not.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 1/29/10

Don’t forget to watch the new episode of CAPRICA tonight at 9 o’clock on SyFy!

In a sense, this prequel to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA picks up where the parent series left off — in terms of quality, at least. The premiere of CAPRICA plunged viewers into a fully realized world — both visually and emotionally. The series pivots on viewer familiarity with the general universe, and thus doesn’t bother detailing things like the organization of the 12 Colonies; it hits the ground running, plunging viewers into a society afflicted with religious strife. Religion is not a common subject in dramas — especially not faith-based violence. A terror bombing by a religious fanatic sets the main plot in motion by killing one of the central characters in the opening 15 minutes. (That’s right, Zoe Graystone is dead.) Her father, the brilliant inventor Daniel Graystone, teams ups with lawyer Joseph Adama (who lost his wife and daughter in the blast) to “bring back” their slain family members using an experimental blend of virtual reality and robotics. Zoe’s consciousness is downloaded into a mechanical body, and the first cylon is born.

The show’s tone may sound a bit cold and clinical, but I assure you that CAPRICA is all about character; the scientific aspects (and the subdued special effects) are subservient to stories about dysfunctional families and men driven by a variety of inner demons. The science-fiction elements are very well-done, and the series’ technology is not too far ahead of ours; it fact, it is just beyond the bleeding-edge of our own. It is easy to relate to devices like paper-thin, touch-sensitive computer consoles. Hell, the iPad was just launched here on Earth this week! Yet the good citizens of Caprica City travel via cars and trains viewers have no trouble recognizing.

The cast is, of course, terrific, led by Eric Stoltz (Daniel), Esai Morales (Joseph), Paula Malcomson (Amanda) and Alessandra Torresani as the late, lamented Zoe. Executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick have promised that CAPRICA will be an unabashed soap opera, and so far it is full of potential. Get in on the ground floor!

CAPRICA arrives just in time to replace Fox’s DOLLHOUSE in the TV landscape. Joss Whedon‘s DOLLHOUSE comes to a close tonight with nothing less than the fate of the entire world on line. DOLLHOUSE had a little trouble finding its tone early, and by the time it found its stride, it was too late. But any Whedon series is worth a look. Goodbye, DOLLHOUSE.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 1/21/10

I really have to hand it to GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Maxie, pulling off that redecoration of Jason’s penthouse virtually overnight. And in the midst of the Franco brouhaha, no less!

Fashionista Diane was suitably impressed, so that’s good enough for me. I’m just wondering where Maxie found the time to concentrate on fabrics and colors, considering that she was wracked with guilt over sleeping with the psycho artist and blaming herself for Lulu’s kidnapping. I mean, I can envision her purchasing the materials online, but getting the actual work done was a feat. Jason was understandably distracted, but he didn’t notice the small army that had to be tramping in and out of there to accomplish the changeover so quickly? Sonny may be right: Jason is slipping.

And, while we’re thinking about it, where did Maxie get the cash to finance the operation? I seem to recall that the reason she ended up rooming with Lulu was because that apartment was the only one in Port Charles in her meager price range. Clearly being a “junior editor” at Crimson pays very well. And maybe Spinelli kicked in — surely Jason or Sonny gives him some kind of stipend for his hacking work. However, the big question remains: Is Spinelli’s room still pink?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 1/19/10

I don’t know what I enjoyed more about the two-night, four-hour return of 24… It could have been the way Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) started his eighth very bad day snoozing on the couch with his granddaughter, enjoying an afternoon nap just like any other grandfather.

It could have been the guest appearance by Benito Martinez (ex-Acevedo, THE SHIELD) as Jack’s old stoolie. Or the addition of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s erstwhile Starbuck, Katee Sackhoff, as CTU operative Dana, a vulnerable woman with a past…

Was it the familiar New York City environs? Creepy Doug Hutchison (Horace, LOST; ex-Sebastian, GUIDING LIGHT) as a Russian assassin called Davros (just like the DOCTOR WHO villain?)

Or maybe it was the fact that Anil Kapoor‘s President Omar Hassan is the good guy. And the first words we heard him say were, “Let me be clear” — as if he were a certain U.S. president.

Then it must have been the return of Annie Wersching (ex-Amelia, GENERAL HOSPITAL) as Renee, who has been scarred in more ways than one, and now resembles Jack more than either cares to admit, right?

But no, it was the way that — against all odds — 24 was able to redeem Kim (Elisha Cuthbert). Yes, Jack’s daughter, the plot device to end all plot devices, the butt of myriad jokes and the very symbol of plot inanity — was made palatable once again, when she sent her father to do what he does best, save the world. In seasons past she would have whined about him going to Los Angeles with her, and then probably run over Davros in a crosswalk and get taken hostage. But, no. She did the right thing, and let her old man do what he was clearly born to do, and what the country needs him to do.

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