…and it’s truly a shame.
I had the privilege to attend a panel discussion about soap operas and serialized dramas and where the future of those shows may be. First, the people at this panel had first hand information and experience with daytime soap operas. Because of the nature of soap operas, as they studied the form, they had access to many shows, sets, and writers/showrunners. One gentleman shared stories about his time as a writer on “Days of Our Lives” and “Another World”, another woman was invited to the “The Young and the Restless” set and meet with William Bell. Another woman had interviewed both Gloria Monty (“General Hospital”) and Agnes Nixon (“All my Children”) extensively. And, currently, these founts of information are drying up. No one seems to care about the genre anymore and the knowledge all these people possess will someday be completely archaic.
So, why am I so passionate about the demise of soap operas? Let me explain, I feel that both soap operas and comic books are uniquely American art forms. They’re both on-going narratives with an open format. In these two formats stories grow and change and mutate as do the characters. There are few art forms that revel in the on-going aspect of the work. Both were essentially created in the United States and both catered to maligned groups (i.e. teenagers, housewives) and through their beginnings with these groups they were able to spread and grow and become bigger than that. It makes me sad that these formats have withered on the vine because of the ever changing media landscape.
But, it’s more complicated than that. I think the demise of the daytime soap has obviously happened for a few tangible reasons. 1. College dorms now feature wi-fi and cable for all their students. When I was an undergrad, and the last time soaps had big ratings BTW, large TVs in dorm lobbys and large public areas were communal centers where show like “Days of Our Lives” drew large groups. These groups watched the show, hung out, and basically formed a small tribe around the show. 2. In the current day, parents allow their children to watch MUCH LESS television than my generation did. Helicopter parenting, less acceptance of adult fare for kids, and less ease with which children could take sick days have also created less viewers. Before the restrictions of the present generation, soap operas used the summers to gain young viewers with teen characters and other youth friendly plots. And finally, 3. more mothers work outside the home or within the home and have less time to take a soap opera break in the middle of their day. When fewer women worked away from home, soap operas were more frequently watched and they were then handed down to their children. It was knowledge and tradition that went from grandmother to mother to child.
Although it seems silly and trust me, soap operas could be REALLY silly, I lament the day that the morning soap opera started to fall away. I have many fond memories of sick days and “All my Children”. I remember when “Another World” was cancelled. It was a sad day for me. Now, soap operas get cancelled all the time. I hope that the cyclical nature of televisions and media means that one day the daytime soap opera will come back.
But, I still have nighttime shows. The influence of the soap opera cannot be denied. Even with their classy sheen, shows like “Mad Men”, “BSG”, and “Six Feet Under” use the tropes and beats of the soap opera to move their narrative forward. Even with the daytime soap opera on life support, it’s progeny has just moved to nighttime.
So, I just watched the first two episodes of “GCB” on my Hulu+. I gave it a chance because I loved the original title of “Good Christian Bitches”. I spent most of my pre-teen and teenage years in a small Southern Baptist church where piety was not as important as the perception of piety. I saw and heard a lot of people who didn’t exactly “live the word”, but were very quick to judge anyone who was different. After I went to college, I never really lost my spiritual side, but I did slough off chruch-going and church people because I was left with such a bad feeling about those who step into God’s House on Sundays.
It was with these feelings, and my healthy love of soap operas and camp, led me to decide to watch “GCB”. I was wary because a television critic I respect, Alan Sepinwall, who labeled the show as “shrill camp”. And to that I say, I WISH. I wish this show had the courage to be a big blast of Southern Gothic camp on national TV. But, it is actually a lot closer to “Desperate Housewives” in its idea of “edgy”. The show wants to have these satirical and funny moments, but spends much of its time trying to be a soap opera. If it figures out how to balance all its aspects, it could become a “Dynasty” style guilty pleasure. Beyond that I think the acting is uniformly good. Annie Potts is so good and gets to have lines like, “This is a little too light. More of a breakfast wine,” and sell them without going for the rafters. I know Kristen Chenowith can be divisive with people, but I actually enjoy her in most things I see her in (Broadway, film, or TV) and think this role is a perfect fit for her talents. David James Elliot, from “JAG” of all places, is actually funny and charming as Cheno’s husband.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the show is the way it handles the marriage between Cricket and her gay husband. She is not deluded. She knows he’s gay. But, he’s her best friend and they have a mutual friendship. They have a daughter and appear to have a happy marriage. This might be the most subversive aspect of the show. There is a bravery in not making her a fool or naive. They show how two people might find this contract livable and positive. Each person gets to to have what they see as the best of both worlds along with financial success and friendship. They also show how this is also a bargain that when entered into can lead to each side compromising many things that most of don’t have to when we are in a relationship (gay or straight).
So, this is kind of a non-review. I don’t recommend the show to everyone. In fact, many people will either find it too mean or not mean enough. I hope it gets some sea legs and then swings for the fences. I need more than pithy commentary on the church signs as characters pass. But, I will watch it while I’m doing other things and let it try to work out the kinks.
If “GCB” had the courage to really go for it, you might see men in drag as the lead characters for Halloween. But, for right now, it is trying a little to hard to entertain my mom.