The things you find digging around in a 'Soapdish'

Donnerstag, Juni 13, 2013 | by: Erin Byrne

As you, my dozen of readers, may remember I've got the whoop(ing cough).  Don’t worry, other than some opiate induced constipation I’m recovering nicely; down to only three bloody handkerchiefs a day.

Those of you who have been sick know that it’s a perfect time to catch up on all the stuff you’d never watch otherwise. Some people may use this time to binge-watch their favorite series. Not me, I filled my time with downer documentaries about violent crime and AIDS. Class A cough syrup puts a gal in a special sort of mood. Although I am capable of dashing off a pithy column on both those topics I choose not to on the grounds that I don't like things that make me think too hard.

Other than the one about an international ballet competition the only non-downer program I watched was “Soapdish” starring Sally Field, Kevin Kline, and Robert Downey Jr. at the apex of his hunkiness. It was a fun movie right up until it got ridiculous and then the movie ended with everything wrapped up into a tidy bow. I know this is usually how movies work, but in a movie about soaps – especially one with an intentionally soapy plot – a pat ending doesn't work.

The movie came out in 1991 and boy does it show. Not only in the massive hair that couldn't decide if it wanted to be crispy-80s-perm or 90s-hot-roller-magic, but there were ashtrays throughout harkening back to when you could smoke indoors. I would also like to say that the thick serving of gay baiting there at the end of the movie was just as outdated, but anyone who's seen “The Hangover Part II” knows that is far from true.

“The Sun Also Sets” is the fake soap within the movie. It appeared to take place in Barbados except everyone was white.  The movie didn’t delve too deeply into the show’s history so I couldn’t decipher much more. For some reason Sally Field, on the soap, was America’s Sweetheart despite being far too homely to ever appear on daytime programming. At one point she was operating a soup kitchen out of her stunning beachfront home. I especially loved that Sally Field was serving up gruel wearing what can only be described as evening wear for daytime; good work on the soap-style realness.

Unfortunately that's where the realness ends. When shows or movies try to lampoon soaps it seems like they tend to focus on long-lost children, amnesia, mild incest (cousin, half-brother) relationship stuff and extramarital affairs. What they fail to notice is all the other crazy shit that happens when writers have to fill roughly 260 hours of television per year.  

On “The Young and the Restless” alone Sharon, who was waiting for a call from a payphone right next to a cornfield, got crop dusted. That put her in the hospital for a while and shook up the whole canvas. At the same time “Y&R” featured the character of Patty who was so crazy that she carried around a taxidermied cat all the time. Is there any question as to why “Y&R” is my favorite? They also have amazing production values.

Occasionally I found myself watching “Soapdish” like I fucking know what I'm talking about when it comes to television production. Nevertheless I didn't let that stop me from speaking directly to the screen. Actually it was more like slurring through lips sticky with Tussinex. "There's nooo way that live episode would have won all those fake Emmys because they all went completely off book and weren't even in character and Kevin Kline wasn't even wearing his glasses. Why doesn't he have contacts?."

But I know what you really want to know readers: How did this movie make me feel about me? If anything it strengthened my love of my stories. I like that they're both formulaic and unique. Michael from “GH” was raped in prison. Recently we learned Nick from “Days of our Lives” was too. Michael became a wannabe thug and apologist for his crime-lord father. Who knows what Nick is going to do? I'm eager to find out though I do hope his scheming days are behind him. There's only so much scheming I can take before it gets old.

Regardless of what happens with the story it'll be better than when “One Life to Live,” arguably the gayest soap that ever was, dropped Kyle and Oliver once they started a family. Lame. Ron Carlivati, former head writer of “One Life to Live” and known homosexual should be ashamed of himself. Surely the fact that Will and Sonny from “Days” are currently dominating the Favorite Couple category in Soap Opera Digest will keep them at the forefront.

All in all “Soapdish” was bittersweet. As I’ve mentioned before, I came late to the soap party; only around 2006 or so. Soapdish made me lament that fact, knowing I missed actual decades of what have become some of my favorite programs of all time; and due to the very nature of the shows it’s impossible to go back and catch up. (Although I think SoapNet and/or the internet is really dropping the ball by not broadcasting the vast back catalogues of these shows.)  

Serial dramas are comforting. The characters become your friends. The stories take place in the real world (sort of) but are far enough removed from reality that it’s easy to slip into the story. There you can see familiar problems and people reflected back at you and, believe it or not, they can often help make sense of the crap that’s going on around you. It’s a nice place to visit in a television landscape filled with gruesome murders and idiots willing to eat bugs in order to get on TV.

Now, wait. I know the four of you who read this column all the way through are saying, “Way to be a hypocrite, ERIN! At the beginning of this screed didn’t you say that you spent a week watching documentaries about AIDS and violent crime? Why all the hate for gruesome murders of the fictional variety?”

Well I’ll tell you. Documentaries feature actual history with actual consequences which we as human beings need to know and remember in an effort to learn from the past as well as become better educated. Crime shows like CSI and NCIS are giant franchises built upon the idea of gruesome murder as entertainment. They’re the televisual equivalent of thinking a Healthy Choice chicken cordon bleu frozen dinner is haute cuisine.

But that’s another argument for another day. Tune in next time when I try to imagine a world filled with nothing but good/crooked cops, sexy DAs, and doctors with personal problems. In the meantime, I challenge you to name a current drama program that isn't basically a soap opera.

Erin Lady Byrne (elbyrne@gmail.com) can be found on Twitter @ErinLadyByrne, talking about nectarines and Don Rickles.