Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Days of Our Lives: What Went Wrong

 Bear in mind, as always, that this is one long-time soap fan's opinions on things.

For me, Days of Our Lives went off the rails in 2005-2006, when James E Reilly was brought back in as head writer.  Reilly could write a big, splashy story (Marlena is a serial killer!) but crafting a soap takes more than big, splashy stories.  His outrageous plots drug on forever, often without any form of adequate resolution.  He islanded characters in their stories.  He brought back Carrie and Austin only to stage a repeat of the whole Carrie-Sami-Lucas-Austin stories of the 90's.  Weeks of episodes went by without anything significant happening.  Worst of all, on a show known for its solid, romantic couplings, he split characters up for no reason whatsoever.

It was a dismal time to be a Days fan, let me tell you.  I started watching One Life to Live and All My Children just so I could see soaps that actually looked and acted like soaps are supposed to.  Considering the disgust that some AMC fans have for this period in the show's history, it says a lot that I found it better than Days during that time.

When they finally booted Reilly, I was cautiously optimistic, especially since his replacement was Hogan Sheffer, who had done some very good things for As the World Turns.  At first, it seemed like things were going well.  Leftover plots got quickly wrapped up, and promising new stories started.  The show started focusing on the Brady-DiMera feud, always a good source of story.  They even did some really daring things, like killing John (a move that I heartily approved), then bringing him back (a move I wasn't too wild about), then making him Stefano's brother (a move that has never been adequately explored).

A lot of good stuff happened during this run, but somehow, overall, the show felt off.  Something was missing.  It wasn't quite Days.  Maybe the show needed longer to get back on its feet.  Maybe Sheffer had too many constraints put on him.  Maybe Days wasn't his bag.  We'll never know, because he was out.  Then John and Marlena were out, and the show got really weak.

This was a time of heavy budget constraints for the show, so story was built around what I considered to be B-level characters for the most part.  Sami still had active story, but otherwise, it was Molly, Stephanie, and Chloe day in and day out.  For the most part it was really dull.

When it wasn't dull, it was incomprehensible.  Chloe is engaged to Lucas, but has a quickie with Daniel and falls in love.  She marries Lucas anyway, but runs around on him all over town, something he doesn't seem to notice.  Kate finds out and plots to kill Chloe.  Plan fails and Kate marries Stefano to avoid jail, despite the fact that Stefano had Phillip shot.  Need I go on?

The only high point of this time was the Maggie-Victor romance.  In fact, both characters were busier than they had been in years.  As a Maggie fan, I loved that part.  Most of the rest, not so much.  Several unnecessary returns came next.  I really could have gone years without ever seeing Vivian or Carly again.  Seriously.  Bo and Hope broke up.  (What?)  Kate turned Chloe into a prostitute.  (What?)  The show was hurting. Bad.  I began to think the ghost of James Reilly was walking the halls.

So, the show decided to do a "reboot" complete with a big, splashy new set and lots of returns.  Some of it was good.  The Horton Square is versatile and quite nice, giving the show a needed visual boost.  Marlena and John were certainly a welcome return.  Will finally came out.  And Lucas came back to town.  That's about the extent of it, however.

Honestly, so many of the choices they made were baffling.  Bringing back Patrick Muldoon and Lisa Rinna?  Really?  Turning both Gabi and Abby into man-crazy stalkers?  I'm still trying to make sense of the whole Rafe and Carrie thing.  For me, the train wreck moments pretty much overshadowed the high points.  It's a good thing it was over so quickly.

And that leads us to the present, and a show that is slowly but surely rebuilding itself.  There's a new writing team that seems to have a handle on what it's doing.  I'm feeling better about the show than I have for a long time.   Judging from the show's recent Emmy wins, I'm not the only one that thinks so.  Here's to better Days ahead!

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