Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Days of Our Lives: What's Working

 Days of Our Lives is on a roll these days (sorry), as witnessed by their recent Emmy win for best soap opera.  Of course, one could argue that, with only four soaps left to pick from, their chances of winning were pretty good.  I think it was well-deserved, though.  Lord knows, there have been plenty of years when the show wasn't so great.

Soap fans are worse than comic fans, when it comes to their opinions, but I've been wanting to share some of mine ever since I got re-hooked on the show after my surgery.  I'm not one to hang out on forums or peruse news sites very often.  The sub I have for Soap Opera Digest on my Nook is about the limit of my soap fandom involvement.  Still, I am very excited for the show right now, for the first time in years.  I look forward to watching it every day, something I haven't done in a long while.

This essay will be part of a four part series of posts on the show.  This time around I want to talk about what's working on the show.  Obviously, these are my opinions, and there are many others who may very well disagree with me.  I'd welcome the comments. 

The Writing:  It's not perfect, of course.  There are all kinds of things I could quibble about, but I also have to admit that the show is better than it has been in ages.  Years, even.  In a couple of days, I'll have a post about when things went wrong, but for now I want to talk about what's going write.  I mean right. 

Kristen:  She is so much fun to watch.  Eileen Davidson is obviously having so much fun playing this role.  Kristen is both very crazy and very broken.  The way those two characteristics get blended together creates a character that we hate and feel sorry for at the same time.  Davidson can turn on a dime from scary psycho to soapy campy to heartbreaking emotion, making it absolutely compulsory to pay attention when she is on screen.

Nicole:  She's has been on the show since the mid 90's, but I never warmed to her until now.  Part of it is Arianne Zucker's maturing into a confident actress.  She takes more chances now with her scenes and that makes her more watchable.  Another part of it is the humor that the writers have brought out of the character.  Nicole has a lot of tragedy and pain in her backstory, so it makes sense that she also has this rich vein of humor that she taps into as a coping mechanism.  Zucker is an excellent comedic actress and can deliver a funny line like no one's business!

EJ/Sami:  This is not a couple I've ever been able to get behind.  My dream would be for Sami to be with Lucas, but that's not going to happen again.  If I can't have that, then I want her with Rafe.  Thing is, the show these days is really selling me on the Sami/EJ pairing.  I'm enjoying the vibe between them and their easy chemistry.  They're kind of like a twisted Nick and Nora Charles or the anti-Jack and Jennifer.  Those scenes where they were doing the deed and plotting to stop Nick at the same time were this awesome mix of hilarious and hot!  For the first time, they're actually fun to watch.  It's not enough to make me forget their sordid history--she shot him in the head, for gorm's sake--which means that I can't root for them, but I can certainly enjoy them together.

Kate/Rafe:  I am so totally grooving on this idea, mainly because it came out of left field, totally unexpected.  Plus, they are hot together.  I think that they are ultimately doomed.  Rafe is who he is and Kate is who she is.  Ultimately, that's going to kill them as pair, but until they crash and burn, they're smoking!  Plus, it gives Sami and Kate something new to fight about.  It also provides Kate with some much needed redemption.  As long as Rafe gets his memories back pretty darn soon!

Will/Sonny:  Gay romances and characters are nothing new for soaps these days.  A gay romance with two legacy characters is.  Both these guys are rooted in the show, its families, and its history, and they're taking it into the future.  You simply cannot get more Salem than a Horton/Brady and a Kiriakis!  Plus, they're the only truly happy couple on the show right now.  I love their dynamic and chemistry and like that they communicate with each other and work together to face their challenges.  All soap couples should be this way.

Humor:  Nicole's not the only one getting the funny on these days.  There's plenty of it to go around.  Even Victor gets a laugh line every now and then.  I know that soaps are about the drama, but it only make sense when a show as full of comedic talent as Days uses it.

Unexpected Twists:  Chad has a video of Sami attacking Bernardi.  Nick's prison tormentor gets an early release.  Rafe and Kate hook up.  I've been watching soaps for decades now.  It's kind of hard for one to surprise me, but this one does.  More often than I would think possible, in fact.

Overarching Stories:  One of the worst things a soap can do is isolate or "island" characters in their own stories to the point where they never interact with anyone or anything that doesn't relate to their primary storyline.  If you watch any episode of Days, you'll see characters moving around each other and interacting across storylines in ways that make you want to watch.  Characters have friends and families beyond their primary arcs.  They're part of a larger community, and we see that every week.

The Little Beats and Bits:  One of the best things the show does right now are these little moments between characters that really don't advance the plots, but do serve to remind the audience of the connections between these characters.  Hope visits Jennifer or Maggie for advice.  Eric spends time with Caroline.  Victor spends time with Sonny.  Nicole comforts Brady.  Every little scene with EJ and Kristen totally rocks out!

Recurring/Supporting Actors Get Used:  Okay, I'm not saying they get used enough, but at least we do get to see them regularly.  Yes, I would love to see anyone of them stirring up their own stories, but it's still nice to see Kayla, Caroline, Maggie, Victor, Justin, Adrienne, Lucas et al on a regular basis.  There was a time when being recurring meant invisible.

History:  This show is almost 50 years old.  That's a lot of water under the bridge.  I've heard more references to that history and seen that history informing current history more since the first of the year than I have in a long, long time.  Let's be honest here.  Soap fans are big old nerds.  When you make use of and reference history, it makes us happy.

Pacing: The days when a soap could play out a story for weeks and weeks on end are over.  So too the era when show after show could go by with nothing major happening.  Modern soap story telling demands more for its viewers.  Days has figured out how to unfold its plots slowly, yet still keep things moving regularly.  For the most part, they succeed, with a few stumbles here and there.  The main thing is that something happens every day to move at least one of the plots forward.  Usually, it's more than one.  Every day also ends on a "hook" that drags you back for the next day.  Even in the middle of all this, you still get tantalizing elements like Ciara hiding the picture of Kristen that play out for a few weeks before coming to a big climax.  It works well.  I'm glued to hulu just about every night!

Integration of New/Returning Characters:  One of the worst mistakes soaps make is bringing on a new character, playing them every day, and letting them suck up all the air on the show.  One of the things Days is doing really well is slowly integrating its new characters and tying them to people on the show that we already know and love.  We may not like JJ too much (which is what the writers intend right now), but he spends a good part of his time with his family and we do like them.  Bringing people on through people we already know is much healthier for the show.

There is probably a lot more that I could go on about, but that's enough for one post.  Next time, we'll talk about the things that aren't working quite so well.  Nobody's perfect!

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