Monday, January 22, 2018

uncommon women: "the young and the restless"

I've been procrastinating, so apologies to the crew behind of one of CBS's crown jewels, "The Young and the Restless," particularly its talented cast.

Even though this site is devoted largely to theatrical films - misunderstood and neglected movies, to be specific - I've indulged myself occasionally by commenting on television and even commercials. They're all relatives of sorts, linked by the camera's eye, and "The Young and the Restless" is one of the best shows on television, daytime or prime time. Period. So, Bravo!

Full disclosure: My wife and I began watching daytime dramas - or "soaps" - when we started dating, binge-watching the three ABC dramas, all 15 hours of them, via Beta tapings on lost weekends in the 1980s. We were definitely ahead of our time. And, frankly, I found the shows often more stimulating than what I critiqued as a working movie reviewer at the time.

I confessed this once - rather sheepishly - to the critic Pauline Kael, who immediately shared that she had no problem skipping an evening screening when it conflicted with a telecast of "Rich Man, Poor Man."

When the ABC soaps, one by one, became unwatchable, we switched to "The Young and the Restless" and could not believe what we had been missing. The only difference between "The Young and the Restless" and, say, "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad" or "Scandal," is the difference between a daytime slot and a prime time slot. They're all "soaps" - or "continuing dramas," if that makes you feel more secure about your viewing habits.

And so was Kael's "Rich Man, Poor Man."

"The Young and the Restless" has been on CBS's daytime slate since 1973, so we discovered it rather late in the game. It's a given that the show has experienced its artistic ups and downs during the several decades it's been airing, and we lived through a slump when refugees from ABC's "General Hospital" came on board, making dubious decisions. (Veterans of daytime - producers, directors, writers, performers - tend to play "musical soaps," hopping back and forth among the few that survived the culture wars.)

For the past couple years, the show has been guided by executive producer-head writer Mal Young and, except for some jaw-dropping twists and turns of late (more about that later), he has done a bang-up job, especially in the area of providing a troupe of terrific actresses with deliciously meaty material. While it's undeniable that the actors on "The Young and the Restless" are first-class - especially the unparalleled Eric Braeden, Peter Bergman (who always seems to be having a high old time in his role) and reliable Doug Davidson - it's the women who soar here:

~Sharon Case. For my money, Case is the one reason to watch "The Young and the Restless." She plays a character named ... Sharon and she fully inhabits the role. No matter what the writers toss at her (and a character's motivation can change on a soap from day to day, sometimes irrationally so), Case handles it. But most impressive is the chemistry she has with whoever is opposite her in a scene. She's had memorable acting duets with just about every cast member. Chemistry between actors is a necessity, but especially on a soap where there are dozens of characters.

~Eileen Davidson. No one plays a strong woman as well as Davidson and she does it in an impressively atypical way - with a certain reserve and style. She fairly drips with style. Davidson never pushes, which makes her character, Ashley, all the more commanding but never intimidating.

~Mishael Morgan. Morgan is not only hugely charismatic but patient. For more than a year, her character, Hillary, seemed to flail, as the writers figured out what to do with her. But as the soap's relentless, unapologetic provocateur/opportunist, Morgan tears into her role with all the bravura of Faye Dunaway in "Network." She's a hoot to watch, hands-down.

~Melissa Claire Egan. Egan has a naturalness that makes all of her scenes flow by smoothly, seamlessly and with apparently little effort. She makes acting look easy - which isn't easy. And like Case, her Chelsea has incredible chemistry with her co-players, especially her leading men. Whether it's Michael Muhney, Justin Hartley or (currently) Joshua Morrow, she seems absolutely crazy about the guy - an actor's dream partner.

~Amelia Heinle. Heinle has the most psychologically complex woman's role on "The Young and the Restless," playing a character riddled with insecurities (thanks to daddy issues) and only half cognizant of her talent and worth. Her Victoria often fumbles at game-playing and can be self-sabotaging but it's what makes her sympathetic. And Heinle nails it every time, making it possible for us to root for the spoiled, clueless rich girl.

~Gina Tognoni. Unlike Victoria, Tognoni's Phyllis is definitely a player and this wildly talented actress - who refuses to age - plays the game with a transparent male aggressiveness which she never tries to excuse but rather makes attractive. Tognoni has shrewdly updated the kind of women played by Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn. That's a good thing.

~Marla Adams. Arguably, the greatest female performance this year on daytime (or nighttime, for that matter), was turned in by the irresistible Adams, who played a Grand Dame of business with such cultured casualness that one could smell her wealth. And what a fabulously monied voice. I had fantasies about having lunch with her. Unfortunately, she is now off the canvas, seemingly permanently, and is much missed.

~Beth Maitland. Maitland plays Tracy, a recurring character on the show - sister of the aforementioned Ashley - but it's always a treat when she shows up. The actress exudes a warmth that never feels affected or fake and her winning smile perfectly complements the no-nonsense advice she tries to impart to the show's drama queens. She's utterly indespensible.

~Melody Thomas Scott. Scott works wonders with the requisite role of the show's First Lady - married to the richest, meanest man in town. Her matriarch, of course, comes with a past (she was a stripper in another life!) and she hasn't quite let go of her maverick ways. Scott excels at playing her character with a girlish fillip. "The Young and the Restless," like all the soaps, never gets into politics but I'm willing to bet the rent money that while her awful husband is a conservative, Scott's Nicki is a liberal. They keep getting married but there's a reason the unions never work.

~Camryn Grimes. It must be a rare acting treat for Case and Morrow to have Grimes back on the show, as she played their daughter more than a decade ago and now plays that deceased character's long-lost twin, all grown up. (Hey, this is a soap, remember.) I never saw Grimes as a child actress but I appreciate that she came on the show as a fully-formed, albeit messed-up adult. She acts opposite Case and Morrow on equal terms. Like Mishael Morgan, the writers played around with her character, trying to match her up with other players, and while their attempts never really worked, Grimes always came through. She found her footing via her character's much-appreciated, well-put sarcasm, a feature underlined by her long, flowing, often wild red hair. She is currently involved in a lesbian subplot - well, sort of - which any experienced soap viewer knows will inevitably be abandoned. The core fan base of soaps, see, doesn't seem to approve of gays, interracial love (at least not when the man in the couple is of color) or Jewish characters. It would be great if the powers behind soaps ignored these dated biases because, frankly, soap fans aren't exactly going anywhere; they'll continue to watch, no matter what.

~Melissa Ordway. It's always a privilege to watch a performer grow in stature and hone their talent in ways that are totally unexpected and exciting. Ordway who, about five years ago, was a charming ingenue as Abby, is currently at the top of her game. She's subtle and nuanced, her line readings are flawless and, better yet, she says all there is to say with her gorgeous, penetrating eyes. And when she's on screen, the viewer's eyes can't help but go directly to her. She's a Movie Star in the making.

~Jess Walton. Again, a recurring character, but every time she's off-canvas, I miss her whiskey-soaked voice. Walton is a terrific actress who has been amazing playing the same basic scenes over and over and over and over again. She needs - and deserves - a change, a challenge.

~Christel Khalil. Khalil is such a fan favorite that even if she was off the show for six months, the fans would still vote for her as a favored daytime actress. She has comedic talents that are rarely tapped; the funniest moments on "The Young and the Restless" have involved her Lily bitching about the awfulness of Hillary. The show needs more of her spark. Instead her character is involved in the drawn-out reconciliation with her smacked-ass husband (something to appease the aforementioned fan base). It would be great to see Lily leave and go absolutely wild as a divorcee.

~Tracey E. Bregman. She and Christian Le Blanc play the soap's power couple - he's an attorney and she's a successful entrepreneur - but they tend to have problems which makes it easy not to envy them. Bregman brings a nice mix of savvy and neuroticism to her character, Lauren. She's never a pushover, she's never unsure of herself and, when she miscalculates a situation, she claims ownership of it. But it doesn't help that the show dressses this "power" woman like a cocktail waitress. It undermines the empowerment that's essential to her character. 

~Judith Chapman. Her name is Gloria, a great name for a dame, and Chapman is never less than a delight as a seemingly frivolous, flirty woman whose street smarts are always being underestimated by the show's entitled denizens who judge and look down on her. Gloria rocks!

These actresses, all 15 of them, make for great company.

Now about those unfortunate recent twists and turns that I referenced earlier, none of which make any narrative sense.

Here goes...

All of a sudden, Chelsea is involved in some kind of vague skullduggery involving her designer business. Huh?  Why? And all of a sudden, Nicki is apparently hooking up with a much younger man, a rough-hewn contractor. Huh?  Why?  And all of a sudden, Ashley has suddenly turned into another character altogether, bent on tormenting Victoria. Huh? Why? And the show is intent on reuniting Lily with that cheating husband. Huh?  Why? And what happened to Ravi?

Weren't he and Ashley almost an item, the operative word being "almost"?

In addition to the fublous Dina, two other characters seemed to have been axed - Scott (no great loss here) and Graham (who was truly fascinating to watch) - and I fear that Ravi may also be on his way out as well.

Noah may be also be gone, given that the character has been matched up with innumerable women in the last few years, always with dispiriting results. Talk about chemistry or, in this case, lack thereof.

Initially, there were signs that Graham would be revealed as Ashley's brother, adding another member to her clan. Then, he was revealed not be a blood relative at all, which would have qualified him as a love interest for Ashley. But now the character is stone cold dead. Too bad. I liked Graham. As for Ravi, I believe that the fan base is none-too-friendly towards interracial relationships. So, he's doomed. Too bad. I like Ravi.

And I think we can expect that lesbian subplot to soon be history.

Early on, I said that there is no difference between a daytime soap and a prime time soap. Well, that's not entirely true. Either the viewers of nighttime soaps are more open-minded or the shows' makers care more about the quality of the show than what the fans expect. Daytime, on the other hand, listens to the fans. A little too attentively, in my opinion.

To reiterate, these fans aren't going anywhere. They'll always tune in. So there's no reason to force poor Lily to reunite with that lying husband.

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 (from top)

~The logo for "The Young and the Restless"
~CBS 2018©

~ Sharon Case, Mishael Morgan, Amelia Heinle, Marla Adams, Melissa Ordway and Judith Chapman


Tish said...

Gloria rocks? No, you rock, Joe. Loved this piece almost as much as I love the show. You're right - it's one of the best on TV!

Vanessa said...

Joe, I also miss the Ben Hochman character who may have been Jewish and which may explain why he's gone. The only Jewish soap character that I recall was Nora on "One Life to Live." I really don't know why soaps can't be more diverse. Bring on more people of color, more gays, more ethnics!

joe baltake said...

Vanessa- Thanks for mentioning Ben. Yeah, great character - and decidedly uncarateristic for a soap. Not your typical soap guy.

Rebecca said...

Great tribute to a great show! Among the men, I'd add Jason Thompson who is always so much fun to watch. But, I agree, this is the women's show!

Brook Seawell said...

Thanks for the encouraging words about Melissa Ordway. I agree. She gives a consistently professional performance and keeps improving. She IS a movie star!