Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"the young and the restless," literally

True, this site is devoted largely to theatrical films - misunderstood and neglected movies, to be specific. Nevertheless, I've indulged myself occasionally by commenting on television and even commercials. 

Movies, TV and commercials - they're all relatives of sorts, whose common link is the camera's eye. Which brings me to "The Young and the Restless," one of the best shows on television, daytime or prime time. Period. 

I'd also pit it against any movie these days. Given the choice of a trip to the multiplex or relaxing time spent at home on the sofa watching Y&R, there's no contest. It is certainly one of the crown jewels in CBS' schedule.

Not that the show always manages to keep up its incredible momentum. Lately, since the beginning of the year, Y&R has hit some awkward road bumps in its storytelling, an unusual disappointment that's been balanced by the terrific performances of some of its younger cast members.

"The Young and the Restless"... Rarely has the show's title seemed more prophetic and descriptive than at this moment. I'll get to the current "restless" state of its narrative in a bit - but first, some praise for its "young" - Hunter King, Melissa Ordway, Loren Lott, Zach Tinker, Sasha Calle, Camryn Grimes, Noah Alexander Gerry, Lexie Stevenson, Cait Fairbanks and especially Michael Mealor. 

Wonderful young actors, all of them, who are ready-made for movies, again especially Mealor. 

Actually, Hunter King has already had what I consider to be a breakthrough role in movies - or one that should have been. She is commanding and, more importantly, surprisingly nuanced as a high-school mean girl in Amy Weber's 2015 "A Girl Like Her," an excellent film about the damage of bullying done in a faux documentary style that required its cast to give performances that feel improvised.

On Y&R, as spoiled rich girl Summer, King plays snark to the hilt, with a touch of pain around the edges. Summer is something of a lost soul and, as played by King, difficult to dislike. Her acting duets on the show with Camryn Grimes, who is ostensibly her polar opposite, are infrequent but telling. Grimes' Mariah character has rougher edges than Summer but they share essentially the same brand of pain and the same appreciation of snarky retorts. Both want affection but demand it in alienating ways. Grimes has nailed the idea of "attitude" - no-nonsense and in-your-face. Her character would never resort to flirting the way Summer does.

Both Loren Lott and Zach Tinker are relatively new on the show and are, more or less, untested. But they both have plunged head-first into their roles - as a fledgling music producer Ana and hopeful singer Finn, respectively - tearing into them with focus and enthusiasm. And it helps considerably that their characters are incredibly well-written - which can't be said of the material given to the show's older actors of late. Lott, in particular, is wildly charismatic and Tinker can go seamlessly from fake confidence to insecurity without missing a beat. And in tandem? They have chemistry.

I've written about Melissa Ordway in a previous piece but it bears repeating. 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 or so ago, was a charming ingenue as Abby, is currently at the top of her game. Her acting is naturalistic and basic, free of frills, with line readings that are flawless. Better yet, she says all there is to say with her gorgeous, penetrating eyes. When Ordway is on screen, the viewer's eyes can't help but go directly to her. She's a Movie Star in the making.

Talented Sasha Calle is also new on the show and, initially, her character Lola was so engaging that she was like an instant friend. She was an exciting find. But for some bizarre reason, the writers elected to make this Latina a conflicted virgin, as well as a high-maintenance girlfriend - way too high - bent on giving a difficult time to a guy who clearly loves her. The character has become an unnecessary annoyance which is a disservice to the groundwork developed by Calle. The writers have piled so much baggage on an originally carefree, playful character, making her seem middle-aged now, that the results may be irrevocable.

Cait Fairbanks as Tessa and Noah Alexander Gerry and Lexie Stevenson as the charming twins Charlie and Mattie have much less screen time - and it doesn't help that Fairbanks (who has a Kristen Stewart quality about her) is saddled with a virtually unplayable character.

Finally, there's Michael Mealor who plays preppy Kyle Abbott, a character who came on the show with an acquisitive, smacked-ass attitude but, thanks to the writing but largely to Mealor's performance, has become so much more. Mealor has been memorable in one scene after another, regardless of his acting partner. Much like Melissa Ordway, he keeps getting better and better - so good that I now consider him the star of the show. (Sorry, Eric Braeden!) He deserves his image in the opening credits by now. In fact, given that the credits keep showcasing the same usual suspects over and over again, they should have been updated ages ago.

So much for the "young" part of "The Young and the Restless." Now for the "restless part" - the bad news. In a word, it's the writing - as well as some unfortunate new hires - but mostly it's the writing, which has been askew for so long that it's now difficult to remember Y&R at its peak.

Bad ideas abound...

Bad Idea #1: The murder of J.T. and its botched aftermath. It was a clever idea to have four of the show's top female characters accidentally collaborate on the killing but the idea wore out its welcome several months ago. "Do you think J.T. is still alive?," the women now nervously (and constantly) ask each. Frankly, who cares?

Bad Idea #2: Keeping characters who should be terminated. (1) Tessa, a problematic character since Day One. Her lesbian relationship with Mariah never worked because the writers weren't brave enough to do anything but tiptoe around it. But Fairbanks is too good to lose. Fix her character already! (2) The Rosales Family - Rey, Arturo and the truly awful Mia (but not Lola). This laudable effort to be inclusive and diverse backfired because the writers let these characters take over the show immediately. (3) Kerry, a stick-figure character hastily invented so that Peter Bergman's Jack Abbott could have a love interest. Why does Jack always need love interest anyway? He's pushing 70, right? So if he absolutely must have a lady friend, why not someone more age appropriate? It's been revealed that Kerry now desperately wants a baby - preferably Jack's, of course!

Bad Idea #3: Always keeping The Newman Family on the front burner. Look, they've become tiresome. Plus, are audiences these days really expected to have any sympathy or empathy for an entitled rich old patriarch who thinks only of himself, does as he pleases and gets away with it? Sure, Victor has been sent to prison for breaking one law after another but he always gets released. Always. It's boring and completely devoid of any suspense. I mean, it's as if he can't sit behind bars for more than five episodes, six max. But the writers like to tease us with the possibility of Victor - or Nikki - being incarcerated at regular intervals.

Bad Idea #4: Making established characters cringe-worthy. (1) Phyllis. She's always seething now. Not exactly attractive. When exactly was the last time she smiled? (2) Nick. What was wrong with him being the hipster owner of a dive bar? Now, as a newly made-over businessman, he looks like he wears way too much cologne. (3) Nick & Phyllis as the show's official awful couple. Their worst moment together (among many): Playing a ridiculous Valentine's Day game where if one of them gave the wrong answer to a question, he/she had to take off a piece of clothing. This is your average soap's idea of "sexy."

Bad Idea #5: Toxic masculinity. Either knowingly or inadvertently, it has been introduced to the show. Or was it always there, only now much more obvious? Well, there's Victor, of course, who may have invented male toxicity. He has no redeemable qualities. Not one.  He loves his family, you say? Not really. He relentlessly tries to control them, but that ain't love. Then there's Nick, who now seems bent on being like Victor even though daddy emptied his trust fund not so long ago. Cain and Rey, meanwhile, are old-world chauvinists. Cain, in particular, can go from being a pig to a prig, but fans seems to love him. Why? Rey sleeps with a wife he detests when he says (or thinks) he loves Sharon. The day he showed up to declare that love, he ended up interrogating her. Huh? Then there's Rey's sleazy little brother, Arturo, who opportunistically slept with Nikki Newman before hooking up with her stepdaughter, Abby; and the know-it-all but clueless Devon Hamilton; and Michael Baldwin with his self-satisfied smirk; and Jack Abbott who is given to condescending mansplaining (not good), and Billy Abbott who seems unable to sit anywhere without manspreading (definitely not good). Am I imagining that all of these male characters, in one way or another, are (how shall it put this?) offensive?

Bad Idea #6: Firing Doug Davidson, who played the show's one tolerable adult male characters, the only one. Davidson and  his character, police commissioner Paul Williams, were sidelined to make way for dull Rey. Aside from Davidson playing the show's one recognizably likable male character, he is also a wonderful actor: His scenes with the great Stacy Haiduk as his sad, lost sister Patty were like a master class in acting. Bring him back.

"The Young and the Restless" may have developed problems during the past year, but Doug Davidson certainly wasn't one of them. It's the writing!

Anyway, someone involved with "The Young and the Restless" got the bright idea to fix what wasn't broken. Hopefully, someone else there can now do some serious damage control and restore it to its greatness.

But even when it's mediocre, "The Young and the Restless" still has the abiility to hold us in its grip. It's just that once - not that long ago - it was so much more adept and accomplished at meeting that goal. 

Note in Passing: During the past year, "The Young and the Restless" lost several of its top actresses. One by one, a crucial performer dropped out. The first to call it quits was Melissa Claire Egan, who had the rare knack of having chemistry with every other actor on the show. Next was Mishael Morgan, an actress the show could not afford to lose. And then Eileen Davidson, who could play a strong woman like no one else. And then the invaluable Judith Chapman and then fan favorite Christel Kalil. Beth Maitland, always a treat to watch, and Marla Adams, a major actress, pop up occasionally but way too infrequently. Infrequent? It's as if Adams' character has already been killed off. Only the reliable Sharon Case has remained unscathed. Her consistently watchable performance has been the main reason to tune into "The Young and the Restless" recently (along with those remarkable young actors).

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* * * * *
(from top) 

~The logo for "The Young and the Restless"
~CBS 2019©
~A few of the younger cast members of "The Young and the Restless" - Hunter King, Camryn Grimes, Melissa Ordway, Sasha Calle and Michael Mealor

~The pros: Doug Davidson, Stacy Haiduk and Sharon Case


Mallina said...

I agree. "The Young and the Restless" is a great show. Or was. The writing has been really terrible. Yes, the J.T murder mystery should have been killed off along with J.T.

Isabel said...

I'm personally sick of Victoria and her daddy issues. Didn't he have her arrested on one of her wedding days to stop the marriage? How on earth could she ever forgive that? Ridiculous!

joe baltake said...

Excellent point, Isabel. The idea of both Victoria and Nick rushing to their awful faather's defense is laughable. And the relentless selling of the myth that "family is everything" is really fuzzy thinking when the family is like the Newmans. The worst offender for me is Nikki who disrespects herself more than Victor does. -J

Lawrence said...

I'm also impressed with the young actors on Y&R and, you're right, they all seem to have better material that the seasoned vets on the show. As much as I like all the kids and would like to see more of them, I'd hate to see them become "life soapers," if you know what I mean. I'd hate to see each one playing the same character for decades. That's a depressing thought. I'd like to see each of them do movies. There's potential here that needs to be tapped.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Lawrence. I understand the appeal of soaps for actors. It's steady work, although reportedly grueling work. There's a built-in fan base. But it's also something of a velvet trap. It seems if a performer stays too long, there's the threat of being pigeon-holed as a soap star and the opportunities outside of daytime become limited. Some really talented actors can't get out and end up playing "musical soaps," going back and forth between the various daytime dramas, of which there are too few left. It has to be frustrating. -J

Alex said...

Doug Davidson is a major loss. I feel Paul was the backbone of the show and, you're right, he is an excellent actor. What bothers me is that the powers got rid of the character without every explaining his absence. His wife Chris is still on the show and Rey seems to use his office all the time. But where's Paul? Unless I missed something, they never addressed his absence. What's going on here?

joe baltake said...

Alex- It's called disrespect - for not only the character but also the actor who played him. It's very bad form, reflecting terribly on the people who produce the show. When you read other cast members declare that it's one big happy family, their words don't match up with situations like this. -J

Tish said...

Wow, Joe! Great analysis of a great show. I also love Y&R and think it's great even when it shrinks a little. But I have to agree. It's shrunk a lot in the past few months. I am totally fed up and bored with the J.T. thing. Enough already! And while it might be politically incorrect to say this, but the Rosales family does nothing for me - and yet, as you say, they've taken over the show!

Bernadette said...

Speaking of diversity, I've been waiting for ages for one of the soaps to incorporate a Jewish family. It would be a good counterpoint to have a character celebrating Chanukah while everyone else goes crazy over Christman.

joe baltake said...

Bernadette- I agree but it's unlikely to happen, given how slow the soaps were to give ample screen time to black characters. However, I remember at least one Jewish character - Nora (played by the sublime Hillary B. Smith), on "One Life to Live" - and the producers actually let her character celebrate Chanukah, as well as Passover. But that was 20-30 years ago. So much for progress. -J

Vanessa said...

Joe! I'm afraid that the fan base of most soaps - which seems highly conservative/religious right to me - would never accept a Jewish character on daytime

Ginny said...

Sharon Case is a marvel. She's the best thing on Y&R, very obviously a team player. I hope she's appreciated. I hope she gets a big, fat raise!

Marie T. said...

Yeah, the Newmans area bore. The writers have clearly run out of ideas what to do with them. All the writers do is have them break the law and get away with it. Continually. Send them off to Europe for an extended vacation and take Victoria with them.

Nicole Denise said...

Yes! Bring back Paul - get rid of Rey. He is dull!

Lynn L. said...

Thanks for bringing up Hillary Smith and the fact that "One Life to Live" incorporated a Jewish character into its plots and even acknowledged Jewish traditions and holidays. You're probably correct that most soaps won't "go there" because of their right-leaning audience. I also agree that the Rosales should go. What a misfire!

mia delavan said...

Nick's "make over" is really sad. He looks like a Republican now. I miss his scruffy look. Also, those forced "sexy" scenes with Phyllis are also sad. They behave like teenagers, although I'm sure even teenagers behave in such a silly fashion.