Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Go Out on A Limb, or Throw in the Towel?

Writing for or directing a show with a set end date must be a mixed bag. On the one hand, the fact that a series has been cancelled and won't air after a certain date means there's not much in the way of job security to worry about. As a writer or director, one would certainly be tempted to try new things, take some chances, go out on a creative limb and just plain push the envelope. On the other hand, the fact that one's source of income is about to come to an end and that, at the end of the day, one's creative efforts have amounted to nothing more than a bunch of episodes of a television show that's about to wrap must be disheartening. I could see it being difficult to even show up for work under such circumstances. I could easily see a writer or director in such a situation becoming tempted to just phone it in. After all, what's the point?

It's clear to me that the writers and director of Guiding Light are facing both of these options right now, and are torn between the two.

The Limb

Since the official announcement that Guiding Light had been cancelled by CBS, viewers have been treated to some completely original, and thoroughly refreshing hours of television. While other pundits, who shall remain nameless here, may find themselves disgusted with the choices made during the last few months on GL, and chalk them up to some elaborate conspiracy by Procter and Gamble to kill the long-running soap, I'm of a different opinion. 

Within the last two months the residents of Springfield have been allowed to speak in ways which are much more natural and true-to-life than characters on any other soap opera. When Olivia, on hearing about Edmund's death, referred to him as a "sad bastard", my heart leapt with joy. This is just the sort of phrase a woman such as Olivia would use. She wouldn't call him a jerk, or a fool. She wouldn't describe him as a "really bad guy." It wasn't forced or phony. It wasn't a big deal. It was a strong, feisty, opinionated woman saying the first thing that came to mind. Natalia wasn't surprised: this was exactly the strong, feisty, opinionated woman she'd fallen in love with. I wasn't surprised, either - not at Olivia, anyhow. I was surprised at the courage of the writers for making such a bold choice. A few days later, Daisy referred to someone as a "douche-bag" and James called his father a "prick." Crude? Perhaps. But, then, real life is full of crude stuff. A teenaged boy who hates and resents his father isn't going to be polite about it. This, my friends, is the way real people express themselves. I rarely get through a day without a few profanities.  If it sounds strange coming from your television, it's because very little on television rings so true. 

As discussed in a previous blog, viewers also experienced television history when Olivia, in a fit of sexual frustration, went shopping for a sex toy. Not happy to leave it at a vague shopping spree where the contents of the wrapped, oblong boxes could only be hinted at, the writers of GL had Olivia and Blake engage in a lengthy discussion about the perfectly normal and healthy desire women have for sexual gratification.  

Perhaps the boldest move on the part of the writers has been the development of tension between Natalia and Father Ray. Instead of a guilty confession, Natalia made a declaration of her love for Olivia, quoting scripture to defend her decision to follow her heart and love a woman. We may have expected a timid, pious woman woman who would beg her religious leader for guidance, but what we got was a strong, confident woman whose mind was made up. A woman who was not afraid to face her priest on a human level, and remind him that she only had one God to answer to. 

Precious nuggets, really. Writers taking chances and bucking the trends. A director taking advantage of the rare opportunity to work outside of the network box. 

The Towel

Now, the not-so-great news. Brace yourself to be thrown for a loop. For months I've been one of the pundits who's gone on and on about the nature of soap opera, about the fact that the rhythm and structure soap opera are different than those of a weekly series or a two-hour movie or a novel. I stand firm on this. Soap is soap, and it's important to me, as a lover of the genre, that the writers and director get this. However. How freaking ever. Enough is enough. Time is marching on. Figure out a plan and stick to it.  

Where the writers and director were only recently giving us perfectly-timed scenes filled with hints at increased physical affection and intimacy between Natalia and Olivia, they have since become sloppy and seemingly unsure of how they want to proceed, and where, exactly, all of this is headed. We see Olivia and Natalia in the privacy of the farmhouse, unable to even share a friendly kiss hello. I'm not talking about a romantic kiss - I believe there's still a valid argument to be made for the girls not having shared a big, romantic kiss, yet. I'm talking about the fact that there's some sloppy and uneven writing and directing going on, regarding the level and type of physical contact these two characters are sharing. On the one hand, their private greeting at the farmhouse is awkward and stilted, when it should be free and easy and comfortable: you go to wish your best friend well on her first day of work, you hug her, you give her a peck on the cheek. Case closed. On the other hand, we have Natalia and Olivia sitting at a booth in Company....Natalia is not feeling well....Olivia sits inches from her and strokes her face, right there, in a public setting, in a way that only a lover would. If I walked into a restaurant and saw two women sitting in such close proximity to one another, looking at each other in that way, and touching in the way that Olivia touches Natalia in that scene, I would immediately assume the women were a couple. Their body language, their closeness, the way they look at one another - all of this screams "couple" in a way that doesn't ring true for two women who don't even - can't even - peck each other on the cheek hello when they're in private. Furthermore, it makes it all the more difficult to believe that someone such as Buzz - who knows Olivia, and knows what she looks and acts like when she feels she is being loved - would not pick up on the Otalia vibe. It is sloppy and haphazard writing and directing. 

Which is it, then? Is this a story about two women who are deadly afraid of having their secret found out, and terrified about acting on their feelings and moving forward? Or is it a story about two women who can comfortably and confidently huddle together in a very public place, share long, lingering stares and smiles, and a level of face-touching and caressing that is reserved for people in love, without giving a damn what onlookers might think? It cannot be both

The sloppiness is not reserved for Otalia, either. A recent scene had Lillian Raines - a seasoned nurse, a professional - not only inappropriately disclose a patient's confidential medical information, but basically discuss the impending death of said patient in an almost mirthful way. In what may be the sloppiest bit of writing and directing I've seen on GL in ages, Lillian receives a call from Dr. Ed Bauer saying that a patient with a terminal illness will soon be in for medication. Philip then walks in and Lillian, unaware that Philip is the patient, gleefully blurts out something along the lines of, "I'm expecting a guy any minute who just found out he only has three months to live! He's terminally ill!" If life were a cartoon, my rubbery neck would stretch out of shape as I did a double take because....say what???? 

Not only is this scene and the way it's directed completely unbelievable in every way - not just because it goes against basic medical ethics, but because viewers know Lillian as a consummate professional and a compassionate woman - but it's totally unnecessary and ineffective. The writer of this scene was both sloppy and lazy. The scene is a textbook example of clumsily spelling out the details of a story, instead of trusting the audience to work certain things out for themselves.  A much more effective and economical scene, which would have maintained Lillian's true nature and allowed Tina Sloan to remain in character would have opened with the phone call from Ed, followed by Philip walking in, and an exchange to the effect of:

Lillian: Philip...what a nice surprise. I can't really stop and talk, though - I'm expecting a patient to come in any second.

(Dramatic soap opera pause)

Philip: I know. Lillian...(Philip does soap opera "look at the floor" move, pauses, then looks Lillian in th eye) I'm that patient.

(Cut away to Lillian, whose face says it all: she's expecting a terminal patient, Philip has identified himself as that patient....fade to Fabreeze commercial.) 

Lillian knows that someone with a terminal illness is about to walk in. We know that Philip has a terminal illness. Philip walks in. Does any of us need to be hit over the head with this idea? And, really, is there any room for smiles and laughter in this scene? What the hell is Lillian so damned giddy about????

The wonderful Tina Sloan deserves a better scene than this one.

Don't Shoot the Messenger

There's no denying it - there is some sloppy and lazy writing going on, and there are questionable decisions being made by the director. Perhaps, under pressure of time constraints and the prospect of impending unemployment, there are people behind the scenes who have just given up. It's possible that there are script writers who have already moved on to other projects, leaving fewer people to cover a heavy workload. Whatever the reasons for some of the messier things going on in Springfield, one thing cannot be denied: this will have an impact on how Otalia plays out between now and September 18th.

Otalia seems to have been on one trajectory just a few weeks ago, and shifted gears, as of late, along paths unknown. A month ago I wrote about how sure I was that Olivia and Natalia would ultimately share one of those over-the-top romantic soap opera sex scenes, complete with rose petals and tea lights. Considering the time constraints and the way in which this story seems to have been derailed (Natalia pregnant? Seriously? Now???), I now think viewers may have to consider bracing themselves for the very real possibility that the long-awaited kiss will be the big pay-off, with any other sort of intimacy only implied for the off-screen future. (More on this theory in my next blog)

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves


Anonymous said...

Brilliant piece of writing...bravo...I could not have said it better.

It's why I write fan fic...in my story, they got rose petals and tea lights...dozens of them...

Anonymous said...

Your post is dead on to my feelings. I would have expected more consistency to what Otalia has been building to at a snails pace. Unfortunately I am invested until the end and hope we get our happy ending. If not we are blessed with some wonderful fanfic Otalia writers and wonderful people on the boards.

Michele said...

I thought the same thing about Phillip and Lillian scene when it happened. I was thinking that was a big no-no, but I guess the writer felt the need to treat their audience like idiots. Also, the whole Natalia pregnancy is a stretch even for a soap opera. Cmon this is a 35 year old woman who's been pregnant before she wouldn't know she was 4-5 months pregnant???? I will continue to watch because I'm invested with the Otalia storyline. I'm having faith that the writers have a plan for the end.

blueandyellow said...

beautifully put.
thank you for putting into words feelings i cannot.

JFaye said...

I am so disheartened at this point that I fully expect Olivia and Natalia's kiss to be Olivia kissing the bride at Frank and Natalia's wedding. Way to ruin a perfectly beautiful love story and screw over three fan bases in the process (CC, Frank D. and JL).

MJinTenn said...

I am always gobsmacked by your thoughtful and intelligent insight. Basically I come here to get schooled in the soap genre and calm myself from longing for a scene of Mad Klingon Sex (or even just a sweetly romantic scene* depicting the afterglow of said Mad Klingon Sex) between our girls.

I also love your critique of the scene between Lillian and Phillip. Well done!

* Just in case TPTB read the comments to your blog, here's a request that said scene be painstakingly attentive to detail and of considerable duration, extending perhaps over multiple episodes.

TheWeyrd1 said...

I agree that the either the writing or the directing or maybe both have been oddly NOT that great in the past couple weeks. I'm not convinced the pregnancy is real. In great soap tradition I feel a twist coming on involving someone else's illness and mixed test results...at least I hope so!

Robert said...

You've stated exactly what a lot of fans are thinking lately. A lot of daily scenes lately have been WTF. I wondered why Lillian seemed so happy that a terminal patient was coming in for meds. Why is Reva talking so loudly to herself? Why do three businessmen act like James delivered a great business proposal when he clearly didn't care what he was saying? This pregnancy twist is sloppy and uninspired. As you said, they can't have it both ways. You can't pretend the actress playing Natalia hasn't gained a lot of weight during her pregnancy, and then suddenly decide that the character's pregnant.

Snapper said...

TheWeyrd1 - I'm not completely convinced about the pregnancy, either (I haven't watched today's show, of course)...but even the fact that it's being hinted at is a red, ot mess...and just plain sloppy writing.

Anonymous said...

Uhm yeah, if Lillian had been in a real hospital she would have been fired on the spot. Sloppy writing indeed! Spot on with the rest - really getting frustrated with all this haphazard nonsense.
- PretaniVirago

carmen said...

Even if Natalia's pregnancy does turn out to be untrue (and how likely is it that 2 tests, home and hospital, say it's true? Let's not kid ourselves. They're going there) - why come up with an excuse for Jessica's Mat leave that is guaranteed to piss off and alienate their fan base for the near month that Natalia is off-screen??? Could they self-sabatoge any better than that?

Leave us on tenterhooks, feed us angst, keep us hooked so that we're dying for Nat to come back - YES. But this is a line that's being crossed, where you figuratively spit in the face of the amazing support Otalia fans have given the show for months now. That's some thank you.

The destruction of Nat's character, the unfeasiblity of this development (if you act like logic and the laws of time/space actually apply to soaps) is infuriating.

It seems like a blatant attemp to not just stall, but kill dead, any hopes of Otalia having a physical relationship before the show ends. If they were squeemish about having 2 women have sex, can you imagine one of them being pregnant, too?

My only hope is that GL gets hit with alot of protests in the coming week and somehow back track on this before JL comes back from Mat leave and picks up this hobbled s/l.

Thanks for your assessment. It's spot on (with Lillian, too. That made me squirm). I agree with your thumbs up, too. I hope they build on that.

alittle said...

Thank you for this truthful look at the shift in Otalia.

Just as disappointing as the storyline is the reaction of some lesbians who twist and turn to justify and excuse the storyline. They excuse an anti-woman, anti-lesbian script, saying they "have faith in Ellen Wheeler and Julie Lorie Hurst." Blind faith, I say.

Until we are unflinching in requiring positive media images of lesbians, the heterosexual media will stomp all over us --- just like Guiding Light is doing now.

Anonymous said...

I love the soap opera pace, but when the show is ending, you expect some closure, other than the parading of random characters from the past. They are introducing plot twists that would take months if not years to resolve properly. Otalia has turned into such a huge disappointment it's just painful to watch. It's hard to believe it's the same writers.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Well Done.
Wonder if the disheartened fans might be reminded of this horribly disappointing soap experience every time they go to pick up a P&G product off the supermarket shelf?
If white label sales increase, I guess we will have our answer.
We've been a very devoted, hard working fan base. To have Otalia get flushed down the drain so direspectfully is...just... a disgrace!
A lot of people spent a lot of money and time campaigning not only for Otalia but for the show. For an already underrepresented group of people in our society this once promising same sex love story now reinforces the fear of always being second class citizens.
Please for our dignity and yours, Guiding Light Powers That Be, give us our happy, loving, sexy, dignified Otalian Romance. You'll go down in history as a show that in it's last days still fought to be socially relevant.
Thank you.

Technopag said...

Thanks so much for putting into words what many of us feel. I myself have been rendered more or less speechless by what unfolded over the last couple of weeks. It is not only that I don't like it, I don't understand it. How can writers who have proven that they get the genre well enough to subvert it while infusing it with new life end up throwing around sloppily executed, trite cliches left and right? How can a storyline that has been so sensitive, innovative and spot on in its portrayal of two women in love devolve into an insulting, disrespectful rehash of the same misogynist, homophobic stereotypes we have seen a hundred times before? I am not being cynical, I honestly don't get what the writers were thinking - especially since virtually no one seems to be happy with the direction the show has taken as it enters its final stretch.

alittle said...

On other Otalia boards today, lesbians are micro-analyzing the hospital record-keeping minutia in desperate hopes that all this will turn around. Guiding Light is using crap like that to distract us from the facts: 1.Otalia has been desexualized; 2. the character of Olivia, who formerly did not make her decisions based upon the opinions of others, is now a whimpering shell of her former self and is subservient to men. 3. It looks as though Guiding Light has no intention of depicting a natural relationship between two women in love. They were just trying to get men interested by having two hot actresses hint at intimacy with each other.

Barbara Seiler said...

Thank you for your article. It describes a lot how I feel. Otalia was definitly one of my best tv-show expiriences, but it is also the most disappointing. And I would love to understand how this could happen. I think your point about the best writers leaving the show could explain a lot. I don`t know if there is a chance to turn the story around and give GL, the actors, the staff and the fans the glorious final this show deserves. I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Well writeen and thought out piece.. I exxpect twists and turns but abhore incongruence in tv shows..that is the major draw of a sopa..you get to know characters and you expect certain behvior..the plots are the twists not character behavior..how can otalia discuss sex one day and not even greet each other with even a hint of desire in their own home? Sometimes I feel like they have spliced the scenes out of order..even though many are cute ant ocuhing there is no progression

Anonymous said...

You are simply terrific. Everything you wrote is so true. I don't know how two people can consider themselves a couple and not even kiss once romantically or atleast on the cheek. EW and JLH has received tons of praise for this storyline and they richly deserve it but in the same vain they deserve the criticism too for what they have done wrong. They have also gotten very lazy with their dialogue. I mean how many times can they write '...a good man'? Gimme a break!

bl said...

Hey Lana! You got linked on The Suds Report!

I'm not surprised GL bungled Olivia and Natalia. There was promise, but now I'm sort disgusted. Yet another group of fans who've been hurt by TPTB. Have any viewers not been screwed?

Snapper said...

bl - thanks fo rthe heads up....Nelson mentioned he was going to link me, but I wasn't sure when the Suds Report was coming out

JCF said...

I'm perfectly willing to discuss "out on a limb" vs "throwing in the towel" (whether for the writers/directors/producers, OR us, the fans).

I'm really not ready to see this devolve into another "This is just another conspiracy to screw over Teh Lesbians". Been there, done that. It's boring.

[E.g., there's a reason I don't hang out on the AfterEllen GL threads anymore (since Monday, when I went looking for some RAVES re the awesomeness, and found nothing but ledge-diving). "Alittle", you're Exhibit A.]


It's been a tough week, but I feel much better now. Watch the last clip again, and listen to the (surprisingly optimistic) song being sung while Olivia cries.

The worst is over: you heard it here first! :-)

[Re the Great K-U Controversy: think she isn't, but can live with it if she is. Can we please not compare this to Xena or Tara? Pregnancy is NOT death, people. Sheesh!]

Snapper said...

I have to agree with you, JCF: I don't think there's any anti-lesbian conspiracy at play, and certainly don't think any effort was made to recruit heterosexual male viewers. (You don't, after all, recruit heterosexual male viewers by featuring a completely chaste love story....I don't care if it's same-sex or not.) I just think there's some sloppy 11th hour writing and directing all around. Look at the Edmund murder mystery - it started out with so much promise! That episode where they all gathered in the park to talk about Edmund was a great piece of television: tightly written, inclusive of just about every major character, well-crafted...beautifully directed. It looked as if there would be real intrigue, some twists and turns, etc. What's happened? They've basically dropped the ball. Olivia spotting Edmund and Reva arguing adds up to a big nothing. The diamonds turn out to be the most boring story fo the year, except for Bill and Lizzie's stupid romance. The only people caught up in it are Reva and Josh and Jefferey and, really, who cares?

JCF said...

The diamonds turn out to be the most boring story fo the year

Well, subtextually it gave us "Remus" (Remy and Cyrus stripping and hosing: damn yummy, even if it is guys!), and textually, maybe "Myrus" (Cyrus and Mel). So there's that! ;-)

Snapper said...

I can appreciate attractive men - that's not an issue for me. However, I don't find Cyrus attractive or funny or charming, and Remy's good looks (he's pretty beautiful, IMO) just can't erase the fact that the actor playing the role is just awful. I can't think of a single thing about the diamonds story line that's positive.