Friday, November 25, 2011
Y & R
Friday, November 25, 2011
If you recognize the character in the photograph above you will know what today’s posting is about. If not, here goes. I may as well just come out and say this. I have begun watching a soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.” Back in the 1970s, under the influence of the good women at Plymouth State Home and Training School, Randy and I watched one or two “stories,” as the ladies called them, for a time. I think we followed “Another World” and possibly also “The Edge of Night.”
I was going to go into a long self-serving and face-saving explanation of how my addiction to the show came about, but why, really? It just happened. I began watching it a few minutes at a time during the summer, after “The Price Is Right” and the half hour of news at 11:00 a.m. on the local CBS affiliate. One thing led to another and now I’m DVR-ing it and watching it daily, fast forwarding through the commercials. That at least gets me my dose in less time.
I was also going to try to dress it up by making an elegant comparison between the essential characteristics of soap operas and the works of the more mannerly English novelists of the 19th century, like Trollope and Jane Austen, but to hell with that too, at least for now. The similarities are indeed there, but it’s probably been done already by a graduate student at UCLA. Speaking of literature, though, I do believe that one of my favorite 21st century writers, David Sedaris, would approve of my devotion to the show.
First I must say that as with most of the addictions I’ve had I don’t really enjoy this one as much now as I did at first. But I’ve put quite a bit of time and energy into it and it’s hard to quit it. Let me give you the basics of the show as I’ve come to understand it so far. This won’t go too deep, as there is much to be told and much more to be revealed. At least a few of you will know all about “The Young and the Restless” (hereinafter referred to as “Y &R”) and indeed will know much more about the show than I do. If so, feel free to correct me and fill me in on the deep background details. (As with just about everything else, much detailed information is available on Wikipedia about the show, its stars, and its individual characters--in fact, more than I've been able to digest so far.)
Y & R takes place in the imaginary town of Genoa City, Wisconsin, which must surely have more billionaires per capita than any place of its size other than Beverly Hills or Greenwich, Connecticut. First, there’s the 70ish kingpin of the town and the show, Victor Newman (pictured above). Victor is the anchor, the rock. He’s Vito Corleone and Donald Trump in terms of power combined with the urbanity and deep tan of George Hamilton. His wavy, winglike grey hair frames a distinguished face, which bears a moustache perpetually trimmed to about a one-week growth. (This is achieved, I imagine, by buzzing it nearly every day with a beard trimmer set on 1 or 2.)
Victor is the head of Newman Enterprises, a far-flung financial empire founded on cosmetics, of all things. Victor has his own jet and loves to use it to help his friends and exile his enemies. Jabot Cosmetics was originally the property of Chancellor Enterprises, owned by the late Phillip Chancellor II and his wife Katherine, another billionaire who is, with Victor, the opposing bookend on this decades-long shelf of treachery, intrigue and woe. The part of Victor is played by Eric Braeden (born Hans Jorg Gudegast), a German who immigrated to the U.S. in 1959. He started on Y & R in the late 70s after doing time as a bit player on TV during the 1960s, more often than not playing Nazi officers in shows like “12 O’Clock High” and “The Rat Patrol.” Katherine Chancellor, who has been a character on the show since 1973, the year it began, is played by Jeanne Cooper, the mother of the actor Corbin Bernsen, and also a veteran bit part actress, having mostly played western gals in tight-waisted gingham dresses, along the lines of Miss Kitty in "Gunsmoke." Cooper, well into her 70s now, at one point had plastic surgery in real life and had it worked into the story line of the show. This helps to explain the near universality with which the actresses over the age of 40 on Y & R have had some sort of work done to their faces. As with most such procedures, in addition to being obvious the results are usually hideous and sad and leave the viewer wondering by what distorted mass hypnosis all these women have been seized that they should imagine such puffing and plumping and stretching of the cheeks and lips and chin line actually looks good, rather than clownish and bizarre. To be sure, plastic surgery has its place. There are those unfortunate children with the cleft palates who appear in all the ads on TV and in magazines. But beyond that, and of course burn victims and the like, I really don’t see the point.
Among the other super-rich people in Y & R, apart from the feckless and promiscuous offspring of the self-made elders, is Jack Abbott, who looks like a TV anchorman and is about as deep. Jack, master of the puzzled look, has recently regained control of Jabot (after God knows how many changes of ownership). Another magnate is Tucker McCall, head of McCall Unlimited and the bastard son of Katherine Chancellor. All of them, I must say, treat their excessive wealth with admirable casualness, and embrace being billionaires with the kind of humility and magnanimity we all like to imagine we would do if we were so fortunate. The only really spoiled one is Abby Newman, Victor’s youngest daughter (by Jack’s sister and Victor’s former wife Ashley Abbott, who just got married to Tucker.) Girlish Abby is the token young rich brat, along the lines of Paris Hilton or one of the Kardashians, though she appears to have more brains and charm than any of her real-life counterparts. And then there’s Victor’s son Adam, the Bad Seed, a seething cauldron of sociopathic rage and skulduggery. Even though he's rich as hell like the rest of them, he seems to feel that he's been left sucking the hind teat, as it were--unloved, unfulfilled, misunderstood. If there’s an unalloyed villain in the show, it’s him (at least now that Diane is dead). He hates himself and the world, and his father most of all, and all that is what makes him so endearing as a character. His father Victor treats him alternately with bullying contempt and wistful indulgence.
The show is the usual soap opera mélange of intermarriage, bastardy, ex-spouses, pathos, bathos, and shady doings of all kinds. Everyone seems to reside either in a mansion or a hotel and the principal meeting places are cocktail lounges, hospitals, and the Genoa City jail, where someone gets called in for questioning nearly every week. Many people have been married to one another at some distant point in the past, and many are close relatives or in-laws, though there are hardly any full siblings, so few couples having stayed together long enough to produce two offspring from the same relationship. Exceptions to this are Nick and Victoria Newman, the eldest of Victor’s brood, both of whom are his children by ex-wife Nikki, who apparently is or was the love of his life. Nikki has been away in rehab for some time (perhaps due to real-life contractual disputes or, for all I know, real life rehab), but is poised as I write this to make her return to Genoa City, to confront her demons, and maybe to reunite with that lovable old twinkling-eyed arch-demon, Victor.
Well, enough of that for now. Just wanted to give you a taste of the thing. What’s actually happening is far less important than the characters are. The action is based almost completely on the repetition of three main ingredients, in one or more of which practically all the characters partake: infidelity, revenge, and bad judgment. Greed is curiously lacking, considering how much money floats around in the background. What this is meant to convey to us regular folks in TV land is that the super rich, even though they have been freed from the need to scrounge for their daily bread, must nevertheless adhere to a rigid code, founded on a reckless disregard for conventional morality. They're wealthier, but their behavior appears to be more contemptible than ours. This, I suspect, is what keeps us all buying lottery tickets and then helps us not to be too disappointed when we lose. And keeps us watching soap operas.