Friday, January 27, 2012

Another Coma

Monrovia, California

Friday, January 27, 2012

I blogged a couple of months ago about the soap opera I’m watching, The Young and the Restless. Since then I’ve become somewhat more knowledgeable about the story and the characters, and I must say that in this case familiarity definitely has bred contempt. These people have one thing going for them: they’re even dumber than those of us who take the time to watch them each day. Oh sure, they’re wealthy, and the writers would have us believe some of them actually earned their money, or at least made it the old fashioned way by stealing it from others. But they're very dim where matters of the heart are concerned, which I think contributes greatly to the appeal of the show. We are made to see that the good people of Genoa City, Wisconsin, when it comes to love and lust, are just as clueless as the rest of us. The men are goofy in their utter captivity to the women they desire, and the women choose their mates poorly, time after time, in a continual and reassuring example of the soap opera imitating life.

My favorite character is Adam Newman (pictured above), the bad son of Victor Newman by one of Victor’s eight different wives (including Sharon, whom he just married while he was in prison and from whom he will soon obtain an annulment). I say “different wives” because in fact Victor has been married ten times if you count his three separate marriages to Nikki. And it looks as if they’re going to get married yet again. The relationship that produced Adam was Victor’s brief marriage to the blind Hope Adams when Victor was in Kansas and presumed dead back in Genoa City. I’m not sure why or how he ended up there. Maybe he clicked his heels together three times. He might have been trying to escape the pressure of being a billionaire entrepreneur who always gets his own way. Anyway, Adam was the spawn of this brief episode.

Today Adam is a graduate of Harvard Business School, come to Genoa City primarily to torture his dad. (Though born in the 1990s, Adam was subjected to the SORAS—Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome—and he is now in his mid 30s.) He has a tendency to do bad things, like abducting children and springing deranged women from nuthouses. But along the way he has developed another obsession, and now Adam’s poor twisted soul can’t decide between an unexplained desire for revenge against the old man, which manifests itself in rather naked business schemes, and his apparently real love for his ex-wife Sharon, who has previously been married to Adam’s half brother Nick and to Jack Abbott, and is at this moment married to Adam’s dear old dad. Her complete name at this point is Sharon Collins Newman Abbott Newman Newman. This makes her, by Y&R standards, practically a virgin.

One reason I like Adam is that his character actually seems to be doing something most of the time, or planning to do it. It’s usually a bad thing, but at least it’s something. The rest of the dopey Newman and Abbott families just drink coffee and champagne and talk and have sex, which is fine if you’re in a French movie. Even Victor, the godfather and paterfamilias of the show, rarely does anything but rumble and threaten imperiously in his stilted baritone accent. His favorite expressions are “I want you to listen to me very carefully,” and “Got it?” both of which he delivers as if he’s so used to giving orders that it matters not whether he’s talking to a son or a business rival or his true love Nikki. Not so the brooding Adam, who, though he likes to toss back shots of booze at the bar in the hotel where he lives, prefers the company of himself alone, except when it comes to Sharon. Also, the writers of Y&R, who seem to be as clueless from week to week as the viewers and the characters are, tend to give Adam the best lines—little zinging insults and epithets he delivers with a smirk and sometimes with a smile of genuine pleasure. (For example his name for a veterinarian who had a brief fling with Sharon was "The Goat Whisperer.") As for most of the rest of the cast, especially Jack Abbott, what little wit they possess is cancelled out by their long puzzled stares as each scene ends. Adam’s fade-out looks (mandatory for all characters in soap operas, apparently) are full of smoldering intensity. It’s as if he realizes he’s stuck in a story with a bunch of genuine idiots and he can’t escape except by doing something so bad that even the inept Genoa City police will have no problem sending him to prison for the crime.

Adam is also a fairly snappy dresser, though he sports the bed-head hair style fashionable among young white men a decade or more ago. Like his brother Nick, he refuses to shave regularly. For a pair of multimillionaires who could afford to be barbered daily the Newman brothers are quite cavalier about their personal grooming. But then why bother?—it’s not like they’re competing for anything in the material world. They’ve got all that, and also have had pretty much all the women their age in Genoa City except for their sisters.

Another reason I’m partial to Adam is that the guy who plays him, Michael Muhney, isn’t a bad actor. Not great, mind you, but better than just about all the rest of the Y&R cast. Melody Scott Thomas, who portrays Nikki, is okay too, with her Liz Taylor voice, but she plays such a hopeless case that it vitiates her best efforts somewhat. Most of the time the scenes in Y&R have the flavor of a high school or college drama club production, and you can tell that the people who star in it were lucky to look pretty good, or at least interesting, or else they wouldn’t have made it into regular paying gigs in Hollywood. Eric Braeden, who plays Victor, has one set routine as a character, which he repeats tediously and endlessly. At least today, in his early 70s, he looks sort of handsome in a stern graying way. Back in the 20th century he looked like a cross between Robert Goulet and a porn star, skin too tanned and hair too black and moustache too large—a cheesy combination if ever there was one.

So what does Adam Newman crave, apart from his beloved Sharon? I think it must be the respect of his father and a piece of his power. I’m tempted to portray him as a tragic hero along the lines of Lucifer in Paradise Lost. He is the son of the most high, but as a result of his own envy and warring ways, has been cast down into the lower regions. The old man will never give him the respect he feels he deserves, and if he got it he wouldn’t recognize it as such. It’s a no-win situation for him, because he’s so obsessed with the idea that he’s been disrespected that he’s unable to do anything to earn respect and unable to find anything approaching respect in the eyes of others, particularly Victor. The writers of course miss a good deal of opportunity here in terms of plot and character development from a purely dramatic point of view, but I think I understand why they don’t try to make him more understandable and prominent. It’s because this isn’t a story with a plot. Like life, it’s only an unending procession of events, in which the players act in all the inconsistent and haphazard ways real people do, albeit while dwelling in a fantasy world. Odd juxtaposition, but there it is. Adam could be full of hubris and tragic flaws, driven by a sort of inner nobility of purpose gone wrong; instead, as a real tragic hero said, he’s only full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

I think I’m reaching the end of my temporary infatuation with Y&R, but like many an addiction it’s easier to keep at it unfulfilled than to quit. I continue to watch, hoping something clever or redemptive or at least realistic will take place, all the while knowing that it won’t and that instead, just around the next corner, there awaits another evil twin or amnesiac or long lost bastard or SORASed child. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Another bride. Another groom. Another coma.


Billie Bob said...

I see a new television critic in the future...

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Hey, Double B, happy new year.