I’ve loved soaps and romance for as long as I can remember. Honestly, they go together like peanut butter and chocolate, strawberries and cream, Jeremy Renner and me…wait, where was I? Ahem. Yes. With only four daytime soap operas currently on air (sniffle!), it’s easier than ever to find the one that works for you. If you’re a fan of women’s fiction, romance novels and erotic romance, then here’s a handy-dandy cheat sheet to hook you up with an appropriate daytime drama!
The Italian Billionaire’s Pregnant Mistress
If you devour category romances by the armful, then Days of our Lives is the show for you. Salem has both Harlequin Presents’ alphaholes and tycoons and honorable blue-collar heroes lifted straight from the pages of a Harlequin SuperRomance. And secret babies. ALL the secret babies.
A Shot in the Dark
Love pulse-pounding romantic suspense, dark and dangerous men, skullduggery and a flash of humor? Pair up with Port Charles, where General Hospital excels in both bullets and blade-sharp wit. Fans of J.M. Darhower or Karina Halle might love Sonny Corinthos.
If steamy billionaire erotica is your bag, then you can’t go wrong with The Bold and the Beautiful, where Dollar Bill Spencer burns up the sheets with half the ladies of Los Angeles. This is also where you’ll find some angsty New Adult storylines akin to J. Lynn, Abbi Glines, etc.
Small Town, Big Business
Virgin River. Fool’s Gold. Genoa City. If you like a charming small town brimming with drama, The Young and the Restless is where it’s at. High school sweethearts still carry torches, boardrooms are as hot as bedrooms and Victor Newman makes Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life look like a saint.
I’ve recently come back to Days of our Lives after a several-year hiatus. In a sea of new faces, there are still the familiar characters. Jennifer Horton. Hope Brady. Marlena. Sami. My geriatric Greek tycoon boyfriend, Victor Kiriakis. And Elvis “EJ” DiMera. To my dismay, it appears absence has made my heart grow fonder…because I’m having a difficult time holding onto the giant grudge I have against the character.
Make no mistake: I have successfully hated EJ for seven years. Ever since his introduction as a race-car driver/shady character in 2006. It did not matter to me one whit that actor James Scott is tall, dark and handsome. And when EJ raped Sami in a car in exchange for saving Lucas Horton’s life — and then still left Sami and Lucas to die — I was done with him. Of course, the Powers That Be at DAYS were not. And they continued to develop him as the son of legendary villain Stefano DiMera and a leading man…going so far as to have his rape of Sami hand-waved away so the characters could fall in love.
Hell. To. The. No. I’ve said it before: Falling in love with your rapist is a one-trick pony, a gun you only fire once, and daytime’s been there and done that. General Hospital’s Luke and Laura. There is no need to try and recreate that “magic.” EJ and Sami’s “rapemance” is as deplorable as that of OLTL’s Todd and Marty in 2009 and GH’s Carly currently falling in love with the man who engineered her son’s rape and raped her best friend’s wife. There are some things no amount of retconning (aka “retroactive continuity”) will fix, because viewers don’t forget. You can erase it from the timeline, but you can’t wipe a mind.
The other day, I was craving some “deeply screwed up” romance and found myself turning to Anne Stuart, who has swiftly become my go-to for the kind of uncomfortable, twisted narrative you usually only find in villain-centric fan fiction or wholly nonromantic thrillers.
In Stuart’s Black Ice, the male progatonist — I hesitate to say “hero,” because that term is so very, very loaded — is an agent with a morally ambiguous espionage organization who seduces the heroine in order to discover her affiliation. Their first sexual encounter is consensual, but only just so. Yes, Chloe’s attracted to Bastian. Yes, she’s into the sex. But he ruthlessly uses that sex to break down her walls, and she feels violated afterwards. Enough to stop falling for him? No. And, thus, the story continues…
I don’t know what this says about me, but I didn’t really blink at that sex scene. I accepted it at face-value and zipped through the gripping, fast read. It was only on Twitter, during a discussion with some other writers, that I realized what Bastian did to Chloe was controversial. And that’s an odd sensation, since I usually have a hair-trigger response to rape or forced seduction, be it on television or in books. I can rant about it till I’m blue in the face. Yet, to me, Black Ice wasn’t up there with One Life to Live‘s Todd and Marty or General Hospital‘s Luke and Laura or any number of ’70s-’80s rape-as-romance sagas.
As a long-time soap viewer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to hear a character on General Hospital declare that, “Sonny is a good man.” They could record that line and just play it back as needed — and if I had a dollar for every utterance, I could retire in Fiji. But, while early retirement sounds nice, the problem is that Sonny Corinthos is not a good man. He’s a flawed man, a broken man, stubborn and selfish and violent. He’s abusive to women, a bully and an asshat. No amount of telling us “he’s a good man” changes what we’ve seen him do onscreen. You know what does? Other stuff he does onscreen, without fanfare or a Greek Chorus pointing out how awesome he is. Sitting by Stone’s bedside, helping Connie when Trey was dying, having sane conversations about his kids with his ex-wife — that’s what explains to the viewer that this guy is worth keeping around.
It’s the basic rule of writing: Show, don’t tell.
“You asked for a soul,” vampire Angel points out to his protégé, Spike in season five of his eponymous series. “I didn’t. It almost killed me. I spend a hundred years trying to come to terms with infinite remorse. You spent three weeks moaning in a basement, and then you were fine. What’s fair about that?” Not much, that’s for sure! Especially since Spike’s reappearance on Angel undercuts his genuine self-sacrifice in the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — the ending Spike earned, after nabbing his soul didn’t really work out.
Truly effective redemption arcs happen without incentive, without characters spelling it out for the reader or viewer and waiting for the redeemed at the finish line with a gold medal. They aren’t quick fixes.
[Spoilers for Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time below the jump]
Love triangles are a cornerstone of relationship-themed serial drama. Long before anyone was declaring Team Edward or Team Jacob, both daytime and nighttime soaps were making bank on meaty, angsty, sexy wars of the heart.
But triangles are hard to write effectively, and the better ones showcase all the characters involved at their peak awesomeness. The best ones…? Well, those make it nearly impossible to pick a side at all!
In recent years, I’ve been a huge fan of how The CW’s The Vampire Diaries handled the trope…having brothers Stefan and Damon each acknowledge the other’s affection for Elena but not drawing battle lines over her — there have always been more important fights for this crazy cast of supernatural beauties. Unfortunately, the series dropped the ball in their latest season, finally giving Damon/Elena fans what they wanted, but at the cost of what made Elena rootable. The idea that vampire Elena is sire-bonded to Damon is an interesting one, but the execution is terrible.
I had a confab with my Soap Opera Digest colleagues Lee and Naomi this morning about how Ethan and Kristina are the most riveting story on GH right now. We must’ve blissfully rambled for at least ten minutes about why the pair’s tale works for us. A few of our assertions were that they’re “classic soap” and that they just “sparkle” together (but not in the Twilight way!). So why exactly is that?
First, one has to tip a hat to Nathan Parsons and Lexi Ainsworth, who have a very sweet, genuine vibe. They’re absolutely adorable together. Just check out the June 14, 2011 cover of Soap Opera Weekly — it’s the cutest thing! And, as a baby-and-puppy enthusiast, I know from cute! Then, there’s the fact that Ethan and Kristina’s friendship bloomed from a dark, harrowing twist. Him carrying her out of the lake house, after she’d been beaten by her boyfriend Kiefer, was such a powerful moment. And her pointing to him as her abuser was the kind of thing that can make or break two characters. Thanks to careful writing and sensitive acting, both of them were able to emerge from that storyline stronger. Far from shrugging off the ramifications of her lie, a healing Kristina apologized — and kept apologizing months later. Ethan forgiving Kristina was a big turning point for the character — particularly on a show where the men are quick to slam the women as liars and sluts. Lee noted that he hadn’t really liked Ethan before those moments, and I have to agree. I began looking at Ethan with new eyes, too, amazed that he continued to support Kristina.
Watching GH today, I was struck by how beautiful and together and amazing Maxie is. The luminous Kirsten Storms really embodies this character now; she’s taken Maxie from impulsive teenager to sardonic young woman. I think it’s high time she played more of a role on the show, and not just as a talk-to or as Spinelli’s “Maxinista.”
In fact, I think being Spinelli’s love interest — while obviously fun for Storms and co-star Bradford Anderson — is detrimental to Maxie, because it makes her a lesser character; she’s only there to make Spinelli shine. Maxie shouldn’t be in that position; she should be the higher tier character or on equal footing. She’s a legacy character; she was part of one of the show’s most memorable storylines. Shouldn’t the recipient of BJ’s heart be GH’s heart?