Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

Think soaps are dead? Bite me!

“I grew up watching and loving soap operas,” THE VAMPIRE DIARIES’ executive producer Julie Plec, tweeted on Thursday, April 14. “Today’s ABC news makes me sad.” That night, after the cancellation of AMC and OLTL, I went home and watched Plec’s show, taking some solace in the adventures of Elena, Damon, Stefan, Caroline, Bonnie and Jeremy. And I watched it this week, too…wincing and squealing and cheering for the entire hour.

Anyone who thinks soap operas are a dying breed needs only to look at TVD, which doesn’t just have a thriving life, it has an un-life. Making its bones on lusty love triangles and weekly cliffhangers (there are often multiple “OMG!” moments in one episode!), there is no denying that TVD is a soap. And I don’t really understand why daytime can’t find a way to adapt its soaps to a similar model, instead of tossing the baby out with the bath water.

ABC Family, ABC/Disney’s cable outpost, has teen-targeted weekly soaps, too. MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, SECRET LIFE and PRETTY LITTLE LIARS all run in 10-12 week cycles, and then stop for a few months. Why isn’t that an option for OLTL or AMC? Why put a stake in something that deserves to live on?

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Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

It’s no secret that ABC Family’s PRETTY LITTLE LIARS is one of my favorite shows, but I also enjoy a show about some pretty grown-up liars: CBS’s THE GOOD WIFE! The soapy legal drama has more secrets than you can shake a stick at, to the point where I’m often so incensed that I yell at my TV.

This week’s episode was no different, as Alicia finally asked Will about the second voice mail he left her at the end of the show’s first season. The fact that it took six episodes, after she realized the existence of the second message, for her to do it was a major head-scratcher, but I liked that it was her wry, laid-back, brother Owen (Dallas Roberts) who provided the much-needed shove. And Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles, in just a few moments, showcased why Alicia and Will have such exquisite chemistry. They barely had to say anything to each other. The longing, the giant “what if?” hanging between them, was all in their eyes and the way they carried themselves. They both have this way of being able to gut me with just one look. And TGW gutted me by continuing to draw out their forbidden love! Who knows when these two are finally going to be straight with each other? I might expire from frustration before that happens!

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Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

I gave it a few weeks before I came to an official verdict, and, now, I can say without any reservations that I love OLTL’s Vimal and Rama! Love. I want to draw little hearts around their names. I want to invite them over to my house for chai and samosas. I basically want to be Rama when I grow up.

I mean, folks, this is the first time in my thirty-odd years of life that I can recall front-burner Indian characters on a U.S. daytime soap. (I said “daytime,” because, of course, I wouldn’t forget GH: NIGHT SHIFT’s Saira!) There have been Indian actors, like Kabir Bedi playing Omar on B&B or Sabine Singh playing Greenlee on AMC, but characters…? I really think this is a “Mala’s Dream Come True!” moment.

And, hey, it could’ve just as easily been a nightmare. Diversity doesn’t always mean good representation. Like any other minority community, South Asians often have to make do with tokenization, or with caricatures — ala Apu on THE SIMPSONS and the gang on OUTSOURCED. So I was braced for Vimal and Rama to be sort of hollow, maybe even mildly offensive. But they’re awesome! A few fans have compared the Patels to DAYS’ Craig and Nancy Wesley, and that’s incredibly apt! They’re that same kind of give-and-take team, although Vimal’s decidedly less shady than Craig was. Nick Choksi plays Vimal as this affable, earnest sweetheart. A bit dim, but good-hearted….which is no different from how Joey is written. And Shenaz Treasurywala‘s Rama is a classic soap vixen! When Rama faced off against Aubrey yesterday, I cheered! That arch look she gave Aubrey when she replied to her “I’m sorry” with “not as sorry as you will be,” was priceless. The writing for this couple is great, and pretty authentic. They have conversations like any other soap couple, laced with just enough cultural markers to set them apart. I laughed myself silly when Vimal was babbling to Clint about only telling Rama about the paternity test switch and he quickly covered, insisting he meant the seventh avatar of Vishnu.

I know I’m awfully hard on my soaps sometimes, particularly when it comes to issues of racial, sexual and religious diversity, but I also don’t hesitate to say when the soaps get it right. So, bahut, bahut shukriya to OLTL, Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati and the writing team! (That’s Hindi for “thank you very much!”)

Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

I think I’d rather go over my skin with a cheese grater than sit through another gratuitously exploitative rape storyline on daytime. It’d be less painful. This morning, before the DAYS rerun on SOAPnet, I rewatched the tail end of GH. After again experiencing the scenes where Michael initially revealed to Jason that he’d been raped, I was ready to crawl under my desk and cry for an hour rather than attending to my job duties. And my colleague Joe helpfully reminded me that this was just the tip of the rape-y iceberg: We have the Jason/Michael fallout scenes ahead of us today, and Michael still has to repeat the entire story to Carly and Sonny.

After Michael was attacked by Carter last year, I wrote up a pretty blistering blog entry. “Is there a key rape-story fan demographic out there that I’m missing?” I wondered on May 25. “Do focus groups go, ‘Hey, you know what I’d like on my soaps? More rape!’?”

I generally appreciate that soaps feature both outlandish, fun plots and stories involving social commentary, but I am seriously so done with being traumatized by what I watch.

So, yeah, please hand me a cheese grater.


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Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

I’m not really a huge fan of Freudian or Jungian psychology, but DAYS’ Melanie seems to have one serious Electra Complex! Her hero worship of Daniel is so beyond being a “Daddy’s girl” that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch. That’s not to say that I think there’s anything sexual going on (Come on people, I’m not analyzing it like that!), I just think her attachment is at this overblown, hyper-emotional level, where Daniel has, basically, become a god figure to her. His approval, his emotional safety, is more important to her than her own. He can do no wrong. He’s perfect. Whereas her mother, Carly, is the one who is fallible, flawed, and deserving of constant censure. Chloe, another psychological mother figure, given her status as Melanie’s stepmother, is a “tramp,” while Daniel’s own checkered romantic past is completely ignored.

It actually makes sense, given how Melanie grew up with Trent and he was absolutely awful. Of course she would welcome a better father figure and cling to them. I think she probably looks for a paternal quality in all the men in her life: Daniel, Brady, and, yes, Philip. Philip is older; he offered her security with just a dash of danger. He’s, well, a sugar daddy! But when he betrayed her trust, she turned back to Daniel…ready to align with him, to take Parker away from Philip and Chloe. Essentially creating a new family unit, with this mentality of “We don’t need them, we have each other!” I found that incredibly telling, and more than a bit disconcerting.

Yesterday’s episode almost seemed to reach a crescendo, as Melanie wrung her hands over how to reveal her pregnancy. “I need to know how I’m supposed to tell my dad that I’m having a baby with the man that destroyed his life,” she moaned to Maggie. And, then, when she finally dropped the bombshell, she acted almost as though she were at fault, expecting Daniel to punish her somehow. (Kudos to Molly Burnett for playing Melanie’s Daniel adoration so acutely!)

I think it’s particularly fascinating, because over on B&B, Taylor is constantly spouting off about Thomas’ Oedipus Complex with Brooke. Relationships like Thomas/Brooke and Melanie/Daniel have existed on daytime for years, but we haven’t ever seen someone actually slap a psychological label on it until now. I would love to see Melanie actually seek some therapy to deal with how she deifies Daniel and is constantly looking for parental approval from the males in her life!


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Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

Riddle me this: Why isn’t GH’s new pediatrician, Terrell Jackson, Tommy Hardy? If you’re going to add someone to an already burgeoning cast, why not at least tie them to the show’s history and its founding family?

Think about it…Lisa bringing Terrell to town to mess with Robin would be even more viable if he was Tom and Simone’s son all grown up. Steve and Elizabeth wouldn’t question their cousin coming to work at GH, and drafting him into immediate action during the bus crash fallout would have made even more sense! “Oh, hey, cuz! Sure, get to work!” And as Lisa’s Evil Plot (whatever it may be) unfolds, we could see Tommy increasingly conflicted between his loyalty to an old friend and his loyalty to the hospital community his family is such a big part of. And then we’d have a Drake/Scorpio/Hardy love triangle, as Patrick is inspired to fight for Robin’s heart. The very idea kind of makes me swoony. It’s such a missed opportunity!


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Soap Opera Weekly: Blogging With Mala

“Jill tried not to think about Katherine, but it was impossible. The picture of Katherine striding into the hospital and claiming her child pushed aside everything else.” Thus begins the back cover blurb of Private Yearnings, a book I picked up at a thrift store. Written in 1986 by Angelica Aimes, it’s the fifth in a series of Y&R tie-ins released under a “Soaps & Serials” banner. And, dude, I gotta tell you: It’s awesome.

It takes place in 1976, telling the story of newlywed — and newly widowed — Jill, who is battling the manipulative Katherine in court, for control of Phillip’s fortune. Not that Jill, at nineteen, is all that innocent. While her mother Liz, embittered by husband Bill’s battle with cancer and her brother Bruce’s success as a Chicago doctor, is benefiting from Jill’s new status, Jill’s brother Snapper is worried. He wonders if his sweet sister has vanished inside this mercenarial woman she’s becoming. And considering how Jill really resents being hugely pregnant with Phillip III, I think he’s right to be concerned!

In addition to the Foster/Chancellor story, Private Yearnings is also dealing with the forbidden love affair between Bruce and his long-ago sweetheart, Jennifer. They’re both married — Bruce to Regina and Jennifer to Stuart Brooks — and have children, but they can’t stay away from one another. Steamy!

Listen to me reading from the first chapter here.

And in the interest of cultural notation, guess what drink Jill orders a few pages later? A vodka Collins! You certainly would not see that happening onscreen now…


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