Wednesday, October 22, 2014

GENERAL HOSPITAL: How would I write things in Port Charles? Very differently

I think it’s time to bring back my monthly ‘If I were writing General Hospital’ column.

There’s no denying that watching the show has become a chore (like a break-me-off-a-switch-
someone-is-going-to-get-a-whooping chore). It’s just painful.

The ratings are starting to show a progressive slide, too.

When Ron Carlivati first took over head writing duties on GH, he raised ratings. How did he do it? It was a combination of things. The biggest being the return of our beloved vets. Fans wanted to see Anna, Felicia, Frisco, and Robert. The vet returns, in conjunction with the One Life to Live transplants was enough to inflate ratings.

That’s not the case anymore.

RC has gone off on some wild tangents, and completely alienated fans. Yes, appealing to new fans is important to keep the genre alive, but you have to do it without turning off longtime fans. All RC is doing right now is turning off dedicated fans.

So, let’s play the game. How would I write GH if I was in charge?

* Once Sonny’s culpability in AJ’s murder is revealed, Sonny goes after Franco. There’s a shootout on the docks, and Franco is wounded and killed (I love Roger Howarth, but Franco is a dud of a character). Sabrina witnesses the shooting and goes to the police. In an attempt to avoid jail time, Sonny has to flee the country. He reunites with Brenda and they move to some non-extradition country. As long as Sabrina is alive, Sonny cannot return. As long as Sonny is out there, Sabrina’s life is in danger. She has to go into Witness Protection and is (thankfully) off of our screens.

* When “Jake’s” memories return, it’s Jason Quartermaine, not Jason Morgan that awakens. Jason
Quartermaine reunites with Monica and wants to make amends for his past deeds. He also wants to cut ties with certain factions – including Carly. While he’ll always be there for Morgan and Michael – Jason Q is not pro-mob. Since it has become obvious that Liz and “Jake” are going to fall in love before Jason regains his memory, I would like Jason Q to move away from both Liz and Sam when he comes around. Everyone knows that Jason Q wouldn’t touch Sam with a 10-foot pole, and I’ve never believed the Liz and Jason “love” story. Let’s give Monica some time with her son, and fans the chance to get used to the new Jason.

* When Robin returns to town, I want her to smack the crap out of Patrick. This is not a stupid man. So, why, given all that he knows about the Cassidines and Jerry Jacks, isn’t he suspicious about Robin voluntarily abandoning her family? Jerry Jacks was one of the individuals responsible for kidnapping her in the first place – and he just shows up again? Really? I want Robin to take a step back from Patrick. He’s proven to be fickle (and apparently stupid) when it fits his needs. How about the romance I’ve always wanted to see? How about Nikolas and Robin get a chance? Put Sam in a triangle with Patrick and Silas and see who comes out standing – and no “back-from-the-dead” women to conveniently muck things up.

* It’s time to kill Ava off in a murder-mystery. I love Maura West beyond reason, but Ava cannot be redeemed. She shot Connie in cold blood. She tried to kill AJ in cold blood. She watched Sonny murder AJ, all the while knowing that he was innocent. She slept with her daughter’s husband. She tried to poison her daughter’s boyfriend. She framed Carlos and sent him to jail for her misdeeds. How, exactly, can anyone root for this woman? She’s not even fun to hate because there’s nothing to like about her. There are plenty of people who want her dead.

* Have Nina revealed as Ava’s killer. I’m sorry. I know Michelle Stafford has fans. I cannot watch her, though. All Nina needs is a mustache to twirl and some rope so she can tie Kiki to the train tracks. The Nina character was completely unnecessary from the beginning – and then to make her obviously crazy and evil without giving fans enough time to even try to like her? Who thought of that braniac idea? Nina is another character without rooting value because she’s just unlikeable. Reveal her as Ava’s killer and send her to prison. She’s a huge time suck – and she has no redeeming qualities. She’s not even funny evil like Heather and Dr. Obrecht.

* Bring Robert back and let him and Anna clean up the mob. This show is called General Hospital.The mob should have never been the focal point. The focus on Sonny, Carly, and Jason is what put GH in constant danger of cancellation in the first place. Anna’s reunion with Duke has fallen flat (is he even still in town?) and Robert and Anna are the team to beat when it comes to bringing down the bad guys. Let them round up the usual suspects – including Julian – and be done with them.

* Give Alexis and Ned an actual romance. These two sparkle together – and you can tell the actor and actress like each other. Alexis’ constant need for a “bad boy” often makes me dislike the character. Ned and Alexis were always fun. Put Alexis back in the ELQ orbit and let her spar with Tracy, and let Robert and Anna roust Julian Jerome.

* Oust Kiki and Rosalie. Neither are acceptable love interests for Michael and Morgan. Bring in
Scott, Lucy, and Kevin’s kids and let the old crash into the new. Those are pairings with history that give the adults something to do.

* Put Milo in the gay storyline. I’m still not sure what the writers were thinking by trying to put
Epiphany and Milo together. There’s no chemistry (even if you could get past the obvious problem with the relationship). The story isn’t believable because the characters have nothing in common. I’ve often thought Milo was underutilized. What not make him realize he’s gay and pair him up with Lucas for an actual love story? Go ahead and keep Brad in the mix, but send Felix out of town with his BFF and call it a day. As it is being written now, the all-male love triangle is tacky and full of clichés.

* Have Bobbie run the Brownstone. This gives Bobbie something to do, and all those shiftless 20-somethings somewhere to live. Morgan, Michael, Dante, Lulu, Britt, Lucas, Brad, Milo, Nathan, Maxie and TJ all need a home. Lulu and Dante’s one-room apartment is too small for them – let alone a baby. Putting everyone under one roof allows for fun and mayhem.

* Bring Jacks back for Carly. He's the only love interest that's ever worked for her. This Franco thing has been a complete dud -- and trying to wedge Carly and Sonny back together has disaster (and ratings upheaval) written all over it. Laura Wright and Maurice Benard have no sexual chemistry. Roger Howarth and Wright do have chemistry -- but Franco is a horrible character. And, say whatever you want about Carly, she would not date the man who kidnapped her child and had her son raped. She's a horrible person. She wouldn't do that, though.

* Send Luke and Laura off into the sunset. The fact that Tracy can’t tell the difference between Fluke and Luke is telling. As much as I like Luke and Tracy – and I do – Luke and Laura pretty much have to end up together. Have her come to town to visit Lulu and realize right away that Fluke isn’t Luke. Have her stay for the adventure storyline, and then have her and Luke ride off into the sunset. If Geary doesn’t want to work a full year anymore, then let him retire. All of Luke’s comings and goings (and, yes, I know this time he had to have surgery and do not fault him for that – I’m talking about all of the other times) wear on the story and the viewers.

What do you think? How would you write GH if you could?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why jumping on the bandwagon for books, movies, and television is a mixed bag

I’m usually in front of most bandwagons. When I fall behind, though, it generally takes me forever to catch up.

I guess that’s why I didn’t read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl until this past weekend. And, before you ask, it’s not so I can go and see the movie. I will eventually see the movie – but probably not until it’s out on Blu-Ray or On Demand.

Anyway, back to the book. I kept hearing how well it was written and how amazing the “twist” was, and I figured it sounded interesting. So, I finally sat down and read it.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that it was overwritten. I mean way overwritten. I don’t think everything has to be written in simplistic sentences – and I love the Terry Brooks and Stephen King prose forms – but the inner-monologues (especially when it comes to Nick) just go on and on – repeating things until I thought: I just can’t hear this one more time.

And I get why we’re not supposed to warm up to Nick at first. He’s a suspect in his wife’s disappearance. There’s supposed to be something “odd” about him. When I finally did get to the twist, it wasn’t a big surprise. I was expecting more actually – which is why word-of-mouth phenomenon can backfire on readers and viewers.

And, while I don’t want to get into a debate about the ending because I don’t want to ruin it for people, since I found the vast majority of people in this book to be unlikeable, I will say I was fine with the ending.

While I didn’t dislike Gone Girl, I certainly didn’t think it was amazing either. It did get me thinking about the nature of a bandwagon, however.

Sometimes, when you come to the party late, you find you love what you’ve been missing. That happened to me with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games. I didn’t start watching Buffy until late in the second season (and then never missed an episode). I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until the fourth book hit shelves. And all three of The Hunger Games books were out – and on top of best sellers lists for years – before I finally took the plunge.

Oh, and I came to the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sensation late – and I absolutely loved all three of those books.

On the flip side, when I caved to the Twilight pressure I wanted to smack someone I hated the books (and especially Bella) so much. When I sampled Divergent, I wanted to smack someone again (talk about a terrible ending – The Village meets The Truman Show anyone?) and this time I wanted to smack them with the Sears Tower in Chicago. And, when I finally check out the television show Grimm I wanted to laugh (and not in a good way) because I found it to be so poorly done.

Everyone has different tastes. I know that. Sometimes the buildup helps a show or book, and
sometimes it hurts.

I have a feeling it hurt where Gone Girl is concerned. It is an interesting twist. I think the writing was decent – although obviously padded – and I have real trouble believing anyone writes in their journal with the amount of detail Amy used in the book (even a rampant narcissist and sociopath).

I just don’t think it was the be all and end all of modern fiction like some people are suggesting. It was merely “interesting” to me. It was a decent character study.

I will, however, check out the movie down the line.

What do you think? What bandwagon have you jumped on that you wish you could jump off?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why American Horror Story: Freak Show is already wearing on me

I go back and forth on American Horror Story.

I was really excited for the first season, and I thought the quality associated with the show for the first handful of episodes in that season was stellar.

Unfortunately, just like everything else he’s ever produced, Ryan Murphy took it a step too far. He always takes it a step too far – which is the problem I consistently have with each American Horror Story season.

AHS: Asylum started out phenomenally – creating a gritty world that you wanted to know more about. The Nazi doctor angle was inspired, and the social commentary affixed to being able to lock a woman up for being a lesbian in those days was poignant.

That was all painted on a backdrop of dueling serial killers working in the past and present day.

Then Murphy insisted on including an Anne Frank angle – and then reinforcing a strong season with
alien abductions and magical hybrid baby births. Ugh.

I was a big fan of the Coven arc – mostly because I loved the New Orleans setting and I thought Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett were fantastic additions to the AHS universe. As a whole, I do think the Coven arc held together the best – but it still wasn’t perfect.

Which brings us to AHS: Freak Show, which debuted Wednesday night.

The whole point of AHS was to create a horror anthology. Sure, because Murphy is in charge, those horror anthologies often go off course. I’d rather see genuine fear than forced sexual innuendo that is meant to titillate instead of terrify the viewer.

For example? Evan Peters went a little too far for me in his rubber rapist outfit in the first season. Now, in the first episode of Freak Show, we see he has “magic hands.” That whole scene was just about pushing the envelope – not about character development – which is why it failed.

Then you have a sociopath who wants to buy conjoined twins for god knows what reason – although
I’m betting it’s sexual and nefarious – and a killer clown. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think the people the clown killed deserved to die. I mean, who takes a look at a creepy clown like that and doesn’t think something odd is up? And why did that girl in the field trip? That was just so ... lame.

And then there's the whole time traveling music thing. Jessica Lange is singing a David Bowie song (loved the blue eye shadow, though) in the 1950s? How does that work?

I get the alienation associated with these freak shows -- and I think the arc could be fantastic -- but immediately going for multiple murders with a freaky clown, conjoined twins, and a lobster-clawed man seems like a contrived and insulting way to go.

Right from the get go this season, it seems as if AHS has gone too far for me – and that’s usually something that only happens on the back half of a season. I’ll still check it out – but I’m not exactly thrilled with how this arc is going already.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Freak Show?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The top five things I want to see on this season of The Walking Dead

One of the only television shows I’m truly passionate about these days – The Walking Dead – returns Sunday, and I honestly can’t wait.

I’ve given up a lot of shows over the past year – some were long overdue, some just lost my interest, and others (cough*Once Upon a Time*cough) are barely hanging on. The Walking Dead is one of the only shows that I’m actually excited about.

When we last saw our heroes, the bulk of them had been reunited in Terminus. It wasn’t exactly a happy reunion, since they were locked in a box car together and, when Rick and his group were herded through the sanctuary, it certainly looked like the Terminus folks were cannibals.

I’m not particularly worried about Rick and the rest of our survivors being eaten (although, it would be a gutsy move and I nominate Sasha or Bob for the task if it happens), but I am worried about everyone being reunited.
Everything I’ve read about this season says the folks at Terminus are not going to be the big bad – and it does sound like people are splitting up again. Eugene needs to get to Washington D.C. to save the world – and some of our heroes are probably going to go with him.

I can’t see Rick being one of them, and there are still a few other things to deal with this season.

So, what are the top five most important things I want to see happen this season:

5. Rick needs to pick a persona – and stick with it: We’ve seen Rick run the gamut of human emotion, from confusion, to happiness, to sadness, to rage, to downright fury. I didn’t quite understand his turn as farmer early in season four. Yes, I know the writers wanted us to see that going back to a normal life was out of the question for these people, but after running the Governor out of town it didn’t make a lot of sense to me for Rick to just give in the way he did. His return to warrior was welcome – and Carl finally showing him that he was a man, too, was needed. In the end, it was Rick who rallied his troops. I want to see that continue this season.

4. Daryl needs some action: I was all for Carol and Daryl to get it on a few years ago – and I’m still
not opposed to it. I’m not sure if it’s in the cards, though. I think we’re going to get Carol and Tyrese instead – which makes me worried they’re going to try and force the Daryl and Beth issue. When we were introduced to Beth, she was still a minor living in her father’s home. Now, she may have turned eighteen, but Norman Reedus is 45, and Daryl is just too old for Beth. It’s creepy. And dirty. And I don’t want to see them go there. I do think poor Daryl needs some loving, though – I’m just not quite sure who is going to give it to him.

3. Trimming the cast: This is inevitable on a show like this. People are going to die. And, while the bulk of the Woodbury folks introduced at the end of season three died by the middle of season four – either by flu or the Governor’s attack – we still had a fairly big cast at the end of the year. I think that Sasha, Bob, Tara, and Rosita are the obvious choices for first victim – and I’m fine with any of them going. At least one big character we’ve grown to love bites it each season, though, and this season I’m worried about Glen. There was a lot of foreshadowing to Hershel’s death before it happened, and I feel Glen was getting that treatment at the end of season four. I love the character, and I’ll be sad to see him go, but when you look at the other options, I’m not sure there’s another choice. Maggie and Glen are the romantic core of this show – which could change things drastically. I’m hoping Glen survives – but I’m not sure, especially given how small the core group is now, who else they could kill off. While I do think Rick will eventually die – I think he’s safe until the final season. And, if Daryl dies, people will riot. Who else does that leave?

2. Beth needs to be rescued: This may come as a surprise to folks, but I want Beth rescued and not
killed. Yeah, I said it. The singing blonde has been at the top of my hit list for two seasons, but I actually started to like her in season four. Sure, it took Daryl to humanize her – but it took her to give Daryl more layers, too. And, while I could still take or leave Beth as a solitary character, I think her return to the fold is what Maggie and Daryl need. I still don’t want her and Daryl paired together. He’s too old for her and it’s creepy – but I do want her to come home to them. After Hershel’s death, I want Maggie and Beth to get their reunion.

1. Carol’s return to the fold: Carol got the strongest arc last season (well, her and Daryl). She went from a battered woman in season one, to a grieving mother in season two, to a woman who started thinking for herself but still needed to be saved in season three, to a total badass who killed two sick people in cold blood to protect the rest of the group in season four. Not only did she admit her culpability in his girlfriend’s death to Tyrese (fully expecting to be killed), but she also put down a “messed up” Lizzy by shooting her in the back. Each season of this show seems to have two episodes that simply take your breath away. Carol was the star of the second this past season. I’m hoping the reunion between Rick, Carol, and Judith (and Tyrese and Sasha as a secondary) happens early. Both Rick and Carol deserve a little forgiveness – and for something good to happen.

What do you think? What are you most excited about this season?

GENERAL HOSPITAL: The five reasons I'm no longer a daily General Hospital watcher

You might have noticed I haven’t written about General Hospital lately (or, maybe you haven’t).
The truth is, I’ve almost completely lost interest.

Yes, I’ve been busy with other stuff – but I have taken to deleting my DVR’d episodes of the show
without watching them.

That’s a comment on the writing, folks, because nothing has tuned me out like this before (and I’ve been watching religiously since I was a small child).

While I applaud Ron Carlivait for bringing some of our beloved vets back to town – I cannot give him a pass on the (numerous) other bad choices he’s made. When I do watch the show now, it’s an experiment in frustration and sadness.

So, what are my big gripes?

1. There are too many characters: The canvas is too big. Period. You need to get dump at least five contract players, and another handful of recurring ones to make room. You can’t build momentum in a story when you have this many characters. There are a lot of little islands in that cast who lift right out. Start with Sabrina (she can’t be redeemed now anyway), Felix, Olivia, Franco (I love Roger Howarth – but the character is a dud), Jordan, Shawn, Rosalie, and Nina (I can’t name one person who likes the character). Then, bump off Ava in a murder mystery (Maura West is a dream, but Ava can’t be redeemed), and bring on Scotty and Lucy’s kid to date Morgan. This gives you history and pares down the cast.

2. Romance: Soaps are called “love in the afternoon” for a reason. How about some actual love?
Watching Liz flip flop on Nikolas (and him do the same with Liz and Britt) isn’t entertaining. And now that Liz is going to be panting after the Mobsicle again? Try to build a love story for Nik and Britt. Watching Carly and Sonny pant after each other is old (and one of the reasons GH’s ratings tanked in the first place). Sorry, Maurice Benard and Laura Wright are fun to watch separately – and as friends – but they have absolutely no sexual chemistry. Patrick and Sam would’ve worked after Jason and Robin both “died” but now there are issues. Sam knows Patrick’s heart will always belong to Robin – who is alive. Patrick knows the Mobiscle was alive a lot longer than Sam thought he was – and now he’s betraying her. Sam was just professing her love to Silas a month ago. It’s kind of too late now. When Sam knows the Mobsicle is back, it’s going to be “Patrick Who?” When Patrick realizes what was going on with Robin – and how all the signs were there – he’s going to look stupid. Again. Quite frankly, the only couple with rooting value right now is Maxie and Nathan and now we’re getting a contrived hurdle being thrown in their path. How about giving us some actual love before you tear them apart?

3. Characters acting out of character: Would Patrick really lie to Sam about the Mobsicle given what happened with Robin? Would Robin really voluntarily leave Emma after what happened with Robert and Anna?  Would Anna really believe Robin’s excuse knowing the Cassidines? Wouldn’t Lulu notice that her father can’t remember her husband’s name? Wouldn’t someone in town realize that Luke would have gone after Lulu when she was taken? Would Sabrina try to kill a baby after losing hers (kidnap, yes, but kill?)? Would Mac ever not go after Maxie? Why didn’t Robin go to Sonny to have him follow her to Jason in the first place? I mean, the list of contrivances and out-of-control actions is a slap in the face to fans. It’s a soap. That doesn’t mean the characters have to betray themselves.

4. Plot driven: I understand you need plot, but I also understand you need more than plot. We want to see these characters bond. Some of my favorite all-time scenes involve characters chatting and having fun – not jumping from plot point to plot point. Examples: Brenda finding out Robin is HIV positive, Jason carrying Robin off the stage at the Nurse’s Ball, Sonny and Luke taking Lucky camping as a kid, Alan and Monica freaking out (and Luke and Laura being proud) when Emily and Lucky ran away together), Lucky’s reaction to finding Liz in the bushes, Luke helping a shot Nikolas, etc. It was the human emotion attached to these stories – not the plot of these stories – that drove the narrative. How about a little of that back? How about a realistic conversation between Liz and Lulu about Nikolas, Lucky, AJ and Ric? How about Anna and Alexis getting drunk and talking about the Cassidines? How about Liz and Carly getting drunk and admitting all of the awful mistakes they’ve made? Just … something that’s not a plot point being driven home in our heads.

5. Baby stories: I know baby stories have been a staple of soaps for years, but RC seems to have a certain … proclivity when it comes to them. This is the man who gave us the Jessica and Natalie baby debacle on OLTL – a story that made me want to kill both of them at one point or another over the years. Since coming to GH:

Maxie became a surrogate, lost the baby, got pregnant with her own baby, pretended it was someone else’s baby, gave birth, lost the baby to the “adoptive parents,” reclaimed the baby, and then lost the baby again. Now she’s in court to fight for the baby, but there’s clearly something up with that judge.

Lulu is frozen and has no viable eggs. She enlists Maxie as a surrogate. She loses the baby. She finds out her other embryos are missing. She finds out someone else gave birth to her baby. She reclaims the baby. She immediately wants another baby (like in days – so stupid). She finds out she might be able to carry her own baby. She reclaims an embryo from Obrecht. She then finds out the Cassidines have made embryos from her eggs and Stravros’ sperm (Ugh!). Now she wants another baby.

Sabrina got dumped on her wedding day. She ended up pregnant. She got in an accident, gave birth to a towel, then watched the baby die. Now she’s trying to kill Ava’s baby.

Ava had creepy crypt sex with Sonny and now she’s pregnant. Sabrina wants to kill her baby. Nina wants to steal her baby. Sonny can’t kill her until she has the baby. And Morgan? He’s just an idiot.

Starr had a teenage baby (thank you RC) that was switched with a dead baby. Then, the minute she came to GH, that baby was run off a cliff and killed.

Nina, who is a little long in the tooth to be trying to get pregnant, has been out of a coma for a few weeks and now she’s going to steal a baby – and she’s making hit lists.

Sam got pregnant -- maybe with her possible rapist’s baby – gave birth in a storm, had Heather Webber steal the baby and switch it out with Tea’s dead baby. Then Sam got her baby back, found out it was Jason’s baby, and then the kid needed a bone marrow transplant.

Am I missing anyone? Because all of that in a couple-year period is too much.

I probably won’t ever completely give up on GH – and I am still hopeful the soap will return to greatness. I can honestly say, though, I am no longer a daily watcher.

Anyone else having this conundrum?