An Ode to Soap Operas

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by Stella

Confession: I like soap operas. Honestly. No sarcasm. As a writer, I should despise them. They ignore absolutely every creative principle I stand by: plausibility, continuity, coherence – plain common sense – none of it is there. And the damn things still work. And they can run forever. And, as I said before, I actually enjoy them. Granted, it’s been a while since I followed a soap on a daily basis – years, in fact – and at the time I could never remember how I got hooked into watching to begin with. Maybe because the actors are generally good looking? So are the actors in regular coherent television, so that can’t be the reason.

I used to watch Spanish soaps to improve my Spanish, but that was a failed experiment since they spoke too fast for me to catch what they were saying. To my shame, I can’t remember the names of all the Spanish soaps and which countries they took place in – Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela – it was a nice tour of Latin America. The only name that comes to mind is Ricos y Famosos, which, in case you don’t know Spanish, means Rich and Famous. By the way, lines like “I’ll hold you forever in my heart” and “God’s justice will punish you” sound a lot better in Spanish, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. My list of guilty pleasures is long and international.

I've enjoyed several fine products made in the U.S. of A.: The Bold and the Beautiful (I gave up around when Brooke was about to divorce and remarry Ridge for the fourth or fifth time; I admit I could no longer cope with the emotional turmoil), Santa Barbara (cancelled alas), some All My Children (but I got into it too late so I didn’t have the strength to figure out the teams playing, etc.). Crossing the Atlantic now: I watched some East Enders, but I was very young and as yet uninitiated into British-ness, so the whole thing left me somewhat confused. (I’ve since made up for it by watching Monty Python, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, and lots of other unmistakably British products so I hope Britons won't attribute my lack of British soap knowledge to snobbery.) Sailing down under to Australia: ah, Australia... Paradise Beach, Home and Away, Breakers, Heartbreak High… My guilt here is heavy.

Somehow, I actually managed to read and do schoolwork in between all of these. I don’t know how, but I did. My last guilty pleasure was Desperate Housewives, which I stopped watching because I simply had zero time. Also, I was kind of in a snit over the whole Carlos and Gabby breakup in season three, but I’m over it. I’d be watching season five right now except the utter lack of time is still an issue. Actually I don’t know if the lives of the lovely ladies of the fun and fictional Fairview can be counted as regular soap when they’re on once a week instead of five times a week. Though then I’d have to kick a few Australian and Spanish soaps off my list, and that would just be rude.

Anyway, now that I've made such a thorough confession of my guilt and can discuss the topic honestly – imagine you have to write one TV episode a week. Now multiply that by five, since your show is on from Monday through Friday. Now multiply that by 52, since there are 52 weeks in a year and your show doesn’t have a traditional fall TV season; it keeps going and going the whole year through. Every once in a while some holiday probably gets in the way so you don’t have to do an episode but still – the number of episodes is staggering. Frightening. And yet, I’d be kind of tempted to write a soap. Where else can you have relationships that are so twisted and confusing that they make the Tudors look like a bunch of innocent children? Where else can you get away with evil twins, impossible surgical procedures, kidnapping, serial killers, blackmail, arson, and steamy, gratuitous romance? Okay, possibly on CSI or House – maybe minus the steamy, gratuitous romance – but we’re talking about a show that has absolutely everything.

Did I mention that characters simply cannot be killed – ever? You thought they were gone? Poof! They’re back! They survived the fire/crash/drowning/shooting, only they had amnesia! And here they are again – better than ever – and it’s so nice to see them! They may have been replaced by another actor who looks nothing like them, but the character is back and we’re not complaining. Can you do that on regular coherent shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer? No way. Not only do the characters live forever, but their love is forever – really. Multiple divorces, extramarital affairs, and kidnapping episodes can't extinguish that burning flame. Yesterday I held you prisoner in my basement, today I'm declaring my undying devotion, tomorrow I might be holding you at gunpoint. Soap love is indeed a many splendored thing.

A regular TV show would be cancelled for having dialogue like (and paraphrasing from a couple hundred episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful):
“Ridge, not a day goes where I don’t think of you!”
“You know we can’t do this, Logan! You’re married to my father!”
And hey, what show lets you have characters named Ridge, Thorn, and Storm in the first place? (That is, one whose plot doesn’t involve superheroes – which also accounts for Buffy – though I wouldn’t change Buffy for the whole wide world.) On what regular-coherent-TV shows do adults stay young forever, but their children age 5 times or even 10 times faster than average humans? We're talking breaking the laws of physics here and without the excuse of a sci-fi/fantasy premise.

Actually, I wonder if they could throw in some kind of vampire plot on The Bold and the Beautiful or something. I'd just like to see if they could pull it off. They invented a patent for keeping silk wrinkle-free for godsake, though there was an explosion in the lab and Ridge was temporarily blinded. But that's okay, in the mean time his presumed dead wife Taylor came back from their honeymoon shipwreck in the Aegean (by way of the Prince of Morocco) just in time for him to regain his sight and have a teary reunion. Though I think they're divorced now. Oh well, tomorrow is another day. Now that I've confessed, I can face it with a clear conscience.


Mike French said...

I like your "coherent television" tag to anything that is not a soap!

Great article and shame on you with all those soaps!

Paul Burman said...

Given that the actors playing central characters can change from one episode to the next, anything is possible. This requires suspension of disbelief at its most extreme.

Unknown said...

My husband won't have a TV in the house anymore. When we did have one, I too tried Spanish soaps, hoping to learn the language.

The one I watched so disturbed me I never paid attention to the name--too busy dealing with fear and confusion. The Spanish soap opera presented very happy music, like maybe the Brady Bunch were about to appear. Instead, a man walks downstairs and pushes a stiletto (knife, not high heel) into a woman's neck. Intense close-up of strangling from the six inch puncture. Meanwhile, the soundtrack was bouncing along, a full notch happier.

It's such a shocking technique (to me) that I'm surprised not to have seen it used anywhere since.

Stella said...

Mike - I know, I know! It's a sad, sad weakness.

Paul - I think it even goes beyond suspension of disbelief. You need a kind of special amnesia to follow a soap. Soap Amnesia? Bubble Amnesia? Something like that...

Kathleen - It's useless, believe me. You only pick up obvious words like sueño and muerta. Re: the violence. I know what you mean. I was also surprised at how explicit some of the sex scenes are. I guess the censorship is more lax in South America.