01 October 2012

The Soap Opera Experiment

I watch a lot of TV.
Part of it comes with the territory of spending the vast majority of my day in my house, alone (or at least, bereft of company that can speak in complete sentences), and the other part is a lifelong fascination with the "dramatic arts", be it film, TV, or the stage. Here's my list of primetime viewing must-sees:
New Girl
Go On (could I BE any happier that Matthew Perry is back on TV?)
The Big Bang Theory
The Mentalist
and my British imports, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and Doctor Who.

In the summertime, when primetime essentially shuts down and gives its time to idiotic nonsense (eg any reality TV show), I get a little fidgety. This summer, I decided to try something new: a soap opera.
I picked The Young and The Restless by accident: it happened to be on right after The Price is Right. Soap operas are often picked on for being so different from "regular TV", and I wanted to find out why.

Neil and Harmony

First off, the amount of characters (not guest stars, but actual well-developed characters) on a soap is mind-boggling. I think it took a month before I was confident that I could recognize and name every character on Y&R, and remember their connections to every other character. And because characters marry and divorce and change their names for other, weirder reasons, you just refer to them by their first names.
Time out: did you know that soap operas are so-called because the radio stations that originally broadcast them were often sponsored by companies that made soap? True story.

Nikki and Jack

Soap operas are broadcast five days a week, in contrast to primetime shows, which are only once a week. They don't take a break- no summers off. This means that the writers are on a tremendous deadline to churn out stories. I think that's probably why the dialogue is often stilted. Plus, due to the heavy serialization, a fair amount of each show is given over to exposition, which always seems clunky no matter what medium it's used in. A day in real life frequently equals one soap opera day, so the action moves pretty slowly. Instead of a complete scene between characters, scenes are often brief, ending with a dramatic pause (which in my brain usually gets filled in with dun dun DUN). The scene is resumed later in the episode.

Michael and Lauren

Soap operas are a dying breed. In fact, only 4 remain on daytime television. General Hospital is the longest running soap that is still currently on TV. It's been on since 1963. There's another insight into why the storylines on soap operas are frequently ridiculous: They've already done everything normal! Probably several times! No wonder characters are constantly backstabbing each other, "coming back to life", and becoming amnesia victims (which happens every time someone hits their head- two characters had amnesia on Y&R from June-September).
The last thing I want to touch on is Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. Babies get born a lot on soap operas. But how fun are babies? I mean, in real life they are great, but on TV? Meh. They can't get amnesia, so they must be no fun to write for. So frequently a child or teenager will get SORASed. For example, Abby on Y&R was "born" onscreen in November of 2000, which should make her 12 years old. However, the character is now 24, with a revised birthday of November, 1988. A 24-year-old Abby can get into much more interesting hijinks than a 12-year-old can. And the crazy thing is that you just have to accept it. No one takes notice when a new actor comes along to portray a character (which happens a lot during contract negotiations). In the soap opera universe, nothing has changed.

Daniel and Phyllis
Does she look old enough to be his mother? They are only 14 years apart in age...

Now that primetime TV is back to normal, I'm saying goodbye to my soap. It's comforting to know that it will be there next summer if I get bored again, with all the same characters (just in different relationships). Meanwhile...  

1 comment:

Montrose Lewises said...

I wanted to recommend Merlin, began in 2008...
I seriously didn't realize the soaps ran five days a week. That does explain the ridiculous scripting! Next summer maybe you can sample something from Telemundo and expound the differences of Spanish soaps vs. U.S. Soaps ;D