SOD August 8, 1989                                                                                   

 

CRITIC'S OPINION

 

 

ALL MY CHILDREN Does What the Others Do -- Only Better

By John Kelly Genovese

ALL MY CHILDREN brings to mind a quote from big band critic George Simon about the Tommy Dorsey orchestra.  He stated that "other (dance bands) may have sounded more creative, swung harder and more consistently or developed more distinct styles, but of all the hundreds of well-known bands, Tommy Dorsey's could do more things better than any other could."  ALL MY CHILDREN is the Tommy Dorsey of soap operas.

Certainly ALL MY CHILDREN's winning formula has been giving "something for everyone."  It keeps the entire cast in sight throughout the year, with few front burner/back burner" distinctions.  AMC can always be counted on to provide at least one star-crossed young couple planning to escalate their romance when they go to Pine Valley University -- a coveted institution they choose over Yale, Stanford or Oxford for the sake of true love.  There are usually a few hot triangles based more on truly confused feelings rather than on standard soap trickery.  There is also frequently a crime story, which is usually less violent than the DAYS OF OUR LIVES bloodbaths and less convoluted than AS THE WORLD TURNS's labyrinthine mystery epics.  Of course, AMC has character humor -- but nothing so broad as to obscure overall dramatic intent.  (If DAYS's Calliope had lived in Pine Valley, she would've been somewhat soft-pedalled and assimilated into "normal" society by now.)  If this description implies that AMC assumes a comfortable middle ground, it is not meant to.  This show has taken plenty of chances -- chances based on reality, not fanciful sci-fi flashtrash.

The AIDS story involving Cindy (Ellen Wheeler) may not have addressed homosexual issues, but its central aspect was no less controversial -- the threat posed to AIDS victims by panicked townspeople who react in the manner of right-wing terrorists.  More importantly, this story was a compelling and emotional trial that forced a large group of characters to interact -- the stuff of a good soap.  Until recently, AMC had been deficient in creating that ripple effect -- the natural, gradual involvement of otherwise unrelated characters in a storyline.  With that element in place, a good show has become downright rich.

Wealthy, neurotic Palmer Cortlandt (James Mitchell) has never been this well employed as a catalyst.  He is the force behind Marissa (Nancy Addison) in her plot to bust up Natalie and Jeremy Hunter (Kate Collins and Jean LeClerc).  He is a major threat to David Rampal (Trent Bushey) in his budding romance with Melanie (Paige Turco), the neice Palmer loves a bit too much (a la duaghter Nina).  He salivates at the repercussions of niece Dixie's (Cady McClain) marriage to and pregnancy by Adam Chandler (David Canary) -- the bane of Palmer's existence.  And he nearly had heart failure when he learned of ex-son-in-law Cliff's (Peter Bergman) engagement to black Angie Hubbard (Debbi Morgan).

Other delicous characters are coming full circle as well.  The ambivalent Ross Chandler (Robert Gentry) may replace his uncle Adam as a force to keep Brooke and Tom (Julia Barr and Richard Shoberg) apart.  Fun-loving Tad Martin (Michael E. Knight) has turned detective (who would've thought?) and become Dixie's unlikely knight in shining armor.  And Dixie's connection with Tad has brought parents Joe and Ruth closer to the Chandler/Cortlandt escapades, the meat of the story.  Cady McClain (Dixie) is one the show's newest standouts; Julia Barr (Brooke) is unswerving as a heroine; and David Canary (Adam/Stuart) is never short of magnificent.

After a touch-and-go period -- no doubt hindered by the writers' strike -- AMC is rediscovering its historically popular emphasis on couples.  Tad and Dixie, along with David and Lanie, are heating up Pine Valley's summer.  Ironically, the one hot young pair the show had a few months ago -- Julie (Lauren Holly) and Nico (Maurice Benard) -- may be destined to grow even more tepid.  Their good girl/bad boy combination was endearing, but Bernard really comes to life in hilarious marital arrangement with Cecily (Rosa Nevin), the most sympathetic spitfire schemer since AS THE WORLD TURNS's Lisa.  Nico and Cecily appear to be slated for a short stay in the spotlight, but perhaps and producers should rethink this.  They're a dynamic pair, would could add excitement to the show.

A great-looking couple, Susan Lucci and Larkin Malloy (Erica and Travis) are popular with fans.  Their characters share a great history -- not to mention a child, Bianca.  Unfortunately, Travis's tryst with his saucy ex, Barbara (Susan Pratt), indicates that that attraction may never be a closed case.  Meanwhile, Erica is being entertained by brother Jackson, who appears to have more conscience, more dependability.  The character is also beginning to take on more of actor Walt Willey's marvelous sense of humor.  Aren't these the qualities Erica really needs at this stage of her life, after two decades of revolving-door marriages and affairs?  Indeed, Erica and Jackson have the potential to become Pine Valley's most enduring and least boring couple.  But what would happen if they marry?  Would it last?

Seemingly, no one under the age of fifty remains happily married for more than two minutes on ALL MY CHILDREN.  For a show with as many riveting stories and fascinating characters as this one, this a a sad commentary.  Mark and Ellen Dalton (Mark LaMura and Kathleen Noone) looked promising, then they left the show.  Donna and Benny Sago ( Candace Earley and Vasili Bogazianos) embodied earthy, working-class stability, then Benny went back to gambling and dumped Donna for a gambling good-luck charm, Jeremy and Natalie had a beautiful wedding one day, encountered Marissa's machinations the next, without skipping a beat.

Of course, a story can't stagnate, but certainly it can settle once in a while.  It would be possible -- not to mention responsible storytelling -- to present a younger couple who is almost as solid as Joe and Ruth Martin (Ray MacDonnell and Mary Fickett), and as funny as Phoebe and Langley Wallingford (Ruth Warwick and Louis Edmonds).  This is the only area where AMC is sorely lacking.

It doesn't lack in the casting department.  Julia Barr as Brooke is as commanding a heroine as one can find.  Richard Shoberg never allows Tom's good-guy steadiness to become weak.  Alan Dysert (slimy Sean Cudahy) and Michael E. Knight play the mischievous rogues, and ought to be given more opportunities to be at odds with one another.  The ever-popular Susan Lucci has never been more beautiful, vulnerable and mature, and her dialogue (which in the past has resembled caricature) is now on par with her talent.  David Canary is frightening as Adam and totally winning as twin brother Stuart.  Ellen Wheeler (Karen, formerly Cindy) continues to approach Canary's dual role range, as she had previously on ANOTHER WORLD (she played twins Vicky and Marley), and would be a super match for Robert Gentry's marvelously murky and intense Ross.  Eileen Herlie (Myrtle Fargate) and Elizabeth Lawrence (Myra Sloan) carry off their supporting roles with GOLDEN GIRLS gusto.  James Mitchell is, simply, a star.  One cannot look away from the TV when the bellowing, manipulative Palmer is on.

As far as youth is concerned, no other soap (save AS THE WORLD TURNS) can claim as many gifted young performers.  They not only look nice, but they can act -- a rarity.  Maurice Benard is a natural; no posing or Marlon Brando mannerisms here.  Lauren Holly has grown beautifully from a teen to a promising young heroine.  Trent Bushey and Paige Turco make David and Melanie this show's sweetest young couple since Greg and Jenny of several years ago.

But the real upstarts appear to be Rosa Neven and Cady McClain.  Nevin is 100 percent energy, her line delivery never predictable.  She's feisty, daring and a ceaseless pleaure to behold.  McClain can more than hold her own in scenes with David Canary -- not an easy task.  She's unswerving as the God-fearing, repentant Dixie, while at the same time, you want to put your arms around her and assure her everything is all right; she has that special vulnerability.

ALL MY CHILDREN is, esstentially, a well-produced package with a top-notch cast and stories to please every segment of its audience.  Once it has settled on all of its key couples and struck a better balance in this area, it literally will have everything going for it for the first time in ten years.  By all indications, that day is soon to arrive.