I swore I’d quit my soap opera cold turkey this week. They’d wrapped up two significant plot lines on Friday – almost, anyway – and it seemed like a good time to give up my insidious and shameful habit of watching One Life to Live. But literally at the last minute, they dropped in a dead body, so I suppose I’ll have to tune in one more time at least.*
Those writers really know how to pile on the plot twists, drag out the suspense and keep you hooked. Two major power couples reunited Friday. Trying to stop Natalie from flying to London, John made it to the airport in time to learn she’d missed her flight, whereupon she showed up in hopes of catching the next one. Close-ups of long meaningful looks – no blinking allowed. Despite the fact that she’s recently widowed and his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend miscarried after being pushed down a flight of stairs, John and Natalie obviously belong back together – it’s just taken them a few years to realize it.
Meanwhile Jessica realizes Brody’s her true love after all. She’d forgotten that fact when she suffered amnesia after Mitch gave her too much electroshock therapy. For months now, she’s believed she was 18 years old and destined for Christian, her first true love, and she even fixed the votes so the two of them could be king and queen at the senior prom, despite being in their late twenties at least. Though she’s been a wife and mother, she feels like a virgin, and the horndog Ford is set to take advantage of her innocence when her memories come flooding back and she realizes she was almost raped by Mitch.
Confused yet? Small wonder, yet I haven’t even begun to describe the ramifications of these plot lines, which are only two of many being played out on OLTL at any given time. A few months ago, I generated a table on my computer with one row per day and eight columns for the major plotlines. I started out with one page per month, but that wasn’t nearly enough space. Now each page has four days – that’s 32 boxes per sheet, and it’s still not enough room for all the plot twists.
I use lilac paper for these charts, and by now I’ve accumulated enough pages to make an impressive conceptual art piece in an avant garde gallery. I’m a member of a new coop gallery that has the perfect wall space, but I’d be ashamed to display such repetitive, obsessive-compulsive art under my real name – it’s embarrassing enough even to be writing about my addiction here.
I’ve also done family-therapy-style genograms of the characters on One Life to Live. At any given time, there are over 40 characters on the show, some major contract players and others occasional walk-ons. Diagramming their relationships is tricky, since the number of marriages and affairs is mind-boggling, and sometimes it seems everyone in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania, is related to everyone else in an incestuous hillbilly hollow.
The real reason I want to stop watching, aside from the fact that OLTL falls during my most productive writing time? Truth be told, I don’t like most of the characters that much. I’m a huge fan of Michael Easton, who plays Detective John McBain, and Mark Lawson, who plays former Navy Seal, Brody Lovett, isn’t bad either. There are some sympathetic middle-aged characters too, but they’re getting less and less air time, and the show is skewing more and more toward adolescence. Too many teenagers, and too many adults with the emotional maturity of teenagers.
So why am I still watching? Well, there was that impetuous bedroom scene with Natalie and Brody last week – how will their true loves John and Jessica react if they find out? Or not if but when, because that particular plot twist is too juicy to pass up. Then there’s that horndog Ford, who we last saw lying in a pool of blood, with Marco washing the blood off his hands. But is Marco truly capable of murder? Or did Hannah do it?
With so many plot lines on such a huge, complicated canvas, and half a dozen writers credited on every show, there’s something for everybody. And for a mystery writer, there’s a lot to learn about how to hook an audience.
When it comes to TV, which shows are your guilty pleasures? And do they have any redeeming value in terms of your plotting techniques?
*I did watch again, and Ford’s not dead after all – when last seen, he was being wheeled into the ICU. Cold turkey may be too much to expect, but at least I’ve given up those lilac plot charts, and I’m limiting myself to partial reruns on the SoapNet channel so as not to interrupt my prime writing time.