This month, ABC will air the final episodes of two soap operas that have spanned over 40 years, paving over All My Children‘s Pine Valley and One Life To Live‘s Llanview
and putting up a parking lot to make way for more talk-show style content such as The Chew.
They’re not the first casualties of the decline of daytime drama, with Guiding Light hanging it up in 2009 and As The World Turns ending in 2010. But with an entire network wiping their slate of serial melodrama, this seems to be the end of the road for daytime serial melodrama. Once must-see TV for every housewife in America, soap operas became less important as women entered the workforce. Even stay-at-home parents have become increasingly active in their day-to-day, far too busy shuttling kids to practices and playdates or volunteering for important causes to keep up on the drama. Even so, soap operas have, throughout the years, provided an important backdrop to women’s afternoons.
I myself grew up in a soap-watching household. My parents watched nighttime dramas like Dallas and Dynasty, too, but before that, my mom began following Days of Our Lives on NBC when she was pregnant with me, and later became an All My Children nut when it played in the lunch room at her first “real” job. As she evolved into a do-it-all mom who didn’t have time for soaps during the day, she would program the VCR to record 10 hours of choice drama, which we would watch together on Sundays, fast-forwarding through Massengil ads to anxiously see whether Marlena was really dead, or if it was just another of Stefano’s elaborate schemes. In the summers, I would spend several weeks with my grandmother, who watched every NBC soap, and I watched with her. As a result of this indoctrination, I have a ridiculous number of implausible plots stored in my memory in places where my brain might have done better to instead archive information like the quadratic equation and the importance of grabbing your keys before you leave the house.
Sure, if we want drama, we can always watch the Kardashians or The Real Housewives of A Particularly Affluent Metropolis, but nothing compares to the outlandish plots pursued by the bored writers of a daytime soap opera. The following are some of my favorite ridiculous story arcs of daytime serials:
Marlena’s Possession, Days of Our Lives
Marlena is clearly the favorite daughter of Salem. Loved by John Black, coveted by Stefano, and decently acted by Deidre Hall, if something seriously riveting is happening in Salem, it’s probably happening to Marlena. Perhaps the most out-there plot in the history of soap operas, Marlena was once famously the victim of demonic possession. Thankfully, her baby-daddy, John Black, had become a priest by then, and was able to perform a dramatic emergency exorcism, but not before Marlena got to do some wicked levitation and have glowing eyes. Thankfully, no pea soup was involved.
Timmy the Living Doll, Passions
What Passions lacked in longevity it made up for in completely over-the-top, ridiculous story arcs. Full of paranormal phenomena, it was created by John E. Reilly, the architect of Marlena’s possession on Days. Perhaps the most famously ridiculous plot on Passions involved 300-year-old witch Tabitha (no relation to Tabitha Stephens on Bewitched) and her living doll, Timmy. Nothing in particular about that story…just that the two characters existed and had story arcs.
Rape = True Love Forever!, General Hospital
This is not a favorite plot of mine, but it is a colossal WTF that bears mention. Luke and Laura, the ultimate Soap Super Couple, have a storied past for sure, but how many couples can tell this story:
Laura’s Friend: “So how did you two meet?”
Laura: “Oh! Okay, so Luke was super drunk and…oh this is SO funny, but it totally wasn’t at the time, you know? But, yeah…so he rapes me. I know, crazy, right? But we worked it out, and look at us now!” *dreamy look at Luke*
…And then they save Port Charles from being sent back to the next ice age in a plot line I’ll never understand, so please don’t try to explain it to me. They also make friends with an alien. The point is, I didn’t watch it and I don’t have the facts, but suffice it to say, General Hospital has some pretty freaky plots, and they usually involve Luke and Laura.
Those are just some of my favorite moments—I could go on for HOURS about Days of Our Lives (Hope/Gina, anyone? Carly buried alive?), but I fear it might cost me friends and major street cred. So, share your favorite soap opera moments with me in the comments.