Friday, August 8, 2008

Saying Good-Bye To Passions: I Hardly Knew Ye...

In 1999 when James E. Reilly created and debuted his own soap opera at two p.m. EST directly after Days of our Lives, I was disenchanted-- with him and with the genre in general. He had departed from my beloved Days only a few years earlier, leaving behind him the messy, broken shell of a once-on-top program, and the new project he churned out seemed to be a mockery of everything for which he once stood. Where Days took itself seriously and had a lot riding on the relationships between the families and the couples, Passions appeared to poke fun at such intensity. It was tongue-in-cheek, snarky, and often just plain ridiculous. And coming at a time when I began to shed my own naively optimistic shell, it was exactly what I needed.
During Passions' less than ten year run, I admit I did not watch religiously. I usually only caught the first five or ten minutes (unless I happened to be home sick from school or camp) in its first few years, and once I went to college, I spent most of my afternoons tanning by the pool. However, upon graduation, when I started freelancing, I found many a weekday afternoon at two p.m. when I had exhausted myself of searching for random celebrity news on the internet and tuned in, only to find, in all of my absence, everyone was pretty much still the same. That's what I loved about soap operas in general: people were who they always were, and their objectives remained the same, too. They were strong, and at time ruthlessly devious, but they were dead-set on what they wanted, and they went for it; cost be damned! I admired that. And Passions did it all with a subtle laugh at the genre's own expense, which made its victory (however minute) that much sweeter. Sadly, watching so intermittently does not give one the best picture of the show, and there were many more who just didn't give it a chance at all.

The problem most faithful soap viewers seemed to have with Passions was that they felt it was too out there. Seeing a doll come to life-- or a virgin having to deny herself her true love for the sake of the town's well-being or a giant lion's paw swipe at guests in a basement, the list can go on and on and on-- forced fans to realize how silly soaps can be, and most soap fans just need to believe in their shows. They need to believe these people reflect real people; they need to believe these relationships truly can exist in this world; they need to believe family and love really are all that matter. The problem is: that's just not realistic. And Passions, incorporating a witch, some black magic, and an "underworld" pointed that out as blatantly and bluntly as any show could: it isn't real; it's just TV.

Passions got a raw deal. On one hand you had die hard soap fans turning their backs on it for not fitting into the mold and not being "soap opera enough"-- for using too many supernatural elements, too much humor, too many comparisons to things occurring in the real world (the show's opening scenes in 1999 showed Sheridan as a Princess Diana character in a way that many felt was just too soon after the icon's tragic death)-- and on the other, you had people refusing to tune in simply because it was a soap opera! They deemed it too low-brow without even giving it a chance, when really it utilized a lot of the same allegories and imagery as cult favorite Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Some soap fans seemed down-right offended that this was in the same category as Y&R, per se, or General Hospital, which may explain why the show never got any recognition from the Academy or the news media (though Best Week Ever often liked to highlight a scene on its weekly pop culture round-up, which they have never done for any other soap and therefore should be treated as a high compliment). Too afraid of further alienating anyone, Passions was treated like a lost child: it was rarely talked about with anyone who wasn't already "in the know."

The few times I was on the CBS-Radford lot, working on shows that just happened to be filming on soundstages adjacent to Passions,' I took great pleasure in watching everyone barrel out of their double sliding doors for smoke breaks, cell phone breaks, or lunch breaks. The women were always overly done-up, with so much hairspray their heads looked like lollipops atop their stick-thin figures and their equally stick-thin cigarettes could have set their hair up in flames. Their faces were as colorful as the show's storylines: with bright, blushing cheeks, dramatically dark eyes, and deep pouty lips, one look at them was enough to know the sheer drama they would be encased in at any given moment. But overall, they always appeared like they were having so much fun. And that, in a nutshell, was what the show was all about: fun. It was entertainment in its most original, most basic form: it was there to entertain. It didn't matter what was going on in your life at the time; if you sat down for an hour to catch up with the Cranes or the Lopez-Fitzgeralds, you were guaranteed to smile, laugh (whether it was with or at the show), cry, and just generally escape into their own little world of Harmony USA.

Passions may be gone now, not even allowed to live on in syndication heaven, but its fans are still out there in small clusters, most likely following their favorite actors onto (hopefully) even bigger and better projects. They'll still be there for the August 23rd Celebrity Volleyball Game or the Winter 2008/9 "Cruise with the Stars," as last chance attempts to grab photos or autographs and get the ole gang back together again though their lives have undoubtedly gone in very different directions. And I know anytime I happen to run into Galen Gaering in Fashion Square or McKenzie Westmore in Jerry's Famous Deli, we'll share a warm smile and a nod-- just the simple recognition that we remember how things once were, like old friends sharing a secret and momentary memory after not seeing each other for years. Soap operas come into our homes on a daily basis, and Passions,' run, although trĂ©s short by comparison, created those friendships nonetheless. I made the mistake of taking Passions for granted the way many take their friends for granted: I assumed it would always be there, so I didn’t feel the need to see (or even check in with) it everyday, and I guess, for that, I am a guilty party in its premature end. All I can softly say now (in the immortal words of Alec Baldwin) is: "Bow wow, old friend; bow wow."

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