OLTL’s Scenery Diet

Grumblings about post-40th anniversary writing on One Life to Live have been growing recently. Even Ron Carlivati’s biggest fans and cheerleaders are scratching their heads about a perceived drop in quality, including some like our friend Nelson Branco and TV Guide’s Michael Logan. Personally, I’m not 100% on board with that specific criticism. I think the day to day writing is pretty much OK and very entertaining, with some glaring missteps in plotting. Unfortunately, Carlivati has developed a tendency to Guza-fy it up a bit with endless repetition of some themes ("Who’s your daddy?" indeed) and his Paul Rauch-era 80’s fetish does get a bit tiring. But that’s not my biggest gripe.

Why in Sam Hill are so many actors chewing scenery as if it were part of an all you can eat Red Lobster buffet? Seriously, ever since the 40th anniversary and the end of the Writers’ Strike, every episode seems to have at least two or three actors who floated in on a lifeboat from the good ship SS Passions and docked in Llanview Harbor. But here is the thing: I don’t really fault the actors. Bear with me and I’ll tell you why.

To be fair, many of the characters are meant to be over-the-top like Roxy and Dorian, played by the divine Illene Kristen and Robin Strasser, who leaven their antics with subtle touches of humanity and vulnerability. Others, like Sarah Roberts (Justis Bolding) and Michael McBain (Chris Stack), have been written as wet blankets for quite some time. And still others, like the Vega boys (David Fumero, Kamar de los Reyes), simply disappear for long periods. Nonetheless, there is lots of solid, strong work among the general cast.

But how to explain the recent rash of eyebrow raising performances? During the 1968 story, John Paul Lavoisier was like Jerry Lewis on NoDoz. Lea Delaria, who is loved in many quarters and is massively entertaining in her regular role as Delphina, was all over the map as Professor Del Fina in that story. While I kinda dug Melissa Archer’s over the top take on Maria Roberts with that horrible Spanish accent (I don’t think I’m the only viewer who remembers Barbara Luna’s own campy over the top performance of the character in the go-go 80’s!), but l don’t know how much more my pressure can take of Archer’s captive Natalie yelling at a closed circuit TV without a microphone…in a soundproof room. "I’m down here, Jared! Jess is Tess! I’m in a soundproof room, yelling at you!" Did I mention she is in a soundproof room? And Mark Lawson’s suddenly crazed Brody did everything but spin his head and spit out pea soup!

And then there were three. One is Bree Williamson, who is a hoot as Tess/Jess/Tess pretending to be Jess. The other is Farah Fath, who has been one of the brighter additions to the OLTL team in recent years. So why in the name of Stella Adler is Williamson constantly mugging and eye rolling and smirking and doing little bunny hops and what-not to the camera whenever she’s turned away from an unsuspecting character who, let’s face it, should really suspect something is wrong with Jessica instead of "the convenient few" of Todd and Tina? And speaking of Tina, Andrea Evans has continued to channel her Passions character Rebecca to the point where Tina has almost been unrecognizable. On a slightly different level, why is Kristen Alderson’s Starr, clutching her belly every 5 minutes as if the Olympic volleyball team might be passing through Llanview without warning?

Even the day player Llanview High principal got into the mugging act, cutting her eyes at Starr like a middle aged "mean girl"! Those crazy eyerolls said "Mama gon’ knock you out!"

None of these criticisms are slams against these actors. With few exceptions, the major and supporting players have the capacity for strong work and have demonstrated their talent, acting skills and range when given the right material time and again. Also the very nature of some of these characters’ storylines have a campy feel to them, calling for a more heightened style of acting.  They don’t call it melodrama for nothing.

But it has been my observation that when you have large numbers of actors chewing cud as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the culprits responsible boil down to the producers and directors. Actors are either allowed to get away with excess  or are directed to "amp it up" and "raise the emotion" and "sell the scene". When this happens more often than not there is an unintended loss of subtext and subtlety. Instead of selling the story, the actors wind up telegraphing or, in this day and age, texting their every move. The result is acting by emoticons. And we all know the actors cited here have done and can do so much better.

The writing of course has a lot to do with this state of affairs, but at the end of the day the actors are charged with "bringing the script to life." And that charge comes from the directors and producers. In this case, please Mr. Valentini, have your folk dial it down. Just a little.

21 Responses

  1. Profile photo of siomonstuart2003

    Man, do I ever agree with you on the state of “Llanview”. I don’t know what happen, but something is very campy and over-the-top and I do feel that the show is channeling “Passions”. I do agree that the actors are told to “ham” it up and I just not feeling the characters motivation or making them seem sympathetic. It have to believe it is the director action to stop the actors with the campyness and be a little more subtle with the characters actions.


  2. Profile photo of rileyfinn

    I so don’t agree with this article at all. OLTL in my opinion is the best soap on the air. An incredible cast and crew that actually take pride in the work they do. Is it perfect…no….nothing ever is. When I watch OLTL I’m entertained. GH under Jill Faren Phelbs and Guza has become daytime’s answer to the Soprano’s. Veterans are tossed aside for the flavor of the month youngsters. Look at the way they are treating Genie. ( Bring her back already). ATWT is so choppy right now. GL looks like a student film. And just when Amc was showing life again, they get rid of James and Barbara and bring on one of the campiest hacks in TV Pratt, who was on board for the hideosu 2nd season of DH and was with Phelps for the descent of Santa Barbara. AMC is becoming unwatchable again despite an incredible cast. So I’m sorry I appreciate OLTL and the work they are doing. In regards to everyone attacking Tina. I watched the show back then Tina was never the brightest bulb. She was not a Dorian. She was a manipulator but bad at it hence her schemes always backfiring in her face. Calling Max, Cord at the alter. So to me this is the same Tina and I’m loving it. The Anniversray was suppose to be an homage to the hey dey of the show , which under Rauch was campy and fun it was the 80’s job well done. It seems to be this article is typical of our society, as in a wonderful epsiode of Murphy Brown ” We like to build people up just so we can tear them down.” Everyone was praising OLTl months ago just so they can tear it down now. You can’t please everyone all the time. You have the right to your opinion but it is only your opinion.

  3. Profile photo of Luke Kerr
    Luke Kerr

    I don’t mind camp, in fact I enjoy it. I didn’t watch Tina back in the day so I have no context there. I still think that OLTL is probably the best soap but I think that after the 40th ep things have started to unravel a bit. I’m on the record saying that I didn’t really buy the Tess story until Natalie was finally locked in the room but I’m enjoying it now.

    I can not, however, get past the Todd/Marty s/l. It’s crossing so many lines imo.

  4. Profile photo of sueboo54321

    Here are my thoughts – For over a year now, I have read about how great OLTL is. It has been billed as the second coming. I don’t know. It has been OK but I never really understand what all of the hype was about. When you put something on a pedastal though, it has no where to go but down. Perhaps all of the kudos have gone to their heads. Perhaps they were really never all that great in the first place. They were just better than all of the other shows . The bar really hasn’t been all that high lately. So they got a little over confident and they will have to recognize that and correct it. OLTL has a lot going for it. Chill out!!!

  5. Profile photo of Luke Kerr
    Luke Kerr

    How much you wanna bet Tess ends up having Jared’s baby? I don’t read OLTL spoiilers but I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Natalie is kept in the basement until after Tess has Nash’s baby. My theory is she will immediately seduce Jared after the baby is born, get preggers with Jared’s baby and then let Natalie free now that she’s preggers with sister’s lover’s child.

  6. Profile photo of season1217

    When everyone else was lauding OLTL and Carlivati, I felt like the only one who didn’t get it. The writing was fine but I never cared enough about most of the characters to be invested in what was going on. Natalie, Jared, Antonio, Talia, Cristian, Sarah, Jessica, Nash, all inspired absolutely nothing in me. Was it the writing, the acting? I don’t know but I just didn’t care. I could rarely of make it through watching an entire episode.

    Take Starr, for instance, who seemed like she was well on her way to becoming hell on wheels now looks like a Lifetime Movie reject. 15 and Pregnant Part 2: This Time It’s Personal. I could care less about her, Cole, the baby, or even if Todd kidnaps the child and raises it w/ Marty. I am absolutely detached. I like Starr and Cole but I feel that they should have more of there parents in them. Starr should be driving her parents up the roof w/ her antics and Cole should have more of his father’s passion and soul. I’ll be damned if I let my mother’s rapist beat my behind and I sure wouldn’t call him Mr. Manning!

    Jessica’s husband just died and she’s raising a young child while also pregnant and not being able to cope w/ the loss her split personality re-emerges. So where’s the emotion, the pain, the suffering, the passion of Tess wanting revenge. Instead of settling for just straight emotion we get camp and ham instead. I remember seeing an episode of AMC when Greg came back for Jesse and Angie’s wedding and I watched a clip of him going to Jenny’s grave and the scene where he cries and tells her I’ll always love you hit me like a ton of bricks. The fact that I was in diapers during the height of the couples popularity didn’t matter. I felt more in that scene w/ a character that I was not familiar w/ then I have in any of the s/l’s on this show.

    I do believe that the performances need to be reined in but I also believe Carlivati needs to take a step back and figure some things out. And another thing, if these embryos can’t handle the task then let’s get more screen time to Viki, Dorian, Charlie, Roxy, Nora, Clint, and Bo. BTW, does anybody else wonder where the old Nora went?

    And podcastpunkie, to answer your question as to what scenery chewing is, it’s what Judith Chapman, Austin Peck, and Cameron Mathison’s eyes do.

  7. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    podcastjunkie: It basically just means when someone is really overacting or really hamming it up. Sometimes it’s enjoyable, and other times, not so much…

    I think the performances are just a reflection of the show’s turn to mostly camp storytelling. I like *some* camp, but when it’s taking over a show, then I’m just not interested. There were some stories that started out terrifically, but ended up turning out terribly cheesy: Nash’s death, Tina coming back/Talia being Carlo’s daughter, Bo & Lindsay’s aborted nuptuals/Lindsay’s secret coming out, Rex/Gigi/Brody, Todd/Marty (which I *loved* in the beginning) all had potential to be great stories, but turned into over the top silliness.

    I really liked the Starr preganancy story. I cared about Starr and Cole, it involved a lot of characters, and would no doubt have lasting consequences for everyone. I didn’t care about Starr not being hell on wheels, because to me she was just a scared pregnant teen, and it was breaking my heart (not to mention the fact that Brandon Buddy finally started to show that he could act!) But the story seems to have run out of steam and it looks like that too is going to turn into complete nonsense.

    And I wrote this on the How To Improve OLTL- Don’t Let Comedic Characters Turn Into Caricatures: OLTL has some of the best comedic actors on daytime and I love funny characters, but sometimes they’re in danger of turning into cartoon characters. Roxie, David, Rex, Dorian, and now Tina — they’re all hilarious but I want them to be 3 dimensional people, not just comic relief.

    I don’t blame the actors at all. I think if we got a little less camp, less gimmick storytelling, and a little more old fashioned drama, OLTL will be back on track.

  8. Profile photo of season1217

    My problem isn’t necessarily the fact that Starr and Cole are having a baby at such a young age, the historical significance of Todd and Marty’s children having a child should be Emmy’s gold and must-see-tv. My problem is is that Starr has become a wet blanket, a heroin-in-training instead of the trouble maker who we root for but still has her parents scheming ways. She could have had the tough as nails exterior but absolutely scared out of her mind at the fact that she was pregnant. Kristen has shown that she is quite capable at pulling that off, showing so many emotions at once. I vaguely remember her having a pet lizard or snake or something like that. What happened to that Starr?

  9. Profile photo of elle

    I agree with many of these points. I normally enjoy JPL- but the Back to the future thing wasn’t enjoyable for me. Bob Woods, I enjoyed as always. But I thought JP was over the top and I agree about the actress who plays Delphina as well. The Delphina character I very much enjoy, it’s the 1968 character who was getting to be too much. Presently, I adore Andrea Evans, and I love Tina. I didn’t watch Passions, so I don’t understand that comparison, but she’s Tina to me, and she cracks me up. I honestly don’t have issue with Melissa Archer. She’s in a sound proof room, sure, but I can feel the frustration of Natalie, and understand why she’s yelling and throwing things, even if no one can hear her. BW is driving me crazy. I’m sorry to say that, but I am now FFing her scenes, if possible. This means it’s likely I’ll miss a character I enjoy.

  10. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    season, believe me I completely understand your issues with the Starr preganancy s/l (and how they’ve changed her personality). I think because I care so much about Starr/Cole, and because I wanted to see this story played out, I was willing to ignore *a lot* Including aspects of the story that just plain didn’t make sense and the fact that Blair and Dorian were just way too hands off about all of this.

    I did just want to add that I don’t think this is the worst show on the air right now, far from it. But it’s just that for a brief time, this show became “must see” for me and I haven’t had that feeling for a soap in a long time…

  11. Profile photo of season1217

    Oh, it’s no where near the worst. Far from it. I believe Carlivati is talented enough to get it back on track to where it is less ham and more heartfelt emotion and w/ a comedic touch.

    Also, I like Starr and Cole too. It just upsets me the way they write for the characters sometimes. Like when Todd beat Cole after catching him in bed w/ his daughter, that would have been the perfect opportunity for Cole to beat Todd ’til Hell wouldn’t have it anymore. I like Brandon Buddy but I don’t like the fact that he calls his mother’s rapist Mr. Manning. I know he tried to respect the man for Starr’s sake but there is only so much respect you can have for someone who hurt your mommy no matter how much they are sorry for it.

  12. Profile photo of Luke Kerr
    Luke Kerr

    Personally, I would rank the soaps I watch like this.

    1. One Life to Live
    2. As the World Turns (if Meg and Paul were gone it would be #1)
    3. Young and Restless
    4. General Hospital
    5. The Bold and the Beautiful & Days of Our Lives
    6. All My Children
    7. Guiding Light

    I still believe that OLTL is the best show but ATWT and Y&R are nipping at its heals and with the issues in the show that are beginning to crop up it’s not going to be able to hang on to that #1 spot, especially if Y&R keeps going the way it is. I can easily see Y&R being at #1 for me by the end of the year and OLTL falling to #3.

  13. Profile photo of podcastjunkie

    Carlo Hesser has turned into a cartoon character. I heard on some of the improve the soaps podcasts how much people don’t like those versions of villians, well if not I don’t see how so many people love him.

    He seems just like a cartoon character to me.

  14. Profile photo of ABCJunky73

    I agree with most of the points in this article. First off I still think OLTL is the best soap on daytime. You have to look at it this way, at least DH isn’t still at the helm at OLTL, otherwise we’d still have Santi’s walking around the canvas.

    I use to like Tess, I thought she was the best thing that ever happened to Jessica. She brought fire and a little zest to “oh-hum” Jessica. But she also had Nash. Without Nash, Tess is nothing more than an anoying bitch who needs to go away. And having everyone just think that Jessica is mourning and not realizing that it’s Tess is kind of lame. And the whole trapping Natilie in “the seacret room” is more lame.

    I am the biggest Andrea Evans fan. I grew up watching her play Tina back in the day. But now, to me, this isn’t Tina. The Tina that I knew and loved would have wiped Tess on the floor and sucked Jessica back out faster than you could say David Vickers (the Dog). She would have made it known threw out Llanview that she was back and she would have jumped on David Vickers (the Man) just to laugh in Dorian’s face. Yes, I thought it rocked that Tina and Roxy became friends, but Ron, you are insulting fans of Tina Lord everywere with how you are writing her.

    I will not comment on the Todd/Marty thing, just that it’s an insult to Marty fans everywere. Please, have Marty pick up a crow bar soon and give Todd another scar.

    Micheal and Sarah are boring. Either write them with more life, or write them out. I think pairing Micheal with Layla is a great storyline. Layla can give Micheal the spark he needs and give Marcie a reason to be jelious. I think a Marcie/Micheal/Layla storyline would add more flavor to the dead couple area of OLTL. I beleave Sarah just needs to be rewritten all together. Have her go off somewere for a couple months then come back totally a diffrent person. Someone with more of an edge. Like you said in the Top 10 Ways to Improve OLTL, “She’s Tina Frickin’ Lord’s Daughter!” Someone needs to writer her like that!

    I agree with season that Starr has become a wet blanket. I do like the storyline thou. It’s being written to send a message to young teens about the coniquenses of teen pregnancy. What I don’t like is what Todd is planing to do. That part I hate.

    All-in-all, I do beleave OLTL is the best soap on daytime, Ron Carliviti just needs to listen to the fans out there. Fan input is always helpful. We are the reason why OLTL is still on the air. Please Ron, listen to us!



  15. Profile photo of kerfuffles

    I agree that much of the acting was over the top in the 1968 storyline, but I think that storyline kind of called for it. Really, how else was Nigel supposed to play a patriarchal cowboy? Same for Mendorra. To me, the biggest problem with those storylines was that they were NOT 100% campy but had these serious things going on in them (Talia’s kidnapping, Rex being sent off to war). The tone was all over the place.

    But now that THOSE storylines are blessedly over, I don’t really see what the problem is, at least scenery-chewing and camp-wise. Tess is the only one acting over the top now, imo, and I’m fine with her doing that because she is an over-the-top character. It’s not like that is anything new with split personality stories. Viki’s alter Niki was not exactly demure. I guess Tess could go around acting like a quiet schemer, but I don’t think there would be any fun to that not to mention it would be out of character for Tess. BW has always been one of those actresses with uber expressive eyes.

    I don’t see Clint, Tina, Dorian, Jared, John, etc doing anything campy or melodramatic. Certainly nothing supernatural or Passions-esque. Brody lost his marbles on Friday, but not in a campy way, but in a I-have-PTSD-and-am drunk-out-of-my-mind-on-booze-grief-and-anger way.

    I agree Mendorra and the 1968 storyline (though I did like parts of the latter) were way too much and did not work. But I’m willing to forgive and forget. I think OLTL is on the upswing again right now, especially with this Dorian/Ray/Langston/Clint storyline. I may eat my words in a couple of months, but that is my current view on it.

  16. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones

    I think I was pretty clear and specific in my criticism about this one specific and limited aspect of OLTL. I took great pains to not criticize the whole cast for some of the recent scenery chewing, acknowledged that some story lines demand a level of heightened emotion/camp, and — most importantly of all — that from where I sit none of what I’ve described is really the fault of the actors but rather the directors and producers as explained. I’m not “defending” the piece, because I stand by every word. But to make clear I am not slamming OLTL as a whole.

    To that end, I agree with Luke: OLTL is the best soap on the air right now despite its flaws, real or perceived.

    Your mileage, of course, may vary.

  17. Profile photo of Maura227

    I agree..there certainly are “passions-esque” moments going on.. the dog sniffy at the basement door.. Tina sitting and eating dibs while watching the whole Hesser thing on tv.. that’s passions style not OLTL.. I’m waiting for Gwen to come thru the door and tell us Tina is really Rebecca lol

    It’s hard to be attached to any of it right now but it’s not nearly as bad as Rylee 2.0 so i’ll take anything lol


  18. Profile photo of purplebraids

    The Todd and Marty storyline is just sick for someone like me who knows there history and the fact that Todd raped Marty years ago doesn`t make this storylines must see tv it`s icky and creepy to .The Starr teen pregnacy storyline I`m all for her having her baby I`m just not like the oh so Spencer Truman side of the storyline that Todd has planned for Starr .And messy Tessie never liked her the frist time around so I don`t care about her anyway I really think Tess never cared about Nash so much as that she just whated to take over like she`s doing now. Brody why is that now all of sudden that Brody care about Shane and doesn`t want to lose him sorry I just not by it from him at all.

  19. Profile photo of aunti2egl

    I have to agree with you Luke. Things have seemed to unravel…or maybe I’ve just become uninterested in the s/l’s. I hate the Marty/Todd sl….her falling for her rapist? Ick.
    This Brody….be gone already, esp after Fridays ep, loved the exorcist nod. LOL!!!
    And if someone doesn’t find Nati soon and I “have” to watch her in that room talking to the TV for months/yrs to come I will become the exorcist. LOL I think MA overacts anyways and it’s already become to much.
    I loved Tess before but she is kinda campy this time around….not loving it so much, maybe cause Nash baby is gone….just not the same, maybe she and Jared could sex it up….that’ll help? LOL

Leave a Reply