America's Next Top Model diva-turned-Young and Restless star Eva Marcillehas definitely come along way since she premiered as Tyra, the never-before-mentioned bio aunt of Devon (Bryton McClure), however Y&R's black storyline as a whole is the only weak link in an otherwise miraculous recovery for the CBS sudser.
Daytime's Answer to The Huxtables
What made Y&R's black characters so refreshing and popular for the better part of two decades was that they always seemed real. Before the Barber sisters and the Winters brothers arrived in the 90's, blacks on soaps were typically written as either saintly and heroic or dangerous and menacing. Characters like Drucilla (Victoria Rowell), Liv (Tonya Lee Williams), Neil (Kristoff St. John) and Malcolm (Shemar Moore) proved that (gasp!) black people came in all shapes, forms and yes, colors.
Dru was a complicated, mischievous woman who basically went up and down on a scale from bitch-goddess to strong-willed heroine, resonating immensely with fans along the way. Even as Dru rose to the top of upper middle class society, she always kept her ability to go from zero to ghetto in 30 seconds flat.
Dru's big sister Liv represented a new generation of educated, modern black women. From day one, Liv was written and portrayed as a talented, well-spoken doctor and sorority sister, fully equal to the soap's signature heiress and her best friend Ashley Abbott (Eileen Davidson).
Buppie corporate executive Neil Winters (Kristoff St. John) proved that a black man didn't have to start his soap life on the streets, or having to be taught how to read by a white man like Y&R's Nathan before him. Neil was an Ivy-league-educated brothah who wanted to be the next Victor Newman. For a generation of young, black men who grew up watching the affluent lifestyle of the Huxtables on the Number One rated NBC sitcom The Cosby Show, Neil was someone they could look up to and aspire to be like.
Neil's troubled half brother Malcolm (Shemar Moore) put a wild, sexy new spin of the typical soap-guy-from-the hood schtick. Like his sister-in-law/Baby Mama Dru, Malcolm definitely knew how to take it to the hood, but the character was also central to the action taking place at Genoa City's rival cosmetics firms, as the most sought after fashion photograher in the Midwest. The fact that Moore flashed a sneaky "I'll Screw You All Night " grin and a six, eight, ten-pack didn't hurt.
As Malcolm, Moore became integral to the show, forming a strong friendship with fellow trouble maker Phyllis (MIchelle Stafford) and a sexy fliration with the richest girl in town, Victoria Newman (then-Heather Tom), while having front burner, sensual, yet-at-times volatile portrayals of black love with Williams, Rowell and others. Anyone needing further proof of the impact this character and its portrayer had on the show, need only look to the Nielsens and the near one million viewers that left the show with him.
Guess Who's Coming to Bore Us?
Okay, I'm sure you're waiting for it, another demand, plea, or announcement of a prayer vigile outside the CBS studios, in order to convince the producers of The Young and the Restless to do whatever it takes to bring back Rowell and/or Moore in some form or fashion. That isn't what this is. I think we here at DC have all made it clear how much we would love to see that transpire, but in an effort to "work with what we got" I would like to point out what needs fixing with Y&R's current black cast and storylines.
We'll start with the aforementioned Marcille. The problem with the Karen/Neil/Tyra snore-angle is that everyone is too doggone nice! There is absolutely nothing soapy or intriguing about two, overly-polite women occasionally looking at each other with slight fear, before smiling and making polite conversatons or being interrupted by the most annoying child to hit television since Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. I'm sorry, the little girl is precious, but like Erin Sanders. She has got to GO! Okay, sigh, I'm gonna burn in hell for that one.
Viewers of America's Top Model loved-to-hate Marcille's determined, fierce "they hate me 'cause they wanna be me" persona on that show. My question to the writers at Y&R is, why aren't they writing to Marcille's strengths?
With her striking good looks and natural diva inclinations, I predict Marcille would make one helluvah good scheming soap bitch. Especially if Rowell came back to face off with her over Neil. I am sorry, I loved Nia Peebleson Walker Texas Ranger and that one dancing show in the 80's, but she sticks out like a sore thumb on this show.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Lily?
Maybe Karen can become Anna's manager and take her and Lily (Christel Khalil) off to L.A. (and off our screens) to launch Anna's singing career? Then Cane (Daniel Goddard) and Billy (Billy Miller) can fight it out over the young woman who is truly the closest thing to a young Dru on the show, Chloe (Elizabeth Hendrickson).
Hey, I am an equal opportunity offender. I don't mince words about my disdain for Amelia Henlie's take on my once beloved Victoria Newman, so I can't place nice and be politically correct here either. While I'm at it, why isn't anyone writing for Bryton McClure's Devon? The Emmy-winner is instantly recognizable due to his years on the smash ABC sitcom Family Matters and noted success in music.
Y&R currently has McClure paired with a fellow black sitcom alum/singer Tatyana Ali(The Fresh Prince of Belair), yet these multi-talented, actors get no play. Meanwhile it's all Lily, all the time. If this show thinks Lilyis the key to luring its lapsed African-American viewers back, they are sorely mistaken.
I have nothing against Khalil, who seems to be a lovely young woman and is a passable actress with a noted fan base, and I certainly have no qualms about interracial dating or storylines whatsoever. Hell, I wanted Malcolm to jump Phyllis's bones and Dru to get busy with Victor or Brad, but when there are so precious few roles for African-American women on soaps, for a show that was once the very definition of diversity— on screen at least— to have it's central black heroine in nary a storyline that connects her in any way, shape, form or fashion to the black experience, while pairing her with one white actor after another, is an embarassment to the late Bill Bell's legacy with his black viewers.
Y&R was the one soap that always had black characters you could root for and identify with on the front burner. Long after All My Children's iconic Angie (Debbie Morgan) and Jesse (Darnell Williams) left daytime, we had viable members of the Winters and Barbers on our soap screens and that helped keep Y&R atop the Nielsens charts.
Of course there were other factors involved, such as masterful storytelling and the insanely popular and universal performances of Eric Braeden, Eileen Davidson, Peter Bergman, Jeanne Cooper, Melody Thomas Scott, Jess Walton, Kimberlin Brown, Tracey Bregman, Lauralee Bell, Tricia Cast and others, but what set Y&R apart from other daytime serials was that it was the only soap opera to have a fully realized black cast of characters.
The Best Week Ever...Almost
It really pains me to even write so much as one negative word about Y&R after the so-good-it-would-make-you-slap-your-mama week this show just completed, but to be honest, that's why I had to write it. Y&R executive producer Maria Arena Bell is quickly proving she just may be the second coming of the late Gloria Monty, who famoulsy stepped in, not only to save General Hospital, but all of daytime in 1978.
With the help of legendary co-executive producer Paul Rauch, the man who kept Another World atop the Nielsens for most of the 1970's, co-head writer Hogan Sheffer, who made As The World Turns viable again and co-head writer Scott Hamner, who wrote for practically every glitzy, primetime drama imaginable (Falcon Crest, Dynasty, Knots Landing), Arena-Bell has almost fully restored her late father-in-law's soap to its former glory, but until she fixes what's wrong with the storylines featuring Y&R's black actors, the soap will still be, as Rowell herself infamously noted on our podcast, The Young and the Rest Of Us.