No. 10: Lawrence St. Victor - Guiding Light
Lawrence St. Victor's portrayal of the one-dimensional Remy Boudreau wasn't worth noticing before 2008. Remy was just an angry cop who carried a torch for the late Tammy Winslow (Stephanie Gatschet). On the rare occasions that Remy wasn't angry the writers chose to have him stand around silent and shirtless as eye candy.
Fortunately for St. Victor, 2008 was the year Guiding Light provided Remy with storylines that allowed him the chance to do more than take off his shirt or end up on a bathroom floor in nothing but boxer briefs. This past year Remy became involved with Ava (Michelle Ray Smith), who found out she was pregnant with his child. When Max died after childbirth, St. Victor gave a moving and emotional performance. Now with a new love interest for Remy, the quirky Christina (Karla Mosley) whom he married on a drunken impulse, St. Victor is clearly more relaxed and seems much more comfortable in his skin as an actor.
No. 9: Chrishell Stause - All My Children
Chrishell Stause has basically played the role of cheerleader for the rest of the canvas in storyline-after-storyline since joining All My Children as Amanda Dillon in 2005. On the rare occasions that saw Kate Collins returned as Amanda's mother, Janet "From Another Planet" Dillon, Stause was allowed to step up out of the shadows of overused front burner actresses and give a meaningful performance. Without Janet, the writers never seemed to know how to write for Amanda or Chrishell until this year.
In 2008 Amanda and Stause were finally given a wider variety of storylines, that didn't rely solely on Kate Collins' status on the show, and both the character and the actress who portrays her flourished. As Amanda and Jake, Stause and Pine Valley newcomer Ricky Paull Goldin had chemistry so fiery it left fans scorched by the afterglow.
Unfortunately, ABC daytime was so hell-bent on trying to force fans to "Gush" over Goldin and Beth Ehlers the way they had on Guiding Light, that Stause and Goldin's promising storyline was scrapped. Amanda also took the lead at Fusion in 2008 as Greenlee (Rebecca Budig) and Kendall (Alicia Minshew) proved just how short their attention spans really were, giving the capable young actress some much-deserved time in the spotlight. Amanda is once again being paired with Jacob Young's JR Chandler, thanks to the manipulations of Vincent Irizarry's David Hayward as 2008 draws to a close. We can't wait to see more of Stause mixing it up onscreen with these two dirty, sexy schemers in 2009.
No. 8: Mandy Bruno - Guiding Light
Marina Cooper (Mandy Bruno) was one half of a hot pairing this year in 2008, opposite Aussie bad boy Cyrus Foley (Murray Bartlett). With a blatant chemical connection, Bruno and Bartlett fed off one another in each and every seen, which is why it made absolutely no sense for a show on soap opera life support to split them apart. Cyrina fans were disgusted when Marina's beloved Aunt Harley (Beth Ehlers) swooped in and snatched the rogue right out from underneath her nubile niece. Harley's betrayal did have one positive effect. It gave Mandy Bruno material she could finally get dirty with. Going head-to-head with an actress of Ehlers' caliber and status on the soaps allowed the young actress the opportunity to expand her range and learn from a pro.
Bruno impressively kept Marina centered as the character raged at Harley and even tried her hand at revenge. Watching Bruno express Marina's devastation over what Cyrus and Harley put her through, and valiantly portraying her struggle to break free of the man she so desperately loved has been one of the precious few joys of watching Guiding Light this year.
No. 7: Judith Chapman - The Young and the Restless
Lynn Marie Latham's reign of terror at The Young and the Restless will be remembered for many catastrophic occurrences - the dismantling of the Abbotts, the reliquary nightmare, the Clear Springs debauchery, the (gasp) removal of fireplaces, diamonds and furs - but there was no greater crime committed by LML than having Judith Chapman onscreen five days a week chewing up every piece of scenery she could find as Gloria Fisher Abbott Bardwell Bardwell. What a difference a year makes.
With the show now in more capable hands, Chapman's storylines have been balanced out and her over-the-top performances mercifully toned down. This phenomenon has allowed the veteran actress to showcase nuances and brave choices that had been lost in drag queen camp and cartoonish vitriol.
Chapman's work opposite Michael Gross as Gloria's first love Lowell (aka River) has shown the character's human side and Chapman's impressive range this past year on The Young and the Restless. Her delicious scheming and Baby Boomer sexcapades with Ted Shackelford's Jeffrey have been surprisingly humorous and entertaining. Even her critics - and trust us she had several here at DC - had to stand up and cheer during Chapman's tour de force performance as Gloria revealed to a stunned Jill (Jess Walton) and Cane (Daniel Goddard)—okay, Cane's pretty much always stunned, so I guess he doesn't count— that the Abbotts were back in control of Jabot. Brava Ms. Chapman, we knew you had it in you!
No. 6: Brandon Barash - General Hospital
Our sixth pick for Most Improved is General Hospital’s crowned Mob Prince Brandon Barash (Johnny Zacchara). While some may disagree with Barash even needing to be on the Most Improved list, he is one actor that surely gets better every time he graces our screens. When Johnny first hit Port Chuck most fans would agree that yet another mob character was not what we had been hoping for, but Barash quickly had us retracting that thought. Not only has Brandon come into his own on GH, he also has the potential to become the next Jason Morgan (Steve Burton) of the show. Here’s to hoping for continued improvement as being compared to Burton will not be easy for the young actor.
No. 5: Jake Silbermann - As the World Turns
Smoking hot chemistry with a screen partner and instant popularity has helped many a soap actor achieve star status, even in lieu of acting ability. Until 2008, As The World Turn's Jake Silbermann (Noah) fit into this category. As one half of daytime's first gay male supercouple, Silbermann was instantly popular and became a pop culture icon overnight thanks to the infamous Kiss Ban. It took a bit of time, however before Silbermann's acting chops caught up to the hype.
In 2008 the actor found himself hitched to an ass of a storyline involving an Iraqi girl named Ameera. While this story arc was universally panned, it provided Silbermann the chance to fine tune a much-valued acting skill, the ability to transform storyline fecal matter into sugar aka The Kim Zimmer Method. Silbermann grew steadily over the course of the year, turning in notable performances opposite daytime and primetime vet Daniel Hugh Kelly (Col. Mayer) and Jon Hensley (Holden). He even began to steal a performance or two from the theater-trained Van Hansis (Luke) as their coupling began to unravel in the wake of yet another disastrous, plot-driven tale, Luke's run for class president. If Silbermann continues at this rate, it won't be long before he's right next to Hansis on next year's Emmy ballot, and who knows, he just might take the gold.
No. 4: Arianne Zucker - Days of Our Lives
It's hard to believe Arianne Zucker is the same actress who came onto the Days of Our Lives canvas as a dead-on-arrival love interest for Eric Brady (Jensen Ackles) some 10 years ago. Nicole was basically a blonder version of the popular Billie Reed character, right down to her porn star back story, her pervy daddy and her sexy, heroic brother who caused a stir in Sami Brady's (Alison Sweeney) va jay jay. Somewhere along the way Zucker rose above the archetypical writing and created a fierce vixen/heroine hybrid all her own.
While Zucker has grown leaps with each passing year, 2008 was definitely her breakout year, as a boozy Nicole showed back up in Salem, announcing to anyone who would listen that she was very much still Mrs. Victor Kiriakis (John Aniston). Too bad Terrible Tom, er Terrible Trent (Roscoe Born) also arrived in town proving the trophy wife was still married to him. Luckily Nicole had her trusty (and hunky) British lawyer EJ DiMera (James Scott) to lean on. Zucker's chemistry with Scott has been positively electric (Sorry Ejami fans.) Zucker is also bringing the heat with Nu Brady (Eric Martsolf) who has been supporting the neurotic troublemaker through the miscarriage of her miracle tot with EJ. Speaking of Nicole's loss, Zucker as a grieving mother, has given the most heartbreakingly-authentic performance we've seen on Days of Our Lives since Hope (Kristian Alfonso) grieved for Zack.
Post Deidre and Drake, Arianne Zucker just may prove to be this show's biggest draw. Oh and did we mention she's a web star too? That's Zucker doing a hilariously, yet poignant turn as Winnie, the frustrated head writer of Greenville General in the pilot episode of Strike TV's Life in General (add link). We can't wait to see what's next for this multitasking thespian in 2009.
No. 3: Brandon Buddy - One Life to Live
Brandon Buddy (Cole Thornhart) joined One Life to Live with some high expectations as the son of Marty Saybrooke (Susan Haskell) and Patrick Thornhart (Thorsten Kaye).
To say his initial attempts at acting fell a little flat would be the understatement of the millennium. Buddy's acting style early on was wooden and forced. All of that changed in 2008, as Ron Carlivati penned storylines that found Buddy having no choice but to give emotional substance to Cole as the teen heartthrob dealt with one blow after another (Marty's presumed death, the bloody beat down Cole received when Todd (Trevor St. John) discovered him with Starr (Kirsten Alderson), Cole learning he was going to be a teen dad, Starr's decision to give their baby to Marcie (Kathy Brier), etc.) culminating in the "loss" of his unborn child and revelation that at least one of his parents was still very much alive. Before we even realized it, Buddy could act!
This past year Buddy made a transformation that was the acting equivalent of an Ugly Duckling changing into quite the impressive Swan. You just can't help but respect the hell out of a young actor who figured out a way to hold his own in scenes with the likes of St. John, Haskell, Brier, Kassie De Paiva (Blair), Jerry verDorn (Clint) and Hillary B. Smith (Nora). Buddy is definitely a young actor to watch for 2009.
No. 2: Melissa Fumero - One Life to Live
Melissa "Bitchy Bangs" Fumero was one of 2008's most noted transformations. For years One Life to Live fans had bemoaned that the character of Adrianna Cramer was coma-inducing and boring. Some blamed it on the writers and others blamed it on the actress. Then something fantastic happened. Early in 2008, Fumero got a haircut around the same time the character of Adriana received a Dorian-eque personality change. Introducing Bitchy Bangs!
Post haircut, Adrianna quickly became one of the best soap bitches of 2008. Fumero finally found her niche, managing to play up the character's newfound snark, while keeping Adriana believable and sympathetic–a hard task in the current daytime climate where villains tend to become caricatures as opposed to characters. As the transformation of Fumero and Adrianna had fans gladly re-evaluating their opinions, Adrianna's wedding day face off with Gigi (Farah Fath) landed One Life to Live a rare Soap Opera Weekly cover.
Unfortunately, like many good things (and many good bangs), the rejuvenated Adriana's time on One Life to Live was cut short. Fumero decided to leave the soap, taking with her the best young vixen daytime had seen in years. Adriana's absence is felt across the canvas, but especially within the confines of the Rex (John-Paul Lavoisier) and Gigi romance. Without Adrianna's machinations , Gigi and Rex 's storyline has become mired in the mundane. This once-viable couple desperately needs a proper foil to prevent them from becoming an ooey gooey snorefest. Hopefully One Life to Live will figure out way to get Bitchy Bangs back and soon!
No. 1: Melody Thomas Scott - The Young and the Restless
We admit it. We were pretty hard on daytime television hair models in 2008. Sorry, we couldn't help it. While we realize the soaps have always been a training ground, seeing so many Breck girls and Walking Tag Body Spray Display Ads in front burner storylines — and earning Emmy nods no less— was a bit much for us to swallow with the industry in such a precarious state and needing now more than ever to recognize true talent. Though to be fair, many a hair model has transformed into a damn good actor during his or her time on soaps – Josh Duhamel, Shemar Moore, hell even Genie Francis and Susan Lucci were all once known more for giving good face or flashing a sexy six pack, than they were for turning in an impressive performance. There has been no better example of the Evolution of a Hair Model than what has taken place on The Young and the Restless with Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman) in recent years.
The one thing LML did right during her reign of terror was pen Victor (Eric Braeden) and Nikki's War of the Roses-style breakup storyline. It was during this tumultuous period that Scott became more concerned with bringing raw, earthy emotion to her portrayal of the stripper-turned-socialite, than with looking pretty for the camera.
In 2008 Scott took her performance as Nikki to amazing new heights, allowing the character to be stripped raw (no pun intended), emotionally and aesthetically, as Nikki dealt with her alcohol-soaked guilt over the deaths of Victor's most recent wife Sabrina (Raya Meddine) and his unborn child. For the first time on over 25 years, Scott has matched Braeden toe-to-toe in scene-after-scene as the star-crossed lovers they portray bitterly tear open each other's psychic wounds and pour in fresh sea salt from that Mexican beach where they found each other. At a time when many once-stellar veteran soap stars are phoning in their performances out of frustration or boredom, Scott is doing the work of her career. We couldn't be more impressed or proud.