As the World Turns gets little critical love these days, at least from me. Executive producer Chris Goutman and head writer Jean Passanante are roundly criticized for revolving door castings that last between three to six weeks per actor while a number of popular veterans remain stranded on the sidelines, nine month story lines compressed into 45 minutes of screen time, and obviously declining production values due to draconian budget cuts not of their making or within their control. Watching ATWT lately has been as often a test of endurance as much as one of patience. Unfortunately, many viewers have been able to pass neither challenge as the show's declining Nielsen ratings attest.
Nonetheless, I am careful to try to give credit where credit is due and today's episode did something very smart for the first time in a long time: human emotions took center stage. The writers shoved janky plot mechanics aside and instead focused on characters trying to relate to each other through adverse circumstances. Yes, ATWT's usual maddening problem of compressing events that should have played out over days and weeks into a single show managed to compromise a bit of my enjoyment, but I have to say I thought as a whole they hit it out of the park today.
First, kudos to Ellen Dolan as Margo. There is a reason why Daytime Confidential'sMike Jubinville has chosen Ms. Dolan two weeks in a row as one of his Performers of the Week and today's scenes illustrated exactly why. Dolan communicated Margo's almost irrational yet totally understandable desire to protect Adam/Riley (Tom Degnan) while trying to maintain her relationship with an increasingly (and, again, understandably) hostile Casey (Billy Magnussen), while at the same time trying to convince him to not blow Riley/Adam's secret. Ms. Dolan's work was the pitch-perfect mix of a mother's determination and barely-under-the-surface desperation to hold on to her tenuously reunited family at any cost, including her own integrity.
In my opinion, Magnussen has kept Casey sympathetic regardless of his distasteful behavior because Casey's arguments about the unfair burdens he's been saddled with (going to jail for Adam's past deeds and now keeping his brother's true identity a secret from everyone he knows, including his father) are legitimate. Today, instead of being written as the volcanic hothead, Casey was driven further toward a certain level of bitterness that only makes sense for the character under the circumstances.
I also very much liked that the mechanics of how Hunter came to be born was less in the forefront than it has been the last couple of days. Instead, today's show focused on him and Allison trying to find a way to relate to each other as brother & sister. I thought both Evan Alex Cole and Marnie Schulenburg (who usually gets a lot of grief in these here parts) were excellent at conveying their awkwardness in trying to find a way to be a family and dealing with the pre-sibling revelation sexual tension between them. In many ways, their pseudo-incestuous connection reminds me of another brother & sister with deep sexual attraction, Brian & Paige Madison whom older viewers might remember from The Edge of Night in the early 1980's. As an added bonus, I loved how Allison stood up for herself and refused to be mistreated by the bitter Casey and basically told him he could get to stepping!
As for Carly's intervention, the word that comes easily to mind is 'Bravo!"(continued)
I won't go into deep detail here, but I thought every element of the intervention itself was superb. Prior to that gathering of Carly's loved (and not-so-loved) ones, Carly's antics at the cabin where Craig had whisked her away were supposed to be sad and pathetic as Craig realized that she had finally passed a point of no return, but the scenes were awkwardly staged, filmed and directed and were so over the top — like several other elements of Carly's alcoholism story over these past several months — that they briefly resembled every bad soap spoof and stereotype we've ever seen of the genre. But once the intervention got underway at Carly's house, hot diggity!
Maura West was simply outstanding in every conceivable way. There was never a moment during the intervention scenes when West did not fiercely convey Carly's defiance, anger, manipulations, fear, self-loathing, and, finally, acceptance of her disease. That last shattering moment came after a series of powerful scenes of confrontation, most notably with Parker (Mick Hazen), Jack (Michael Park), and Craig (Jon Lindstrom), respectively. Hazen once again proved why he is one of the brightest young stars of daytime in a totally heartbreaking performance with almost every line he uttered.
Park gave one of his most carefully emotionally modulated performances in a long, long time. Somehow he and West managed to briefly ignite the powerful chemistry between Jack and Carly in the midst of all that emotional turmoil. One would have to have a cold heart to not get choked up at the moment when Jack brought up Carly's alcoholic father and Carly nearly fell apart at the realization that she was mirroring his behavior. Lindstrom was superb, finally nailing down the question once and for all if his love for Carly is real and bringing genuine pathos to and sympathy to Craig.
Special mention must be made to Cady McClain and Julie Pinson. Though relegated mostly to the sidelines, McClain's Rosanna was the very model of a concerned, supportive, caring and understanding sister. Much more substantially, Pinson proved once again that when she is given meaty material, she is one of ATWT's unsung acting heroes. Janet's attempt to reach out to Carly and her empathy for her emotional rival, as well as her resignation to literally sit outside on those sidelines and her reinforcement of her commitment to Jack was an awesome testament to the viability of Jack & Janet as a couple and Pinson's often underused talent.
Today's show exemplified what As The World Turns does best: the emphasis of human relationships and interaction over jack-leg plot mechanics. Since the early 1980's ATWT has been plot-heavy, but the primary focus of the show had always remained how characters respond to events and how they relate to each other, not just the events themselves. For several weeks now, I've noticed a shift in tone in some of the writing on ATWT that focuses more on sharp dialogue and character interaction. This is a welcome development and a long overdue change. If today's episode of ATWT is any indication, let's hope this trend continues.