It's the hardest thing I ever had to do... It happens to the best of relationships. After a period of sheer, unadulterated, orgasmic bliss you come home to find your significant other has left their soiled clothing in a pile on the bathroom floor, or they've eaten up the last of the double stuffed Oreos without replacing them, and you sigh to yourself with the realization that the honeymoon just might be coming to an end. That's how I felt at the end of Friday's episode of The Young and the Restless.
For months now my fellow DC'ers and I have been raving about the stellar work Y&R co-executive producer Maria Arena "Auntie Ri Ri" Bell and her "Dream Team" of Paul Rauch, Hogan Sheffer and Scott Hamner have been accomplishing at Y&R. In a fairly short amount of time Bell and her boys managed to refocus this soap on its core characters, spinning fascinating, history-rich, character-driven tales for beloved, veteran characters like Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper), Victor and Nikki Newman (Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott), Jack, Jill and Ashley Abbott (Peter Bergman, Jess Walton and Eileen Davidson), all the while building on one of the most impressive next generations daytime has seen in years, anchored by legacy characters like Billy Abbott (Billy Miller), Kate Valentine/Chloe Mitchell (Elizabeth Hendrickson) and Daniel Romalotti (Michael Graziadei). Have there been some missteps along the way? Of course. The Silver Chipmunk Saga will go down in the soap history books as one of the lamest storylines ever, and the fact that the Winters family—who were once just as popular with Y&R's audience as the Abbotts, Newmans, and Fisher-Baldwins—were only given storyline scraps revolving around a lackluster battle for Neil (Kristoff St. John) and/or Ana fought by Tyra (the woefully inadequate Eva Marcille) and Karen (Nia Peeples)—made it hard to give Auntie Ri Ri and Co. an A on their report card. But let's face it, with at least five out of the eight soaps on the air sucking donkey dong most days, a solid B was something to stand up and cheer about, so we did, and loudly. Until this past week.
When we first heard about the return of Phillip Chancellors III (Thom Bierdz) and IV (John Driscoll), the DC crew was beside ourselves with excitement. I can't tell you how many giddy Skype chats Jillian, Mel, Mike and I had attempting to explain to our fearless, yet-history challenged leader Luke the complicated back story of the Chancellor men and their women, once the spoilers began making their way online.
On paper it sounded like a brilliant idea. Phillip— the golden boy heir who first his mother Jill and stepmother Kay, then bad girl Nina (Tricia Cast) and virginal, teen model Cricket (Lauralee Bell), fought over— would return home— having faked his death because he couldn't deal with disappointing his family because of one major, shocking secret, he was gay. It made perfect sense. The drinking. The lack of interest in sex with Nina.
"This will be the storyline of the year!" we predicted.
"I bet this will take Y&R over the 4.0!" we gushed.
So what if it required a belief-suspending return from the dead storyline? Y&R had barely used that soap stereotype, so we were ready to give them a pass. All My Children received the most buzz and critical acclaim it has seen in a decade for doing a similar story that reunited Jesse and Angie (Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan) last year. Who cared if we saw Phillip III die before our eyes? This story would be so powerful, so timely, so riveting, we would gladly give Y&R free reign to take us on this particular ride. Too bad the story ran out of gas before it hit the Wisconsin stateline.
The buildup to the reveal of Phillip III being alive and Cane (Daniel Goddard) being an imposter was nothing short of soap operatic brilliance. Thanks to the dangling plot thread left by Lynn Marie Latham, viewers knew Cane had a sketchy connection to an "Uncle Langley" back in Oz. The cryptic phone call Cane made to Langley years ago made us believe he was conning the Chancellors, and although LML decided to drop that beat in the story once Goddard proved to be a popular addition to the canvas, fans never forgot about that phone call. Enter our heroine Maria Arena Bell.
Auntie Ri Ri came in and began systematically fixing every fit of executive indecision LML made during her tenure at Y&R. Before we knew it fireplaces were back, water bottles were being swigged and most imperatively, the fabulous women of Genoa City were draped in diamonds and furs as God and the late Bill Bell intended. Then Bell hired Sheffer and got to work fixing storyline stink bombs from past regimes. Relying on the historic kidnapping of Kay by Clint and Marge, Auntie Ri Ri and Co. spun a fabulous yarn for Cooper, ultimately undoing Kay Alden's absurdly-conceived prior plot making Kay and Jill mother and daughter. The Dream Team also reignited one of daytime's best triangles Ashley/Victor/Nikki and infused it's heir apparent storyline featuring Victor's son Nick (Joshua Morrow) and the two women in his life, Sharon (Sharon Case) and Phyllis (Michelle Stafford) with new blood.
On the heels of these successful moves, Bell embarked on her most ambitious fete yet. She would now attempt to undo a mistake her legendary father-in-law admitted he wished he had never made. She would resurrect the Chancellor scion from the dead. As much as it pains me to say this, Auntie Ri Ri should have quit while she was ahead.
While an enigmatic presence and the very picture of a beautifully-tragic boy, even before we knew anything about his personal struggles, Thom Bierdz was never the strongest of actors. During his first stint on the soap, the women in his storylines did all of the heavy lifting, while Bierdz caused a generation of girls and a fair amount of boys to swoon with his Tiger Beat cover boy good looks. Twenty years later not much has changed I'm afraid. Bierdz simply isn't strong enough to carry this storyline and although his costars are doing some of their best work (most notably Cast and Goddard), the fact that the very epicenter of the story is not emotionally present or believable makes Phillip's return one big disaster unfolding daily on our screens.
It isn't all Bierdz's fault, however. Phillip's dialogue has been God awful. Instead of coming off as a person whose sexuality made him feel so utterly hopeless and suicidal he felt his only option was to fake his death, the writing for Phillip makes him come off as the biggest douchebag daytime has ever seen! I find myself wishing Nina would afford this lying husband with the same treatment she did her late, second spouse David Kimble.
The irony in this for me has been my late-in-the-game affection for Cane and Lily (Christel Khalil). Goddard has been nothing short of razor sharp since Nina first started snooping around. I find myself not even giving a damn about what happens to Phillip, because I am too caught up wondering what all this will mean for Cane. Will he convince Lily to take him back? WIll he redeem himself to the Chancellors? Will his feud with Billy escalate? Goddard took a storyline that could have been his undoing and hijacked it with such grace and style that he finally won me over to this character's side. Now I actually care about Cane and Lily because they have a geniune obstacle to overcome. Too bad the show had to rush to yet another plot point—Lily's cancer diagnosis—before they finished playing out the beats of Cane's betrayal.
The last straw concerning my tolerance of this storyline was last Friday's episode where Phillip III and Nina's son Phillip IV aka Chance made his debut. In all my years of watching soaps I have never seen such an anticlimactic scene play out.
"Nice to meet you sir?" said Chance.
WTF?! Chance, upon learning the father he thought was dead all his life is standing in his step-grandmother's living room, said "Nice to meet you sir"?! Speaking of Kay's living room. Why the hell are these people sitting around sipping tea during a time like this? The Chancellor women should be REELING. This man FAKED HIS DEATH AND HAS BEEN LIVING A SECRET LIFE FOR TWENTY YEARS. Jill spent more time processing Ji Minh's murder than this. UGH!
Okay, Namaste. Center. Auntie Ri Ri if you are reading this, DC has had your back for a long time. You have given us some of the best soap opera we've seen in a dog's age and given that many of us watch all eight soaps, and have had to endure heroines being killed by poisoned pancakes and vets being called spokes on a wheel, it was no wonder we gushed over someone who seemed to care about the fans. Please don't stop now. This storyline could be your Reliquary if you don't take steps to fix it and soon. Get Bierdz to an acting coach PRONTO, and insist that his dialogue and motivation being CLEARLY and SYMPATHETICALLY conveyed.
Also, Y&R is becoming darker and more plot driven by the episode and this is not what made fans like us stand up and cheer about this soap's resurgence. Please go back to the drawing board, take out some chalk and map out a new plan to get things back on track so that you can continue to be that aunt we're proud to claim at the family reunion, and not the one we run from because she smells of bad Avon cologne and likes to kiss us on the cheek, leaving burgundy lipstick in her wake.
For more on DC's reaction to last week's Y&R, be sure to check out the next CBS/DAYS podcast.