I'm not sure what to make of the big surprise on General Hospital this week -- but then again, I haven't known what to make of GH in a very long time (years, actually). Robin Scorpio is alive -- and looking very tanned and rested, I might add, even if she is being held hostage in something resembling a hospital room.
Seeing Robin in that bed at the end of Monday's episode was the first time GH has really "wowed" me since that unforgettable moment in May 1980 when Edward Quartermaine sprang back to life after faking a heart attack and shocked his daughter Tracy (and millions of viewers, as well) after she had refused to give him his medication because he wouldn't change his will. Ah, sweet memories ...
The Robin reveal was all the more impressive because it hadn't been leaked. I didn't think it was possible to keep anything from anyone in this era of zero privacy and even less respect. Congratulations to all involved. A genuine surprise at the end of a soap opera episode reminded me of the joy that was had watching daytime drama in the late 70s and early 80s, before magazine editors and scoop-hungry reporters decided that taking the fun out of the television viewing experience was a smart thing to do.
That said, I needed a positive narrative development from GH, because after years of cascading misery and negativity from Jill Farran Phelps and Bob Guza and their team, and weeks of same from new executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati, I had made up my mind to bail after seeing what the latter planned to do with the return of Robin Mattson as whack-job Heather Webber later this week. I agree with all those critics and bloggers and tweeters and comment-posters that GH in the hands of Valentini and Carlivati is the best that it has been since the Wendy Riche and Claire Labine period, in that it once again feels as if it has been put together by people who understand the genre and its audience. But it has still been largely the same old thing -- a payoff-challenged drama about a temper tantrum-tossing mobster, his emotionally vacant hit man and his bat-shit crazy ex-wife. Even worse, it has been spinning far too much around the deaths of children, something that Valentini and Carlivati seemed to embrace from day one, even bringing in characters from their previous soap -- the late and lamented One Life to Live -- to tell yet another story about dead kids.
To clarify, I believe the primary reason that GH has declined in popular appeal over the last ten plus years has been the ridiculous repetitiveness of stories centered on mob boss Sonny Corinthos, brain-damaged killing machine Jason Morgan and the mentally unstable woman who is obsessed with them both, Carly Corinthos Jacks. The new team at GH continues to favor all three with no relief in sight for fatigued fans past and present. It had looked for quite a while like a brain injury and subsequent drastic medical procedures might restore Jason to the nice guy he used to be in the mid-90s, potentially setting the stage for years of fascinating stories about a man coming to terms with years of criminal behavior over which he had no control. But it appears that Valentini and Carlivati want Jason to remain Guza-fied.
Meanwhile, in just a few short weeks they have made Sonny even more deplorable, having him put in motion a sequence of events that resulted in the apparent deaths of a young man named Cole Thornhart (whom viewers watched navigate a harrowing adolescence on OLTL) and his little girl Hope and then repeatedly assert that he had nothing to do with same. It was Sonny who sent rival mobster Anthony Zacchara fleeing for his life and into Cole and Hope's path. It matters little whether Sonny or somebody else shot out Zacchara's tires and caused the fatal accident that followed. Sonny is still involved.
Further, they have made the already detestable Carly even more off-putting to watch. Remember, this is a woman who chose to meddle in ex-husband's Sonny's wedding rather than help her young son cope with the after-effects of having been raped in prison, a horror he suffered specifically because Carly insisted that he would be better off being raised by a crime boss (that would be Sonny) rather than his birth father (the late AJ Quartermaine). Now this woman, who recently gained sole custody of little Jocelyn, the baby she had with her ex-husband Jasper Jacks, is showing what a swell mom she is by having sex with yet another dangerous mobster, Johnny Zacchara. She also has it in her head that she should dictate how Jason's life is run, even though he is happily married to the woman who is carrying his child.
I have to admit that when I saw that Robin was alive it occurred to me that it might not have been Valentini and Carlivati's plan all along to save her. It may be that they added the brief scene after realizing that killing Robin was further alienating their already fragile audience. (Having Robin burn to death in a hospital lab was no way to bring the story of daytime drama's first long-term HIV survivor to a close, that's for sure. Then again, putting the audience through the violent death of a long-beloved character, only to reveal just two weeks later that said character is actually alive, is kind of lame, too.) So I like to think that if everyone who is busily writing and talking about GH continues to complain about Sonny, Carly and Jason, then Valentini and Carlivati might see fit to surprise us again and again, perhaps by killing Sonny (which is really the only way to let GH move into a much-needed new direction), giving Jason another brain seizure and making him normal again, and doing something with Carly that will make her step up and take responsibility for years of reprehensible behavior. (It would be grand if Jax put a few of his many millions to work hiring the best legal team money can buy to prove Carly an unfit mother and take his little girl away to a safe environment. Or if Michael -- after being kept away from his family, kidnapped, shot in the head, rendered comatose for a year, imprisoned and raped -- finally began acting up and taking all of that out on the people responsible, namely his parents. Or if Carly's ex husband AJ returned from the dead and sought revenge. Or if Carly's mother Bobbie returned from wherever she has been and gave her daughter hell. Or all of the above.)
As for this show's predilection toward killing children, I hope Valentini and Carlivati put an end to it, and perhaps reveal that Cole and Hope are, like Robin, mysteriously alive. There are simply too many women roaming the GH canvas who have suffered the deaths of their young sons and daughters. They include Dr. Monica Quartermaine (who lost daughters Dawn and Emily and son AJ), Nurse Elizabeth Webber (son Jake), Nurse Epiphany Johnson (son Stan), secret agent Anna Devane (who doesn't know her daughter Robin is alive), and now woebegone Starr Manning (daughter Hope). Two characters that aren't on the show anymore have also lost children: Nurse Bobbie Spencer (daughter BJ) and former private investigator Felicia Jones (daughter Georgie).
At least two of these deaths can be easily undone (Emily and AJ). I suggest the GH team consider that. Dr. David Hayward, a character from All My Children with ties to Anna Devane, brought several deceased fan favorites back to life on that show before it ended, so perhaps he can be recruited to help out. Failing that, there's always Helena and her maniacal medical team in that secret lab located 30 floors below General Hospital. (It even comes equipped with a bottomless pit for the disposal of tired characters.)
I have more complaints and concerns about GH in recent weeks. I can't understand why Ethan Lovett's paternity was tossed into question again, only to remain the same, even though viewers have always been unhappy about the fact that his father is Luke Spencer rather than Robert Scorpio. The new GH team had a golden opportunity to make this right, but they didn't. And having Luke lie about Ethan's paternity so that Robert would find the strength to carry on after Robin's death was absurd.
Robert contemplating suicide after Robin's death, rather than stepping up to care for his granddaughter Emma, was also a poor storyline choice.
There have been countless funerals on soap operas since soap operas began, but Robin's had to be one of the worst. Her father didn't attend, and there was nobody there representing General Hospital, where Robin worked for many years, recently as chief of staff. The only hospital staffer at the service was Robin's best friend, Nurse Elizabeth.
Further, Maxie Jones's breakdown at Robin's funeral was poorly written and directed. And it was rather redundant: Maxie also lost her shit at the funeral for her sister Georgie a few years ago. (For that matter, the Robin not really burning to death thing is very reminiscent of the Lucky not really burning to death thing back in 1999. The difference is, in that story we didn't learn Lucky was alive until one year later.)
The new team is taking entirely too much time reactivating and (one hopes) wrapping up the story of Lisa Niles, a scheming seductress who tormented Robin for much of the last year. Everything about this story was as toxic for viewers as it was unpleasant for Robin. Fans heaved a sigh of relief when Lisa was murdered a few months back. An already forgotten character was even identified as her killer. But Valentini and Carlivati have revived the story and are fiddling with it for reasons only they can explain. I'll say this: If Lisa is alive and holding Robin captive there will be a fan revolt the scope of which will likely kill off GH once and for all.
They're being entirely too diligent with another wildly unpopular plot, too: The story of Jason and psycho artist Franco (played by James Franco). This story marked an absolute low for the show. It looks like the return of Heather Webber will somehow play into clearing up the many mysteries about Franco's character. I certainly hope the new team isn't afraid to put a stake through its heart and leave this very poorly told tale stone cold dead.
They're also treating the already forgotten story about the stripper attacks with entirely too much care. Moving on ...
While they're tying up loose ends, I hope Valentini and Carlivati identify the driver of the mysterious black town car that drove past Elizabeth Webber's house the night little Jake was run down, and that we learn he or she was responsible for the poor boy's death. That would mean Luke didn't kill his grandson. This storyline has completely destroyed the character, but perhaps Luke could be rebuilt to some degree if he weren't really responsible for killing a child while driving under the influence. It isn't good for this show or any other to have a drunk-driving child-killer at its center.
Even though I haven't cared for many of Valentini and Carlivati's storytelling choices, it has been a sweet treat to see so many fondly remembered characters from GH's past return to its canvas. Finola Hughes as Anna has been outstanding, bringing a substance and richness to every scene she has been in. Tristan Rogers, as Robert, and Emma Samms, as Holly, did what they could with the substandard material they were given. (Why couldn't Guza or the new team write Holly as the classy, compassionate, vibrantly sexy woman that she once was? And why can't Robert and Holly be together again? I think they were the sexiest couple in soap opera history. Remember that scene in the sauna in which Robert poured champagne across Holly's shoulders and then ... oh, never mind.)
I was even impressed with Rick Springfield as Dr. Noah Drake, who briefly came to town to comfort his son Patrick after Robin's death. And speaking of Patrick, Jason Thompson had better get a Daytime Emmy (or some kind of industry recognition) for his heart-breaking work as a grieving widower these last few weeks. I think he has out-cried former co-star Jonathan Jackson! Who knew he had it in him?
Finally, I wasn't thrilled by the influx of characters from One Life to Live onto the GH canvas. It was too much, too soon. (That said I would like to see Starr's former boyfriend James Ford follow her back to Port Charles, setting up a triangle with Starr and Michael.) But I have to hand it to Michael Easton as Lt. John McBain. I was never all that impressed by him on OLTL, but he's been sensational on GH, especially in his scenes with the incomparable Jane Elliot. Easton even lit a fire in Kelly Monaco, with whom he co-starred in the God-awful GH spin-off Port Charles many years ago. (They played different characters.) Monaco, as private detective and mob wife Sam McCall, has always been an annoying snooze in her scenes with Steve Burton, the actor who plays her husband, Jason. But she was crazy hot playing off Easton. If Easton sticks around, Valentini and Carlivati may have a home-grown super couple on their hands. That would be something else this long-suffering show hasn't had in years.
Follow Ed Martin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanetEd