In her essay, The Siren Call of the Super Couple: Soap Operas’ Destructive Slide Toward Closure, ( published in Contemporary Soap Opera Criticism, ed. Suzanne Frentz, 1992), Diana Reep talks about how the super couple phenomenon, beginning with General Hospital's Luke and Laura in the late 1970s, “create(s) serious storyline problems for producers and writers.”
According to Reep, the love of a super couple is “so perfect that they are incapable of having romantic feelings for anyone else under any circumstances. In addition, the two have no personal flaws or idiosyncrasies that could interfere with their perfect love. Only an evil, outside force could disturb their relationship.” The problem super couples create for storytellers is that, “as characters, therefore, they are unchanging in a narrative form that emphasizes evolving characters and relationships” and “as ideals, super couples bring closure to a relationship in a world that is based in continuing expectations of change.”
Those of us who think about soaps agree that so much of what’s gone wrong has been the abandonment of character for plot. And plot requires closure. I don’t think it’s too far a leap to speculate that the move from character to plot began with the advent of the super couple that began in the early 1980s. That the 80s were the glory days of soaps is at the very least, ironic. But fixing soaps requires first understanding how and why things have gone so wrong.
Of course, soaps are nothing if not ironic; in fact, experiencing the full emotional impact of soaps requires a high tolerance for ambiguity; the real power of soap opera lies in couples made up of characters as complex, flawed and idiosyncratic as those of us watching. And that brings me to two couples and a super story from As the World Turns: Tom and Margo; Hal and Barbara. This story resonated for me because even though everyone knew that Tom and Margo were each other’s true love and belonged together, at the same time, I always felt that Margo could have just as easily been happy with Hal. And vis versa, even though Benjamin Hendrickson once told me that he believed that Barbara was Hal’s true love. That Barbara had a previous relationship with Tom, and hated Margo because she had an affair with James Stenbeck, only deepened the relationships among the characters. And the real power of character-based storytelling is that even with the sad passing of Benjamin Hendrickson, that history could easily be revived should the TPTB at ATWT be so inclined, were that it be.
© 2008 Lynn Liccardo
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