Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"SOAP" v. SOAPS

Last week, I wrote a post for BlogHer called Top 10 Hilarious Sitcoms Created By Women. Though I listed the shows chronologically, had I ranked them in personal order of preference, number one would, far and away, have been SOAP by Susan Harris.


SOAP is, quite simply, my favorite show of all time. I can watch it over and over again. I have big chunks of dialogue memorized. My brother and I sometimes have entire conversations consisting solely of SOAP quotes (don't judge, we were latch-key children; you can read about our co-dependency, here).

Because of my love for SOAP, I have been waiting with baited breath for literally years now for SOAP: The Unauthorized Inside Story of the Sitcom That Broke All the Rules to finally be published. Late last year, it finally was.

My brother promptly bought it for me, and I promptly read it.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The most fascinating parts were the author's inclusion of the SOAP bible, which indicated how stories were originally intended to go and, in places, explained why they were changed. That's the kind of stuff an uber-fan like me salivates over. There are interviews with the cast and a Where Are They Now section. I would have liked more backstage tales of how particular scenes were conceived and put together, what was improvised and what was scripted, how the actors got into character and how the writers were inspired to make the plot choices they did. But, those are minor quibbles. What I'm saying above is that I liked what was in the book so much that I wanted more of it. (But, I'm greedy that way.)

What stopped me from enjoying the book as much as I'd hoped to, though, was the author's repetitive insistence on proving that while SOAP was a soap spoof and a serial with over the top characters and story-lines, it wasn't *really* a soap, you understand. Because conceding that SOAP was, well, a soap opera, would somehow undermine his thesis statement about the show's importance to the culture.

I don't buy it. For one thing, because the very thing he praises SOAP for - the show's willingness to push the envelope by featuring an openly gay character, by tackling controversial topics of the day like cults and interracial dating and extramarital affairs (even for "nice" housewives) and teachers sleeping with their students and suicide and adoption and defrocked priests - those are all things soap operas were already doing. (Remember the big deal about the ABC TV movie in the late 1980s, Something About Amelia, which tackled father-daughter sexual abuse and incest? Remember the soap opera, Loving, and their story about father-daughter sexual abuse and incest? Remember how it was suddenly cut short? That was because ABC wanted to tout their movie as tackling a heretofore taboo topic. And they didn't need to be reminded that their own network had already been dealing with it for six months. So, yeah, that's the kind of stuff that daytime soaps do.)

And for another thing: While SOAP may have had a live studio audience, the fact of the matter is, viewers didn't just tune in for the chuckles. They tuned in because they genuinely cared about the characters and what happened to them, whether it was Who Shot Peter Campbell, Chester being presumed dead, Eunice running away with an escaped con, a baby possessed by the devil, an alien abduction or a Latin American revolutionary plotting to knock over a Communist regime from his base in Connecticut.

The situations were broad and ridiculous and over the top. But the feelings behind them were real and heartfelt and as capable of bringing tears of empathy as they were of laughter.

You know, just like soap operas.

And, in my book, at least, that's not an insult. That's a compliment.


2 comments:

AS Berman said...

Hi Alina,

Thank you for mentioning "Soap: The Unauthorized Inside Story..."; sorry that it didn't give you everything that you were looking for.

More stories about how certain scenes were put together were a bit hard to come by, mostly because of the amount of time that has passed and the ages of those concerned.

But what I really wanted to address is the "was Soap a Soap spoof" question. Perhaps I didn't make this clear enough in the book, but the insistence that Soap was NOT a soap spoof came not from me but from the person who created the series: Susan Harris. She remains adamant that she only borrowed the "continuing story" framework from soaps, but that it was never meant to be a spoof of them.

This is something that is countered by others in the book, most notably Ted Wass [Danny], who pointed out that Soap's penchant for copying film fads [e.g., the alien storyline] is right out of soap operas.

Just my two cents worth. Thanks again for mentioning the book :-) Aaron

Alina Adams said...

Hello! Nice to see you here!

I think we (and Susan Harris and Ted Wass, too) are in agreement that SOAP isn't a soap spoof.

Because it was a soap opera. Just because it had a laugh track didn't mean it wasn't a prime-time soap like Dallas or Dynasty (who also periodically generated laughs).

FRESNO was a soap spoof because it made fun of soaps. SOAP was a soap opera that was funny.