Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quarterly Report: Best of April to June, 2007

So much to say this time around...
Let's start with today's date: June 30. Today is the 55th anniversary of GUIDING LIGHT's television debut. It was on this day in 1952 that GUIDING LIGHT began the visual continuation of its story. It broadcast the same episode twice a day, once on radio and then again on television, for four years, discontinuing the radio component in 1956.
In deciding how best to mark the event, occurring as it does simultaneously with the second quarterly report of 2007, it dawned on me that there's no better way to observe this anniversary than to celebrate the best of GL's current television output.(How very Ellen Wheeler of me! I know!) But in all seriousness, the timing of this status report is just perfect as far as I'm concerned, especially since the GUIDING LIGHT Memory Project, as a concept, is one big celebration of the show on television anyway.

One big event that occurred this quarter was this year's Emmy ceremony, at which GL was awarded the Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing Team statues. In a humiliating and infuriating turn, large numbers of GL viewers immediately turned out online to decry the awards and credit everything but the actual quality of the show itself for the recognition bestowed by the Emmy voters. I'm the very last person to assert that everything is roses and sausages on the current show, but GL had more than enough episodes to win the awards they received. My Best of 2006 blog entries (all four of them!) made that abundantly clear and I'm not going to waste space here trying to respond to people whose aim is nothing more than to pour acid on the whole show because their favorite character isn't resting in perfect splendor.

With that out of the way, on to the second quarter of 2007!
Before anything else is said, it must be pointed out that these last three months were generously adorned with a quartet of nearly flawless performances. Ricky Paull Goldin, Jessica Leccia, Beth Ehlers, and Bonnie Dennison rendered gorgeous, stunningly natural portrayals of their characters, day in and day out, in what was undeniably the very, very best storyline on the show. Even in the leanest of times (and there were some really lean times this quarter!), this group could consistently be counted on to present grounded, believable, entertaining, affecting drama at every turn, literally without fail. Regardless what single scenes, performances, or episodes are spotlighted in this writing, it must be noted that the day-to-day work of these four made GL a very healthy enterprise even when the show populated by other diseased elements.

Unfortunate storylines like the excruciating Beth-tries-to-get-pregnant plot (an inexcusable insult to the brilliant Beth Chamberlin!) and the Blake-wakes-up-with-no connection-to-her-life-and-no-one-notices plot (an inexcusable insult to... well... everybody!) really hampered GL's watchability as did the disjointed, poorly founded Marina/Cyrus coupling, which is only just now as I write this beginning to enter the realm of watchability (possibly too late). The Reva/Josh/Cassie triangle has been overexposed to the point of irrelevance and written into an incredibly unpleasant hole, but the absolute worst has got to be the morally bankrupt, jaw-droppingly rotten tale of Reva victimizing Lizzie. The show is doing quite the little tap dance to justify Reva's actions and Kim Zimmer is busting out all the choked back tears and cleavage that a television screen will contain and none of it is making Reva's actions seem like anything but despicable acts that they most certainly are. The show is banking on Zimmer's significant fanbase to buy the whitewash that this story is dishing out and I'm certain that they will, but I am definitely not.

But what was the best of the best? What lit up the screen like a Friendship Lamp in the window of our televisions?

4/6/07: GUIDING LIGHT had a long, uphill battle filling the hole that was left when the character they had given the show completely over to left. After Tom Pelphrey (and Jonathan's) departure in early February, it was very nearly two months before the show was able to reclaim its identity.
This episode from April 6 sees Springfield getting its groove back and racing headlong into new territory. Anchored by Caitlin Van Zandt's heartbreakingly real performance as Ashlee struggles beneath her guilt over shooting Alan, the show moves Ashlee from one riveting, emotional interaction to another, from her plaintive dealings with a suspiciously forgiving Alan to her connection with comforting lifeline Frank (an uncharacteristically interesting and effective Frank Dicopoulos), finally to her dysfunctional and passionate relationship with Doris (in one of the criminally infrequent occasions where firecracker Orlagh Cassidy gets the writing she deserves). The Harley/Daisy and Cassie/Josh sections are both rock solid and extremely moving as well and this episode flows beautifully and works perfectly as a unit.
Leave a Bruise-- clip 1 , clip 2 , clip 3 , clip 4 , clip 5
4/11/07: Kim Zimmer is a big talent, to be sure, but my biggest complaint with her is that I very often don't feel her participating in her scenes with other people. It often seems as though Reva is in a completely different reality than the people she's interacting with, so you can well imagine my surprise and pleasure during Reva and Harley's emotionally violent blowout on April 11. Zimmer and Beth Ehlers (whose work since the anniversary episode has been nothing short of miraculous!) blew the doors off the darkened car that served as their set and both actors were unbelievably good. Zimmer was present and listening and (here's the important part) giving-- really participating cooperatively in the scene instead of just presenting "REVA."
This is an amazing, unforgettable two and a half minutes of television, unfortunate only for its scarcity in the Zimmer ouvre.
Go There
4/18 and 4/19/07: My disappointment with the underuse and misuse of Maeve Kinkead since her return to the role of Vanessa could fill up several blog entries. For some reason, GL decided to give us a good taste of what we were (and still are) missing when they devoted an uncharacteristic amount of screentime to the break-up of Vanessa and Matt's marriage. Kinkead roars back like a lioness, both as an actor and as Vanessa, diving fearlessly and headlong into the emotionally rich opportunity presented by the material, all the while maintaining her trademark steel spine.
People You Love
5/10/07: The coupling of Buzz and Olivia was almost always an excruciating chore to watch, but their break-up was searing to the bone. Crystal Chappell and Justin Deas gave pitch-perfect, psychologically brutal performances that left the viewer (like the characters) exhausted and (unlike the characters) satisfied.
Off the Rails-- clip 1 , clip 2
5/11/07-- A veritable masterstroke of episodic construction, this show was, without question, the best whole hour of television from the second quarter. Strung together by the sights and sounds of an approaching storm, the episode flashes into the reality(ies) of each character grouping, the lightning seeming to momentarily illuminate the dark corners they'd prefer were hidden. From Beth and Lizzie's eerie conversations about preparations for Beth's baby, to Josh's (mostly) unsuccessful attempts to inspire jaded Remy, to Ava's futile efforts to reconcile Buzz and Olivia, the episode moves along like a storm cloud in a blackened sky, eventually pouring forth a genuinely disturbing encounter between lost, bitter Cassie and frightened, defensive Beth.
The jewel in the crown of this episode though is the anguished scenes bewteen Crystal Chappell and Bradley Cole as Olivia rails at Jeffrey over the damage she still feels from his long-ago sexual misconduct. Chappell is bloody and visceral as she spits her fury and desperation at Jeffrey. I could go on trying to describe the astoundingly real performance of Crystal Chappell, but austex, one of the posters on the GLMP message board, really boiled it down best when she said, "You feel she is Olivia and that this happened to her." And that's exactly what Chappell did for the audience. She made Olivia's pain blaze into life.
Thunder and Lightning-- clip 1 , clip 2 , clip 3 , clip 4 , clip 5
5/22/07: The casting of Brian Gaskill as Dylan is not something that I support. Aside from being a poor visual match for Beth Ehlers, the show has hobbled any connection between this Dylan and the Dylan we all remember by keeping him largely isolated from the his parents and other family. Having said that, Gaskill has made some impressive strides toward making the role his own, most notably this gorgeous scene from May 22 with Ehlers and the always watchable Bonnie Dennison. Ehlers' non-verbal work in these scenes is especially impressive.
Taking Back
5/23/07-- There aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe how completely blown away I am with the work of Jessica Leccia as Natalia. There has not been even one false note in anything she's done, so wholly natural, believable, sympathetic, and always, always, always interesting. Her stunning physical beauty and the uncompromising honesty of her acting made Natalia instantly and completely real and utterly captivating from her very first scenes, only increasing in substance as time has gone on. Never was Leccia's jaw-droppingly powerful, effortlessly subtle command of her character on better display than in the scenes featuring Natalia asking Gus whether he could ever leave Harley. Not since Peter Simon and Jerry verDorn graced the stages of GUIDING LIGHT have I seen this level of naturalism. I really cannot say enough good things about this amazing performer, so I will simply let her work speak for me.
5/25/07: The incredibly unfortunate, poorly conceived Cassie/Josh/Reva triangle has resulted in a few truly good moments-- not enough to save the story, mind you, but enough to justify my "no fast forwarding" policy. One such moment went beyond "good" all the way to "great" and it came courtesy of Nicole Forester in the scenes where Cassie confronted Josh about sleeping with Reva. This has been a really productive year for Forester, generating so much fantastic work. These scenes rank near the top of her impressive body of work in '07.
The Three of Us
5/31/07: I've spoken before about the immensely satisfying leap in quality Yvonna Wright's work took in 2006. It really is a shame that the powers-that-be at GL haven't seemed to take adequate notice of it because Wright has made Mel into more viable a commodity than she's ever been. These scenes from May 31 spotlight Wright's truly vital energy, charisma, and depth. I only wish that the immensely entertaining storyline that seemed to be forthcoming had materialized beyond this episode. Alas, it did not, which is a shame because this Mel/Jeffrey/Olivia tango was one of the best events of the three month period.
The Perfectionist
6/8/07: This brief scene from June 8 is one of the funniest things I've seen on GL all year. Ron Raines, Michael O'Leary, and Yvonna Wright are pure gold as Alan badgers Rick and Mel from across the room at Company. I can't see this scene often enough and I laugh out loud all the way through every time.
The Heckler
6/20 and 6/21/07: The story of Mallet and Dinah dealing with the reappearance of Mallet's former employer, Griggs (played by the gallingly misused Darnell Williams), was mostly a confusing mess. The good news is that the climax played out brilliantly as Dinah faced off alone with Griggs and ended up taking a bullet meant for Mallet. I took a little poll at the GLMP message board to see who people felt gave the best performance from the second quarter of '07 and the majority voted for Gina Tognoni for her work on 6/21. I happen to agree with this. The scene before the shooting is quite effective, but what really strikes me is the physical work that Tognoni does as Dinah lays bleeding from her head and reacting to her circumstances. I thought I had pretty much seen all the acting cards in Tognoni's mightily impressive deck, but the hand she played that day was a new one for me.
Blood Red-- clip 1 , clip 2
6/22/07: The scene featuring grieving mothers Cassie and Lizzie exchanging complicated emotions on Main Street was shocking for a few different reasons. The excellent dialogue exposed the raw emotion that people in the characters' positions would be carrying around and both actors ran with it. Forrester has proven time and again that that she is an acting force to be reckoned with, but Rylan hadn't really knocked anything out of the park at quite this level before. Rylan is amazing in this scene and this is a very encouraging sign of things to come.
The final presentation in this quarterly report is three "mvids" spotlighting the three storylines that worked the best during the period.
The first is for the amazingly well-constructed, consistently good Gus/Harley/Natalia scenario.
I'll Be There

The second features the complicted tortured connection between Olivia and Jeffrey.

The final mvid spotlights the action as Daisy and Ashlee are incarcerated at "Juvie." It features both girls, plus Coop, Rafe, and Megan (played by the delightful Allison Fischer).


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