Thursday, July 22, 2010

ALL MY CHILDREN: The Kids Are Alright

ALL MY CHILDREN fans deserve some chicken soup.  Over the last few years they have been subject to watching a series of new hirings, dropped stories, inconsistent film quality, and to put it diplomatically, shaky storytelling.  For that alone AMC viewers deserve some sort of reward. 

Fortunately, it seems that reward is coming, albeit slowly.  In recent months, there has been a refreshing change in spirit in this venerable soap.  Those who tuned out during the era of silly stalkers, terrible tornadoes, poisoned pancakes, stripper poles, and nonsensical shootings will want to revisit Pine Valley.  Here are the top five reasons to give ALL MY CHILDREN another chance:

5. The dialogue is sharp again.  Every episode is now packed with humor, wit, and even life-affirming messages.  When Annie says to J.R., “The sooner I am not your drug of choice the better,” I know this has been written by someone who has done their homework around complicated addiction issues.  When I watch Erica question her life choices following the plane crash, or Angie defiantly defending her faith to David as she quietly ponders why God has abandoned her, then I know the show is on the right track.  When the characters sound smart, the story is more compelling.

4. Newer characters are interesting as they are given dimensions.  One of the main problems with AMC in recent years is the slew of new people who have come in and out while making little impact.  Recently the show has slowed down the hiring effort and focused on improving the stories they already have.   Consequently, Marisa is now struggling with insecurities about her looks and her marriage while preparing for the BAR exam.  Typically soft-spoken Scott is having to step up in his leadership role at Chandler.  Damon is allowed to be more sensitive versus cliched-soap-rebel-without-a-cause, and even Madison is reflecting upon her mistakes as she goes forward in her relationship with Ryan.  Giving new characters more dimensions makes viewers want to turn in more consistently.

3. Complex family dynamics have returned.  The sad loss of Adam was a blow for Pine Valley and the Chandler family, but has also changed the family power dynamics in fascinating ways.  Both J.R. and Scott are trying to work together, but competition, jealously, and resentment are slowly boiling (especially with Annie in the middle).  There are more scenes now with Erica and Bianca, Jack and Greenlee, Opal and Tad.  These slower family scenes are the fundamental threads that make up the tapestry of daytime. 

2. Vets are being featured everyday.  Sure, ALL MY CHILDREN has endured several losses this year.  With James Mitchell’s death, and the retirement of Ray MacDonnell and David Canary, the show’s historical structure has taken several hits.  Fortunately, the writers have punched up the scenes for the show’s multiple able and willing vets.  Tune in on any day and you are bound to see Erica, Jack, Opal, Angie (see below), Jesse, or Tad being featured in a front burner story.  Krystal, David, and J.R. have also evolved into important figures in Pine Valley over the years, and they are being seen as well.  Featuring vets = viewer loyalty. 

1. Angie is back!  Okay, technically she returned two years ago.  But Debbi’s Morgan has rarely been given an opportunity to demonstrate her fierce and fearless embodiment of Dr. Angela Hubbard, until now.  By giving Angie a mysterious illness, the writers have devised a way to not only put Debbi Morgan at the focal point of a story, but also to demonstrate the complex emotional layers that the Emmy winning actress is capable of.  On the July 16th episode alone she brilliantly toggled between demonstrating Angie’s terror, hope, resilience, determination, defiance and, ultimately, faith.  This is the style of soap storytelling and acting that compels me to watch everyday. 

ALL MY CHILDREN may be on the  right track, but it could still use improvement in some areas.  Here are my suggestions of how to make the kids better than “alright.”

3. Many characters still need focus and direction.  Exactly what is Greenlee’s purpose? Does she even care about her own happiness anymore or is she content to wallow in her own depression?  What are Krystal’s goals at this point? When is Brot going to step up and become a force of his own? When ALL MY CHILDREN was at its best, even supporting characters like Myra and Langley had a reason to be there.

2. Slow it down.  The show is stronger now in its writing, directing, and acting.  But the pacing is still wildly uneven.  Characters come in and out of scenes in less than 90 seconds, people go to three or four different places during one episode.  What’s the rush? It seems as if the writers think we won’t sit through a two person scene that lasts longer than two minutes.  Unfortunately, as we have learned from the loss of AS THE WORLD TURNS, excellerated storytelling on daytime serves to alienate, not captivate, its audience, 

1. Bring back more veterans.  There is no logical reason for Julia Barr’s Brooke to not be on the canvas right now.  She is always a worthy opponent of Erica Kane and could be an ally to Angie as well.  Keith Hamilton Cobb has long been M.I.A. as Noah.  His rebellious and unpredictable style could certainly play against Brot’s contained and control demeanor quite well.  Plus, isn’t it time for Opal to have a love interest again?

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York.   He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve"


  1. I couldn't imagine saying this at this time last year but AMC is now a lot more enjoyable than OLTL.

  2. Debbi Morgan has been phenomenal of late, especially last Friday's episode, which is surely on the Emmy reel shortlist. My only quibble is the editing. There were scenes on Friday Morgan could have played longer and made more powerful but the editors chop up the scenes so much they sometimes lose some of the emotional impact. I totally get keeping things moving, but you don't see LOST or TRUE BLOOD or any primetime shows chop up their "moments". They let those play out.

    Would love to see a few more character actors on the show. I have to agree with the comment above too that AMC is now more entertaining for me than OLTL most of the time.