TV Review

Looking Good at 11,000: ‘The Young and the Restless’ Marks a Milestone

The Daily Beast

September 2, 2016

We still don’t actually know for absolute sure if Chloe Mitchell’s daughter, Delia, really was killed by Adam Newman.

This was a stray thought, as I watched the 11,000th episode of The Young and the Restless, to see Chloe first shoot Adam with (I guess) a drugged dart, and then (I guess) rig the shack he had escaped his jail cell for (he wasn’t in jail because a court had deemed he had killed Delia, by the way) with explosives. Maybe it was Victor. It’s always Victor.

The 11,000th episode ended, as all good birthday episodes of soap operas should end, with a fiery explosion that blew the shack to smithereens and a cliffhanger: is Adam dead? Is his beloved wife Chelsea, last seen approaching the front door of the shack to finally escape with him to freedom, dead?

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Y&R in particular, and with soaps in general, know the serpentine plots can stretch across years, unresolved, and loaded with more complication than a finely baked potato can hold layers of cheese, bacon, and sour cream.

The Adam Newman that may or may not have killed Delia was played by a different actor to Justin Hartley, who inherited the role and a different name—Gabriel Bingham. Except he wasn’t Gabriel Bingham. He was Adam, post-a lot of surgery after a car crash in which the other passenger was Billy, Delia’s father, who is now also played by a different actor.

Patience, a willed suspension of plausibility: that is a key personality trait of soap fans. We occupy another universe where people regularly come back from the dead, where ghosts are as common as waiters, and where you may well have a shady drug-lord doppelganger waiting in the wings to take over your life (while you have been kidnapped by an insane stalker, and drugged to delirium on a mysterious desert island).

Genoa City’s Police Department, as presided over by Paul Williams (Doug Davidson) shows itself consistently incapable in dealing with any kind of law-breaking.

Y&R, one of only four daytime soaps left on network television, has been proudly celebrating its 11,000th episode, broadcast today, these past few weeks. Episodes have featured stills of cast members in their finest evening duds, and holding golden balloons.

For Y&R, created in 1973 by William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell, this is an impressive achievement.

Soap opera is expensive, chat and harshly lit courtrooms are cheaper, and the soap audience—fiercely devoted as is it is—has shrunken from its seventies and eighties heyday. If you’re making a daytime soap opera in 2016, you are defying balance sheets and shifting demographics and doing so with love, not a little bravery, and a steadfast belief in the art of a very specific, and much parodied form of storytelling.

Having visited The Young and The Restless set, I can attest to the passion and commitment it takes to get five days-worth of episodes a week produced. The show recently took on a new executive producer, Mal Young (a British veteran of soaps like EastEnders, Brookside, and Casualty, all beloved by this Brit), who has already introduced more sets, actual outdoors scenes (daytime can feel airless, with its plainly indoor-created outdoors), humor, and—thank goodness—Katherine Chancellor’s mansion now back to its cream and gold splendor. (Sadly, there’s no ‘Mrs. C’ in residence any more, due to death of actress Jeanne Cooper in 2013.)

Young, and myself, come from a very different tradition of soap—with grit, social issues, a more freewheeling episode structure—and it will be fascinating to see if he applies any British soap tartness to the stately plush of The Young and The Restless. He certainly knows soap, and the dedication of an audience to soap, and how to command that dedication.

Fans have thus far welcomed his fledgling changes. Y&R is the king of this sadly dwindling pack: it’s been the number one daytime soap since 1988, and why was pretty visible in its birthday episode on Thursday.

Neil Winters (Kristoff St. John), for example, has had a bizarre few years topped by kidnapping his son’s wife Hillary (Mishael Morgan) while they were on honeymoon and then sequestering her in a secret shack (there are lots of secret shacks in daytime soap), while administering drugs to keep her alive. All this, while his son was suspected of killing her. Then she went crazy and back to her mean old self when she got her memory back.

Today saw Neil reunite with his long-lost mother Lucinda (Nichelle Nichols, ex-Uhura from Star Trek), and their moving scenes—he wondering where she had been all these years; she revealing she had been an alcoholic, just like him—were touchingly realized.

This being the 11,000th episode, it had to feature ‘the moustache’ Victor Newman (Eric Braeden), who erupts his way unpredictably through scenes, and—while compelling to watch—is a problematic OG.

For one, and as a viewer this remains extremely uncomfortable, in substituting his nemesis Jack (Peter Bergman) for an imposter, he oversaw the ongoing rape of Jack’s wife Phyllis over a period of months, who thought the imposter was her husband.

Phyllis’ fury about this was well-sketched, but a true interrogation of what she endured and the severity of it, was skirted. Victor and Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) are portrayed as the show’s central couple—they’re the show’s Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with the mother lode of drama, addictions, and break-ups—but he, by any measure, is a relentlessly abusive partner. It would be good to see her rebel against that. She has bursts of independence, offset by an ultimate submission to him. Right now, Nikki’s addiction to Victor feels more bizarre than star-crossed.
Jack begged her to maintain her integrity in today’s landmark episode, and the audience said the same—although Scott prefers Nikki as off-the-wagon-alcoholic, rather than sober.

Victor, whose manipulations of his children are also far from loveable (it’s hard to find much that is loveable about him) led him to frame his son for murder, then relent about that and try to get him released from jail too. So, as with most disasters in Y&R, the explosion at the cabin is Victor’s fault.

Everything usually is. He apologizes for nothing. He is a patriarch made of granite.

But he does know that Chloe is mad with grief. Elizabeth Hendrickson, who plays Chloe, is one of the best performers on the show: the scene in which she learned of Delia’s death was an unusually raw scene for Y&R. She has pretended to have forgiven Adam. “The worse part was saying ‘I forgive you,’ because I will never forgive you,” she said today as she prepared to finally kill him.

Sharon, who until recently was hallucinating seeing Sage—the real and dead mother of baby Sully whom Sharon is raising as her own—also knows how dangerous Victor is, and recommended that everyone avoid him. But trying to avoid Victor is as unlikely in Genoa City as trying to avoid finding out you were the victim of a psychotic fake doctor out to ruin your ex-husband’s life, as Sharon herself discovered recently, when she was drugged by one such doctor while incarcerated in a mental institution, and convinced she had given birth to a baby when she wasn’t actually pregnant.

Yes, all this goes on, every day in Genoa City, and yet all of those enduring the outrageous slings and arrows of fate have perfect hair and sculpted abs.

Are daytime soaps a little ridiculous? Maybe. But their influence is visible in the storytelling of primetime, and –ironically– in the structures of the many, cheaper reality shows that superceded them. Soaps’ very presence and persistence are a tribute to popular storytelling. They are fictional islands in a daytime schedule otherwise filled with squawking voices repeating one another on the latest Kardashian calumny.

Indeed, the sweetest thing the 11,000th episode of Y&R did was to feature a scene that was a testament to just that.

Paul and his wife, the public prosecutor Christine (Lauralee Bell, daughter of the show’s creators)—who is just as unsuccessful as her husband in securing justice in Genoa City—were having dinner. The check, they were informed, was being paid for by a woman who said they reminded her of her and her husband.

The camera panned to Lee Phillip Bell, giving us all a beaming toast. Right backatcha, Mrs. Bell.