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When A Storyline Goes Bad

When A Storyline Goes Bad

They can’t all be winners but sometimes a storyline goes beyond just boring or questionable and walks right into the neighborhood of bad.  Unfortunately, ATWT earned that dubious distinction when it introduced its fans to the Mick/James storyline debacle.

 

They can’t all be winners but sometimes a storyline goes beyond just boring or questionable and walks right into the neighborhood of bad.  Unfortunately, ATWT earned that dubious distinction when it introduced its fans to the Mick/James storyline debacle.

Co-Head writer David Kreizman (who is no longer the head writer, having jumped a sinking ship to join another troubled soap, AMC) has a long working relationship with Mick’s portrayer Tom Pelphrey, whom he once wrote for at Guiding Light. So when Pelphrey joined the cast as Mick Dante, it was no surprise he would be handed a front-burner storyline.  What was surprising, however, was how bizarre the storyline he was given would turn out to be.

We first met apparent medical researcher Mick Dante rather inexplicably in the basement of Oakdale’s Memorial Hospital. There he encountered Alison Stewart (Marnie Schulenburg) who found his tale of discovering a miracle serum fascinating and promising. Intrigued, she introduced him to her sister Emily Stewart Ryan and her rich husband, Paul Ryan (Kelley Menighan Hensley and Roger Howarth).  At the first meeting, Mick told the couple of his discovery of a magical serum, a potion that not only reversed the aging process, but also promised pregnancy to infertile women. As preposterous as it sounded, the claim proved irresistible to both Emily, who desperately wanted a baby, and to Paul’s mother Barbara Ryan (Colleen Zenk Pinter), who desperately wanted to look and feel younger.  As a result, both women fell under Mick’s spell and agreed to be injected with his untested serum.

It was maddening to watch both Barbara and Emily willingly allow an unproven, unknown substance to be injected directly into their bodies by a complete stranger, who was found in the basement of the hospital, basically begging for research money. And this dumbing down of not one, but two, usually smart women characters was just the first of many grievances I had with this storyline. In fact, the smartest person in all of this turned out to be Paul. His ongoing skepticism and suspicion of Mick Dante turned out to be one of the few plausible and enjoyable aspects of the whole storyline. I’ve always liked Roger Howarth’s version of Paul, and it was nice to see him given some really juicily sarcastic and biting dialogue to work with. In addition, with each new disaster that Mick created (like causing Emily to go into a coma, and shooting Paul) Emily and Paul actually grew closer as a couple and, as a fan of the two, that was an unexpected benefit. I would have guessed their marriage would crumble after Mick got through playing with them, but at least to this point, they’re tighter than ever. Unfortunately, there was still more wrong with this story than right.

Alison Stewart’s involvement with Mick was another big irritant. The character of Alison has never been my favorite, but in this storyline, she really hit a new low for me. As her wedding day to Casey Hughes (Billy Magnusson) grew closer, Alison’s fascination with Mick grew bigger and culminated in her sleeping with him days before the wedding ceremony. First, the almost two-day lead-up to the lovemaking scene was downright creepy, (although maybe that was the point), with Mick performing wacky rituals like unexplainably dripping hot candle wax on his hand and rubbing Alison’s scarf all over his face.  It felt so weird, in fact that I squirmed through the whole thing. And afterwards, I found myself fast-forwarding through any subsequent Mick/Alison scenes. Avoiding future episodes with this pair probably wasn’t the desired reaction the writers had hoped for. Secondly, haven’t we been here with Alison before?  Not that long ago, she also slept with Chris Hughes the day before her wedding to Aaron Snyder.  So not only was it a really peculiar component of this storyline, it was also an unoriginal rip-off of a previous Alison storyline. But by far, my biggest trouble with this whole storyline came with the whole Mick-is-really James-Stenbeck-on-youth-serum malarkey. I assume co-head writers David Kreizman and Jean Passanante thought it a clever plot twist, but I found it tiresome and uninspired. And, well, really stupid.

Now Tom Pelphrey is a gifted actor and he possesses tons of on-screen charisma. But to most ATWT fans, there is only one actor who could play James Stenbeck and that is, of course, Anthony Herrera. His portrayal of James Stenbeck is legendary to ATWT fans and it seemed almost sacrilegious to have another actor try to take his place. Even if it was to be a younger version of Stenbeck, I don’t think it was a plot device that would work with a lot of viewers. I do however give Tom Pelphrey credit for doing the very best he could with an insipid story, and I really wish the writers had come up with something more deserving of his talent.  Even as it began to look like Mick wasn’t really James, but rather had been brainwashed by Stenbeck into believing he was, the storyline was still a pale imitation of the original James Stenbeck shenanigans.

In addition, Barbara Ryan’s quick acceptance of and compliance with Mick’s James was a huge shock to me. Barbara has loathed and feared her ex-husband for years. And with very good reason, as he was a true villain, evil through and through. And this is the woman who, after the last time James “died”, jabbed a pin in his body to make sure he was really and truly dead. And so why she would fall into such quick step with this version of James seemed very out of place to me.  It was a continuity issue that rang false and became a  sore point for me as a long-time fan.

The only saving grace was the opportunity to see a lot of Barbara Ryan screen time. At last, a veteran cast member with a meaty storyline!  That’s one thing ATWT needs to do more of, as they have an incredibly talented roster of long-time cast members who languish in the background a lot of the time.  Barbara Ryan is a fascinating character with a great history and it’s long past due for her to be at the forefront again.

Finally, but not incidentally, there was a certain “ick” factor to this storyline. The nosebleeds Mick/James suffered as each “personality” battled for dominance was, in a word, gross. And so any episode without a nosebleed, and therefore without Mick, became a relief to me.  And not surprisingly, I heartily resented all the months spent on a storyline I could barely stand to watch.

If this show does go off the air in September, I really want to see ATWT get back to its core characters and back to telling their stories. All the relationships they have with each other, and their already- established histories should firmly take center stage and stay there.  Mick Dante was a “short story arc” character (of which there have been several in recent months) that wasted valuable time.  And that’s time the show may not have.


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