Y&R: Then and Now – Thoughts of a Returning Viewer


Y&R’s exhibition of sophisticated storytelling through its distinct rhythm keeps this returning viewer along for the ride — just as it did twenty years ago.

Y&R remains the crème de la crème of soaps.

A long time ago, I used to watch The Young and the Restless. When I was a devoted viewer, Christine Blair was actually a very young model named Cricket; Paul Williams loved Lauren Fenmore, Nina Webster was a pregnant, conniving teen and Traci Abbott loved Danny Romalotti. In subsequent years, I stopped regularly watching. It wasn’t anything specific that caused me to stop, but rather the ongoings of life and time constraints. On occasion I would tune back in, but not enough to warrant calling myself a regular viewer. In a vague sense, I had an idea of who some of the newer characters were, remaining familiar with long-time characters such as Victor and Nikki Newman as they aged, yet eerily remained the same.

When I learned Maura West and Paul Leyden (both alumni of As the World Turns and massively huge favorites of mine) were going to join The Young and the Restless, my curiosity was piqued and I again became a regular viewer of a show I used to call my own. And while it’s comforting to still recognize so  many of the  same players from back in the day, it’s also a little scary (and fun) to watch and learn a whole new canvas of actors and characters inhabiting today’s Genoa City.

In some ways, I wish I already knew all the next generation’s back stories and fully understood all the convoluted marriages, divorces, affairs and offspring that occurred in my absence.  Without that knowledge already in my memory banks, I’m struggling to connect all the Genoa City dots. But on the other hand, it’s been fascinating to slowly unravel the tangled relationships and betrayals that make up this consistently top-rated soap. One thing is, thankfully, the same — the writing.

The writing on The Young and the Restless consistently remains excellent and I have nothing but respect for the finely drawn characterizations of most every major character. Even the villains have a clear point of view and motivation that, at the very least, make their machinations understandable. For example, Adam Newman is one of the most dastardly characters on daytime TV today and yet, he still invokes certain empathy in the viewer.  For that achievement, equal credit belongs not only to Adam’s very talented portrayer Michael Muhney but also to the skilled writing team for bringing to life this very complex and layered character.

Other new (to me) characters that I’m already hooked on include Billy Abbott (Billy J. Miller). Could this guy be any more charismatic? It oozes from every pore and I’m glued to each scene he’s in. If that weren’t enough, his pairing with Billy’s one-time enemy Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle) has super couple written all over it.  Nothing, for me, creates more of a hook than a potential super couple paring.

I’m also thoroughly and shamelessly enjoying Ronan Malloy (Jeff Branson) and I hope he stays on longer-term.  His voice alone is the sexiest thing I’ve heard in a very long time and I almost don’t care who the writing team may pair Ronan with next.  Just let us continue hearing that awesome voice. It’s not just the men of Y&R that I’m already invested in. Phyllis Newman (Michelle Stafford) is purely mesmerizing.

The obvious joy Stafford has for this character is palpable and I share her enthusiasm. She attacks each scene, each line, each plot point and does it with skill and relish. I may be biased, but the scenes between Phyllis and the diabolical Diane Jenkins (Maura West) are already scenery-chewing must-see events and I can’t wait to see the battle royale that’s brewing between these two very talented actresses.  Maura West has long been a favorite of mine and it’s, so far, been a true pleasure watching her wade into the Genoa City waters.

Equally striking to me is how very many veteran cast members still remain. From Ashley Abbott to Katherine Chancellor to Jill Abbott to Nikki Newman, it’s nothing short of remarkable that so many of the same  veteran actors are still portraying these characters. Even more amazing to a former ATWT viewer is that middle-aged, or older, characters still dominate the canvas and are given starring roles. That’s become a rare sight these days.  Unfortunately, it was even rarer on ATWT, so Bravo, to The Young and the Restless. And just as thankfully, the family remains as strong a focus as always.

I firmly believe that binding sense of family has always been one of Y&R‘s biggest assets. And while the “core” families may have indeed changed since the show’s very beginning; for the last 20 or so years it has indeed been the Abbotts vs. the Newmans.  And it’s a thrill to see that while both families have grown and evolved, they are still, at the core, the same. Moreover, watching Jack Abbott and Victor Newman  still going at each other has been a singular pleasure. Some things just shouldn’t change and their classic rivalry is one of those cases. As an aside, Peter Bergman is better than ever as Jack Abbot and he’s utterly ageless, as well. The man has never looked better! And it’s oddly comforting to know that Victor Newman (Eric Braeden) speaks as slowly and methodically as he ever did.

I can’t write a column about Y&R without also talking about a distinctly Y&R trademark: the lighting.  For as long as I can remember, this show has employed darker than usual lighting, which effectively casts Y&R in its own, well, light.  It is unique to its own moody self and I for one am glad it hasn’t changed. It’s so “Young and the Restless”.

All this praise doesn’t mean I’m blind to any negatives and a few obvious ones are starting to become apparent. But as a relative “newbie,” returning after a long viewing hiatus from Y&R, I’m going to withhold my criticisms for another column.

Anyone attempting to watch a new soap, or come back to one after a long absence, understands the frustrations in “catching up”.  Not only must we learn new characters, new subplots and new histories, but each soap has its own distinct rhythm and it can be a challenge to learn the new beat. Just as it did 20 years ago, Y&R continues to exhibit a sophisticated storytelling that keeps me along for the ride.

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