Disappointing Recasts: Writing or an Acting Issue?
Earlier this week, I ran into a minor issue on social media after being accused bad mouthing an actor due to my harsh criticism of the character he portrays. While I never pull punches when it comes to critiquing writing or general show feedback, I’ve always walked a fine line when criticizing an actor’s performance. Criticism is subjective – what one considers top notch, another may find less than appealing. Given the rather incestuous nature between the soap press and the shows we cover, I’ve always thought it better to err on the side of caution than run the risk of creating an issue with show publicity or the actor personally. I’m very vocal and I’m not known for reigning it in, but I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years, and I know firsthand how easily a non-personal critique can lead to a phone call from an angry publicist (who no longer works in daytime). You live and learn from past experiences.
2014 has been a big year for soap recasts. In a year that saw the departures of Emmy winning fan favorites, casting wars and soap hops, there have been some great recasts, such as Gina Tognoni as Y&R’s Phyllis, Billy Flynn as DAYS’ Chad DiMera, Thorsten Kaye as B&B’s Ridge Forrester and Billy Miller as GH’s Jason Morgan. Then there are those who have left a lot to be desired. Recasts step into an untenable situation that forces the new actor to either sink or swim. For every actor that swims, there are those who sink.
I’m of the belief that when new actors come into a role, the writing team should find ways to tailor the character to the new actor’s strengths. That doesn’t mean advocating for a complete change in character, but if you see they do particular well with a specific type of material, find ways to tap into that. Sometimes there’s a failure to adapt, but the onerous is still on the actor to sell the material.
As we enter the 11th month of Guy Wilson’s tenure as Days of our Lives’ Will Horton, I’m still having difficulty connecting to his portrayal. Taking over the role of a popular character from an even more popular actor is always an uphill battle, more so when there’s complex circumstances surrounding the exit. For months, I’ve watched Wilson do his best to fill the enormous shoes of his predecessor, and while he’s done a solid job trying to make the role his own, the writing for Will hasn’t done him any favors.
Will’s characterization is inconsistent at best, erratic at worst. The lack of connection in Wilson’s portrayal has led to me no longer liking the character. How is it that the son of Sami Brady and Lucas Horton is such a damn bore? There’s no spark, no fire. There’s little to no chemistry between Wilson and Freddie Smith, yet the shadow of WilSon’s (Will and Sonny) legacy looms over version 2.0. The show might have been better off bringing in Wilson as a brand new character, at least then there’d be nothing to compare his character to. Though Wilson’s portrayal leaves a lot to be desired, I fault the show’s executives for not doing something, anything, to shake up the role that’s become overly stale.
With Sami off the canvas, the show could use her exit to inject some of her qualities into Will. Will’s already shown that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, so why not further that. Why not have Will go above and beyond for a story, maybe sleeping with a source or a subject to get the real scoop. There is potential for the character. The show has to be willing to attempt new things.
Disappointing Recasts: Y&R Edition, Part I, Kelly Andrews (It’s the Writing)
The Young and the Restless has similar issues with the Kelly Andrews character. I had such high hopes for the role once Cady McClain assumed it, but rather than continuing with the drunken hot mess that was Cynthia Watros’ portrayal, the team remade Kelly in the image of Saint Dixie Cooney Martin, McClain’s previous role from All My Children. Who is Kelly Andrews? Is she the drunken slut who seduced Billy Abbott while he grieved the loss of his daughter? The woman who, while sorry for her indiscretion, refused to be bullied by those who shunned her? Or is she milquetoast Mary Sue, devoid of any personality and lacking passion? I’m not buying this incarnation of Kelly, and I’m saddened because Cady McClain is capable of doing so much more. Her run Rosanna Cabot on As the World Turns proves that. On the plus side, there was some positive moments this week as Kelly went off to Jack about Phyllis’ selfish nature. It was one of the few moments in recent months where Kelly found the spot where her backbone used to be.
Kelly is facing the biggest hurdle yet in her relationship with Jack — hurricane Phyllis. Sometimes a rivalry is just what’s needed to fix lacking issues in a character.
Burgess Jenkins isn’t a very good Billy Abbott. He’s not a bad one either. He’s just…there. I’d rather you be bad than middle of the road. At least then I could muster up some sort of emotion. With this third Billy Abbott in a year, there’s no emotional attachment. There’s no depth. It’s like indulging in a low calorie drink –it’s acceptable in the moment, but you’d much rather sip on something more satisfying and fulfilling.
It’s not that he’s not Billy Miller, it’s not that he’s not David Tom – he’s just not a good Billy Abbott. The show would have been better off casting Jenkins as a new character, because at least then (as in the case with DAYS), there’d be nothing to compare his performances to. While I enjoy Billy with Chelsea, the disconnect to a character I should feel the most for is disconcerting. This is an issue all recasts encounter, but it’s imperative the writers craft situations to try an elicit that connection with the fans, especially if it isn’t happening organically.
The emotional manipulation that happened during the anniversary of Delia’s death fell flat. Though Jenkins did a fine job with the material, the scenes felt hallow. I wanted to feel for Billy, but the actor didn’t pull that emotion out of me. That is a problem that needs to be solved immediately. I don’t presume to speak for anyone but myself, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
Freeing Billy from the shackles of the ‘Villy’ pairing was the smart thing to do (are you paying attention DAYS?), given their enormous popularity. In keeping Victoria and Billy apart, this allowed time for Jenkins and Amelia Heinle to find their chemistry (which to develop), while freeing up Billy to explore an ill-advised relationship with Chelsea.
I’m perfectly aware that not everything will be a home run, but making a permanent stop on second base isn’t acceptable either. I’m hoping the inevitable showdown between Adam and Billy elicits a strong reaction from fans.