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Y&R’s Sally Sussman: Soap Savior or Problematic Protégé?

Photo Credit: Edward McGowan/PlainJoe Studios

One of the only things in life that is guaranteed is change. Whether it’s for the better or the worst, change is always existing. Some embrace it better than others; some fear it more than most. Sometimes change is needed to progress forward and other times it’s like fixing a working clock. So, after a little more than a month of new/returning head scribe Sally Sussman’s return to the writing room at The Young and the Restless, what’s the verdict on what has aired to date? Has she righted the path of the ship or has she merely patched the hole left by Iceberg Pratt? I’ve realized that finding the answer to that question isn’t as easy as I thought.

Driving Force

It didn’t take long to see exactly what the difference Y&R would be under former head writer/executive producer Chuck Pratt versus Sally Sussman. Her very first episode featured a classic Abbott family gathering. The audience quickly noticed that the characters that had long just been used to push plot were now engaging with each other with meaningful dialogue. Those scenes seemed to spark across the canvas and slowly but surely multiple characters who have rarely had any point of view or defined motivation were all the sudden expressing it for the audience to hear. In place of plane crashes and explosions there were actual family interactions and conversations that reminded us of who these characters once were and why we loved them.

After years of lack of focus on anyone not named Newman or Abbott, I was also thrilled to see the return of characters like Michael and Lauren to the forefront. Especially in a sensible business storyline that feels ripped from the headlines. Aided by the return of meddling mother-in-law Gloria, Fenmore’s is easily one of my favorite current storylines. Add to that the newfound money in the budget for the black characters and I was over the moon.

I may make light of it now, but I was none too thrilled about the show sidelining Hilary, Devon and the rest of the Winters crew, with their absence being blamed on budgeting and Mishael Morgan’s pregnancy in 2015. It was nothing more than a cop out. Chuck Pratt had zero use for these characters and said as much. And when he did find a care to give, the storylines were, for a lack of better words, trash. Offensive, ridiculous, low rent trash. While I am still on the fence about my feelings towards the GC Buzz, it put Hilary and Devon in a story that led to them interacting with characters they hadn’t before and seemed to bring them closer together as a couple while giving them a threat that differed from the one they’d been saddled with for three years.

There are days now where I am watching the show and blown away but how simple yet impactful some of the scenes can be. From Lauren coming clean to Michael about her troubles with Fenmore’s, to Jack presenting a donation check to a charity that is benefited by the Abbott Winters Foundation, to Hilary having a complete break down at Devon’s bedside after his New Year’s Eve car crash. The show just FEELS different.

It feels more real. More authentic. More genuine. And that is no easy task in the world of daytime. A genre that has fallen into a place where the powers that be believe that if they don’t manufacture some huge primetime stunt every two months, audiences will tune out. They forget exactly how smart the daytime audience is. Tell us a well crafted character-driven storyline with high stakes and emotional ramifications and we will tune in by the millions. Sally seems to remember that even if she remembers little else.

Selective Amnesia

Was I happy with what Maria Arena Bell wrote? Not always. Was I less than thrilled with Josh Griffith, Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante’s reign? Pretty much. Did Chuck Pratt’s tenure make me cringe and tune out for a time? Definitely. However, every single thing that was written under all of these regimes did in fact happen. It wasn’t some sort of psychedelic dream or alternate universe. There was no Flashpoint. Characters who were beloved 20 years ago were turned into villains with the stroke of a pen. Characters who may have little interactions prior became lovers overnight. Friendships that were strong then don’t exist now. The Newman, Abbotts, Winters, and Baldwins are not who they were the last time Sally had a parking spot at Television City. If she is aware of that fact, she has not translated that to screen. For every character building scene I revel at, there is another scene in the same episode that does not fit the not so distant history. In fact, it completely ignores it altogether.

Photo Credit: © Howard Wise/jpistudios.com

For example, the affair between Phyllis and Billy Abbott. I personally didn’t have a vested interest in this couple other than the fact that Gina Tognoni and Jason Thompson’s chemistry is off the charts and the best either has had since they joined the show.

Their being together or not doesn’t move me one way or another. But the affair did happen. The chemistry was, and is still there. Every episode written by Sally has gone above and beyond to try and erase that from our memory. It was clear from Sally’s interview with TV Guide that she wanted to move on from that couple and put them back with who she thinks they belong with, but to do so with little to no closure not only does a disservice to the story line, it also causes resentment from fans.

While we’re on the topic of erasure, Victor Newman and Neil Winters of today are vile, cruel, self-centered, mustache twirling egomaniacs who have facilitated and committed more crimes in two years than in their entire history on the show. But according to what’s airing now, none of that ever happened. Or at least it’s not to be acknowledged.

To be fair, the road to redemption for Victor Newman began while Chuck Pratt was still head writer. However, it’s become more nauseating under Sally. To look at Victor today and the way some characters are bending over backwards to praise him as nothing more than a protective family man is a complete 180 from him being tried and jailed for bringing a rapist doppelganger to town. And while we’re on the topic of over saturation, can we please ship Faith off to a Switzerland boarding school for the foreseeable future? This child has the adults around her tap dancing while simultaneously tap dancing on my nerves.

Not too far down the totem pole is Neil Winters who is now allowed to play worried father to a son who he let be arrested for murdering his wife after first having him drugged to perpetuate a lie of him cheating during his bachelor party. Scene after scene, Neil is allowed to berate, disrespect and yell at the woman who he victimized and held captive for months. Hilary was allowed to call him a hypocrite on screen but that action means nothing if he does little to acknowledge his own crimes.

There was actually a scene on the January 13th episode were Neil told Jack that he has been supportive of Hilary and Devon’s marriage through thick and thin. After my initial shock and confusion, it caused me to question if Sally even bothered to read what happened just a year ago.

Just because you have the characters say these things, it does not make them true. And as far as I’m concerned, Sally is doing exactly what we have accused previous regimes of doing, ignoring the history that doesn’t fit her vision. She might as well be standing in front of the audience wearing a suit and sunglasses with a neuralyzer (Men in Black reference) in her hand to erase our memories of things that shouldn’t have happened.

Not A Total Betty, But A Vast Improvement

As I stated earlier, the answer to whether or not Sally Sussman’s homecoming has improved The Young and the Restless isn’t as black and white as I thought it would be. Maybe the problem I’m having isn’t with Sally at all. Maybe the issue is with the scriptwriters who haven’t adjusted their dialogue to fit the new narrative. I suppose with time will come a clearer picture on what Sally wants the show to be as well as what she wants the audience to forget. I applaud her for the return to character based material while also holding her accountable for her lack of historic awareness. The show is on the right path, but it has to take all of its baggage for the ride. Whether she likes it or not.

What are your thoughts on The Young and the Restless? What are some of the things you’re enjoying, what aren’t you? Share your comments below.

About the author

Ashley Dionne

Ashley Dionne joined the TVSource Magazine team in December 2014.