“I am watching my stories.” –one of the few phrases I remember from early childhood, spoken by my daycare provider while we all presumably were taking a nap in her basement. It seemed like a mark of real adult accomplishment to watch “stories” during the day. I now realize that I won’t really be able to watch tv during the day until I become a nice retired grandmother, so I have to get all my stories in at night. I don’t, I should say, watch Days of Our Lives. But I do watch Scandal, Parenthood, and Nashville–all examples of the new golden age of prime time soap operas.
Soap operas are fascinating structurally, as James Franco taught us, because they have huge casts that need to be shuffled around while the writers also strive to maintain fever pitch drama during every episode. The new era of soaps have also learned quite a bit from premium television and thus have “complex” characters who are neither morally upstanding nor despicable. Everyone has to have a bit of Walter White in them these days. They have a bit of procedural pleasure (“what client will Olivia Pope have this week on Scandal?”), mixed with a bit of process voyeurism (for instance, Nashville just taught us how to buy a guitar that has a “bluesy sound”).
I can’t watch Grey’s Anatomy anymore because even I can’t quite believe that the Seattle metro area suffers a mass-casualty mudslide every two months, but Grey’s Anatomy and its equally soapy spinoff Private Practice got me hooked on the addictive crack of crying every week. I now get this same crack from Nashville, a show that delivered my wet salty hit this week by restoring Connie Britton’s voice after she had “lost it” in a tragic car crash. As the audience of the Grand Ole Opry rose to their feet to cheer, I wept.
Parenthood also reliably lets me drain my nasal cavity as Lauren Graham beautifully explains to Meg Whitman that marrying young can only end in ruin. I really lost it when Mae Whitman replied “I am not like you.” Fine, maybe this scene already took place in The Gilmore Girls, but Parenthood teed me up for that cry with the perfect level of tragedy. This is not Rory, this will not end well.
There is also a particular joy to crying while you are watching the luminescent skin of beautiful people shimmer before you, reflecting, nay drinking up the rosy light of the screen. It might be a really good primer and an expert application of highlighter, or it might be that they just have more LIFE. They glow so that I may empty out my feelings and begin anew.