One thing I’ve heard people discussing on message boards is whether Hogan (or any headwriter) is more “character-driven” or “plot-driven.” This is a false dichotomy to me. No soap, in my opinion, is anything but plot driven. How many people’s characters naturally suggest a tendency for amnesia, baby kidnappings, and ex-wives back from the dead?
Still, I know what people are talking about. First of all, do consistent characters even exist, or are they just interchangeable pawns for whatever is happening? Is there any complexity or depth? Does character inform the plot, do the plot happenings raise interesting tensions between the characters, and do those resulting tensions lead to further plot points?
Since James E. Reilly went for plot over character any day of the week, Hogan Sheffer can’t be anything but a step up in this regard. Overall—with what they do and say—most characters on the show remain relatively consistent. There are few moments that make me think “So-and-so would never do that!” (Sometimes I have to fanwank the motivations, but that’s a slightly different issue.) Where Hogan is inconsistent is not in writing people out of character. His problem is that characters shuffle back and forth between being living, breathing complex creatures, and being layer-free cardboard cutouts.
The flatness of his characters is most noticeable in his introductions. The Geek. The Wild Child. The Hooker with a Heart of Gold. The Spoiled Sorority Girl. Personally I loved Nick’s introduction, but there’s no denying he was an over-the-top stereotype. (It helps if you have Blake Berris to breathe life into the character.) I like Stephanie and I think I like Morgan, I liked Willow, but I never would have known it from their first introduction. Hogan must like the idea of creating a strong impression with the character right off the bat, and adding in layers as you go along, but I don’t think that’s a good idea if the impression given is a basic, predictable stereotype—especially a negative one.
The character of EJ is the best example of sliding between the flat, (almost) boring “evil guy obsessed with Sami” and the exciting guy who’s still evil but with complex motives, a family from hell, daddy and brother issues, and a longing for more.
The wonderful character moments that we are given don’t factor enough into later plots, and plots that could resonate perfectly with a particular character’s past are underexploited. Steve and Stephanie had an adversarial relationship for awhile there. If Steve had found redemption through rescuing her, if Stephanie had been forced to choose between believing Steve and believing Jeremy, if Steve and Stephanie had been forced to work together to help someone else—these are all plots that would have used that relationship in an interesting way. An example of an underutilized plot is Chelsea the bad girl suspected of setting the fire at Bo and Hope’s house. Everyone thought she had done it, but then they all changed their minds, for no reason I could see. Torturing a character with a bad past by making them unfairly suspected of something is a great opportunity for growth and/or backsliding for that character. And it could have led to a far more dramatic plot than the one we got. These end up being missed opportunities.
Sometimes I feel Hogan thinks of plots on one hand, and characters on the other, and doesn’t think at all about how they might intersect. And since his plotting is so much weaker than his characterization, this means you have a broken-down jalopy sputtering to keep up with a racecar … well, let’s say a station wagon.