So, it’s been five months. How is everyone feeling about Higley?
Let’s start with the good. One improvement that Higley implemented right away was increasing the number of different storylines going on. Almost everyone on the canvas has their little corner of the world that concerns them, no matter how trivial it may be. Hogan seemed to have only two major stories going on at a time, with hardly any minor stories going on at all. This, coupled with the fact that people never went to work or did anything with their lives, meant that people had nothing to talk about except … those two major stories that were going on.
Like the two triangles that would not die. One of my biggest frustrations with Hogan was his relentless focus on Shelle and Lumi. It made no sense to me that the key couples, the only couples, in the 25-35 age range had both been established in the 90’s. After so many years, story ideas for both couples were thin on the ground, so every other character in that age range had to be conscripted as an obstacle to twu wuv. I hated seeing hot, promising actors like Jay Kenneth Johnson and James Scott stuck in the role of lovesick, celibate fools. It was so bad I assumed that Corday was tying Hogan’s hands, telling him he HAD to write for those couples.
Well, I was giving Hogan too much credit. Because when Higley came in, she got rid of Shelle—like that, so simple!—and took advantage of Bryan Datillo’s absence to start paving the way for EJami. The visa story was stupid, but it served as a buffer between Hogan’s version of EJ and Sami—which was an incoherent mess—and our current version, which I am finding rather delicious.
More importantly, Higley realized that the 25-35 set should be the heart of the show. I concede that reasonable people can disagree on this, but in my opinion this is where the major storylines and the new romances should be taking place. Hogan had the supercouple set on one end, the teens on the other, and nothing but Shelle and Lumi in the middle. It was like a sandwich with nothing in it. Higley, in addition to breaking up the dead weight of Shelle and Lumi, beefed up the roles for Chloe, Phillip, Lucas, and Max, brought Nicole back, subtly aged Morgan and Stephanie, and started mixing up the cast in new and interesting ways. (I suppose, technically, that I should include Dan and Chelsea on that list, but I … just … can’t do it.)
Higley fixed a lot of the things I used to complain about with Hogan. So what’s not to like? Well, somehow, something gets lost along the way. I get Phorgan and an EJami I can root for, but I lose Chick and have to put up with Chan. I get Nicole back, but I have to sacrifice anything good for Steve and Kayla. I get multiple storylines and new romances, but say goodbye to smart dialogue. Rushing isn’t a problem anymore, but how about repetition and stagnation?
Hm, it’s like one of those fairy stories where you get exactly what you wish for, but it’s twisted beyond all recognition … it’s like … it’s like …
Let’s back up a little and take another look at Hogan. He was maddeningly inconsistent. He had a major problem with dropping story threads. He sucked at introducing new characters. He sucked at romance. He botched the Steve and Kayla return, badly. He gave us Chick bad!sex. He did his best to ruin EJ. He never saw Phillip’s potential. But, when I think back on what he did right, things like:
The return of the DiMeras: a reflective Stefano in his twilight years, the sibling rivalry between Tony and EJ, Steve hanging at the DiMansion. Some amazing individual scenes for Steve and Kayla, like when Nick/Steve said, “Who am I? I’m no one.” Kayla and the drill. The Chick trip to Toronto. Chelsea’s redemption. Ford’s death. Some of those things were really, really good, much better than anything I’ve seen Higley do.
There were some amazingly layered setups to stories, amazingly rich individual scenes. Maybe it was just Hogan’s dialogue writers, not Hogan himself, but it was gratifying to watch Days sometimes and feel like I was watching a show that was smart, meaty, and nuanced. Speculation, discussion, and even fanwanking was so much fun back then. Yes, it was frustrating, incredibly so, to never have that potential realized. But I had an endless appetite to discuss the show under Hogan, and that is no longer true. Speaking as a blogger and a former message board junkie, that is a major drawback for me.
So I think Higley’s biggest problem boils down to this: mediocrity. When Higley was headwriter for OLTL, Erika Slezak said that Higley “wants to write stories that she thinks are interesting but nobody else does.” I think Higely sometimes forgets the first rule of fiction: before you can do anything, you have to engage the viewer’s attention, to make them care. Some of her ideas sound great on paper, but the execution is so thin and generic there is nothing, as a viewer, to sink your teeth into.
But, in the final analysis, I’ll stop short of saying Hogan was better. Some days, when I’m watching Stephanie plead with Max for the zillionth time to open up to her, I would kill to have Hogan back. Some days, watching Phillip have a power play with Victor, then flirt with Morgan, and finish the day jumping into bed with Chloe, I wouldn’t take Hogan back for a million dollars.
But, truthfully, neither one of them has been good at what I used to love about soaps: structuring long term story arcs, slow burn romances and redemptions, angst and payoffs. And maybe we could get another totally new, totally different writer who would excel at those things. Although … maybe if the next writer is good at that, he or she will suck at something else, something Higley or Hogan did well. Beware the monkey’s paw.
Watch Days of our Lives: now bad in a different way!