Whenever I tune in to modern day-Days, I am struck by the complete and utter vacuousness of the characters in the teen set: Chad, Will, Gabby, Mia. (To be fair, I haven’t seen the new Will—he could be awesome for all I know.) Especially Mia! Say what you will about Melanie—she’s taking over the show, she’s terribly mannered, her voice is like nails on a chalkboard … I know it’s all true. But at least she has some personality. Mia is like a lobotomy on Thorazine.
Every soap has them, to one degree or another: teen characters meant to bring in those oh-so-demographically-desirable teenage viewers. But does it work? No doubt the networks have extremely sophisticated market research techniques that tell them it does. But when I was a teen rushing home to watch Days, was it to find out if Jennifer was going to go to the prom with Glenn or Frankie? It was not. It was the 20- to 30-something set that held my attention: Steve and Kayla, Shane and Kim, Roman and Diana, Roman and Isabella. I didn’t get interested in Jennifer until she joined the grownup set. It makes sense: what was titillating to me then was imagining grownup problems, grownup love stories. Why would I want to watch what I could see going on around me at school every day?
But, as I think more about this, maybe those network executives are onto something. For much of 1983 and 1984, when I was 11, I watched Guiding Light. And what hooked me was—yup—the teen set on that soap. And if you can hook the 10 and 11 year olds, there’s a good chance they’ll still be watching a few years later. The same principle applies: I wasn’t a teenager yet, so teen angst and teen romance were mysterious and exciting.
There were four main teen characters on GL: Phillip Spaulding and Mindy Lewis, both rich, spoiled, and cute, Rick Bauer, square and reliable, and Beth Raines, poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks (played by the awesomely talented Judi Evans). They called themselves the Four Musketeers and Mindy was in love with Phillip and Rick was in love with Beth, but Beth and Phillip fell in love and had a very wonderful rich boy/poor girl star-crossed lovers story. And I cared immensely whether Phillip was going to take Mindy or Beth to the prom.
But, consistent with my general weakness for bad boys, it was another teen character who was introduced later, gang member Lujack, who really grabbed me. Lujack (Vincent Irizarry) was like Pete Jannings, but much smarter and cuter. And he had an awesome love story with Beth—even better than the one she had with Phillip—that is pretty much Steve and Kayla, junior:
Sigh. So dreamy.
I wasn’t able to find much on YouTube for them, but here’s a taste:
Judi Evans left GL in 1986, and we all know where she ended up—Salem. Back when Adrienne first appeared, I got the biggest kick out of my favorite character on GL being cast as the sister of my favorite character on Days. Looking back, though, I wonder how Judi felt about it. Not only did she play a very similar character—young, poor, unsure of herself—not only was her love story with Justin a very close retread of her love story with Phillip (rich boy, poor girl), but she got to play a rape victim both times: raped by her father on Days, by her stepfather on GL. But, naturally, she gave it her all.
I always loved Adrienne and her interactions with the Johnson family, particularly Steve. Considering how much I loved Judi Evans, it is surprising that I was never more than warm-to-lukewarm on Justin and Adrienne. After their initial falling in love story, I just never found their stories that compelling—too much baby stuff, too much Judith Chapman, too many scenes of Justin saying “I renounce you Victor—and this time I mean it!” (Justin and Victor were the Lucas and Kate of the 80’s.) The show couldn’t seem to find a happy medium between heavy angst and sentimental schmoopiness, and tended to veer wildly between the two extremes. Judi can do heavy angst with the best of them, but Wally Kurth really can’t.
But, there was always good stuff to enjoy, too, and I’m lucky to be able to revisit some really great scenes on my DVDs. This is a scene around Stephanie’s birth. Justin and Adrienne are divorced, but have been slowly bridging the gap. One of the things that broke them up was Adrienne’s inability to have a child, and here they have a nice talk about babies. I think the show did best when Adrienne was the angstful one and Justin was sweet and supportive and could make her smile (which is pretty much how they started out):
Incidentally, I apparently wasn’t the only one to be captivated by the GL teen scene in 1984. All four characters aged to adulthood and stuck around for long runs on the show, though a couple of them were recast. Grant Aleksander’s Phillip especially became a mainstay on the show. Before it went off the air, the show did a Four Musketeers reunion—25 years later!
Will viewers be tuning in to see what Melanie and Mia, Will and Chad are doing in 25 years? Somehow I doubt it.