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Ten Soap Opera Cliches

Father Of The Bride SpeachesIf you're a longtime soap fan, then you know that certain stories, plot lines, and contrivances are repeated ad nauseam to the point that you can see them coming a mile away. If a couple falls in love, a past lover of either will suddenly drop in town to break up the couple. If a character inexplicably stares off into middle distance during a significant point in a conversation (usually when another character spews out a speech-worth of exposition), then you know that said character has a hidden secret somewhere that will be revealed at the most unfortunate moment, usually during said character's wedding. These are the stapes of daytime, but some plot contrivances can become too contrived, ruining whatever spontaneity is left in the genre. These cliches are so overdone that audiences usually groan with dismay rather than shout with titillation whenever soap writers employ them in their tales. Here's a list of the ten most cliched soap opera plot contrivances.

1. Amnesia - it seems that every soap town that ever was has had more cases of amnesia than is humanly allowable. Amnesia usually afflicts its victims at the most inopportune moment and it doesn't take much in order for it to strike. A nice little bump on the head, which would otherwise give us a pretty nasty headache, will send a soap hero and heroine off into a fugue in which he or she will forget his or her name, home, history, and, pointedly enough, significant other. Amnesia will also cause its sufferer to wander away from home or any place where he or she is known and take up residence in a nearby town or farm (no matter how urban soap towns may be, they will always be conveniently located near farm houses) attended by a usually too-good-to-be true heroine or hero with whom our said character will fall in love, despite the fact that he or she has a sweetheart back home who is mourning said character's death (on soaps, death is always the ruling conclusion if a character goes missing, even without the evidence of a body), while trying to avoid growing feelings for the town's other hero or villain who wants the grieving widower/widow so much that he or she will lie about the fact that the amnesiac is not only alive and well but living in said nearby town. Got all that? As with all soaps, the story ends well with the victim returning home to his or her sweetheart and miraculously regaining his or her memories with little to no side effects.

2. Back From the Dead - Death happens, but on soaps, not really. Another tried-and-true soap opera staple is the Back of the Dead contrivance, in which the actor of a character who decided to leave a few years earlier to make his break in Hollywood returns just a little bit more humble to his soap origins. What to do, what to do if you're the head writer and you (or your predecessor) decided to kill off said character. Not to worry: bring him back from the dead. It doesn't matter if he fell off a cliff, was incinerated in an explosion, chopped to bits in a wood chipper or decapitated: a simple (well, actually they always ended up being convoluted) explanation as to how our hero escaped his untimely fate is needed. If said character and actor is really popular, fans will accept his return. But sometimes the Back from the Dead contrivance can stretch the believability factor a bit much, even for soap fans who are willing to suspend disbelief to amazing proportions. That was the case on The Bold & the Beautiful when popular heroine Taylor, who was shown lying in her casket at her funeral, returns suddenly very much alive. Even fans of that show had a hard time buying that.

3. Love Triangles - As Shakespeare once wrote, the road to true love never did run smooth, and on soaps, that road is more like a rocky and steep incline. Soap opera sweethearts are never without a third wheel to ensure that they will never make it down the aisle, or, if they had already jumped the broom, stay happily married. Such is the trouble true love faces on soap operas. But nowadays, the ever-trusty soap cliche has taken a beating from fans who are tired of seeing their favorite couple being torn apart for the umpteenth time by triangles. In the past, love triangles were popular. Steve and Alice on the lately lamented soap Another World would not have been quite as popular had it not been for scheming vixen Rachel Davis, who sought to have Steve all to herself by any means necessary, including bearing his child. Today, soap writers aren't quite as clever in creating soap triangles and oftentimes the triangles involve pairings that aren't as scintillating.

4. Interrupted Weddings - Do weddings ever go down smoothly for soap couples? While in the real world, bridezillas stomp and carry on tantrums about not getting the right color for their table napkins, soap brides usually face far greater problems in their quest to make it down the aisle. Usually, this comes in the form of ex-lovers who want to ruin the couple's chance for happiness, a future mother- or father-in-law from hell who doesn't want her son or daughter to marry so obviously a wrong choice, a secret from either the bride or groom that is conveniently revealed just as the duo says "I do, " sending one or the other fleeing down the aisle. On Guiding Light, soap couple Gus Aitoro and Harley Cooper were all set to say their "I dos" when the bride learned that her soon-to-be hubby let her brother hang out to dry after being suspended on the police force for corruption. It seems Gus neglected in telling everybody that his lovely aunt was responsible for bringing drugs into town. While fans groaned over the story's implausibility (Alexandra Spaulding? A drug dealer? No way), they delighted when Harley walked out on Gus. Eventually, the pair patched up their differences and had a wedding that went off without a hitch. But if all soap weddings ran as smoothly, then where would be the drama?

5. "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad!" - Another cliche that has become almost de rigeur on soaps is the "Kid-I-never-knew-I-had" stories. Every soap character at one point or another will open up his door and be greeted by a child he fathered years ago. Usually, the kid is always of driving age, old enough to bear kids himself or herself and ready to cause havoc in the hero's life. But this cliche isn't limited to the male counterparts on soaps. Quite a few soap heroines have discovered kids they didn't know they had, though even that often stretches believability. One Life to Live's Viki Buchanan discovered she had a daughter she never knew she had while she was under the influence of her alter ego, Niki. Years later, Viki's daughter Megan arrives conveniently in Llanview and learns of her biological mother. Needless to say, such parent/child reunions go badly since it is also another cliche on soaps that children raised by non-biological parents grow up horribly and are resentful toward their bio-parents for it. Adoption is a no-no on soaps (unless of course one of the show's heroes or heroines are doing the adopting, which, in that case, is viewed as a selfless and, well, heroic act). So kids who show up suddenly in soap towns have a chip on their shoulders that can only be knocked off by big heapings of love from the bio-moms or dads. The "Kid-I-Never-Knew-I-Had" story lines are so cliched that fans can project them a mile away, especially when a new young character appears in town and has a few nasty run ins with designated bio-parent. This was the case recently on Guiding Light when new character Ava had a series of bad run-ins with Olivia Spencer, the woman who gave up her daughter, the product of a rape, years ago. Fans knew Ava was Olivia's biological daughter months before the show dropped the not-so bomb reveal, which goes to show you can never fool a soap audience.

6. Mean Adopted Parents - As I highlighted above, adoption is a no-no on soaps and this is usually revealed in how adopted parents are portrayed. It is a rare thing for a child who was adopted to grow up in a loving, happy home. But of course, happiness doesn't create good soap drama and neither does a well-adjusted kid, adopted or otherwise. So it is pretty apparent that whenever a new character who has been given up for adoption by one of the show's heroines he grew up in a pretty mean and nasty environment. This creates a convenient way for the kid to connect to his bio-mom or dad without making audiences feel sorry for the adoptive parents for being shoved out in the cold and also helps make the bio-parents look better in comparison, especially if their parenting skills with their biological kids haven't exactly been cause for celebration. Another convenient way for bio-kid-and-parent reunions is to kill off the adoptive parents altogether. Usually, these convenient deaths occur when the kid was old enough to remember the parent but young enough to not be able to care for him- or herself, which also enables bio-parent to make amends and literally "raise" the kid him- or herself, though the bio-kid is now old enough to knock back a few while he or she comes to grips with his or her newfound parentage. Mean Adoptive Parents is such a cliche that fans questions why it is that adoptive parents simply can't be shown as being loving and selfless, especially when there could be a lot of drama had just by having both sets of bio and adoptive parents duke it out over the kid's love. Sounds soapy to me.

7. "Your Honor, I swear I Didn't Do It!" - Fans pretty much know that if a character is accused of a crime, usually a murder, that he or she didn't do it. It used to be on soaps that if a character was knocked off, we knew who did it right off, and the story became about how said perpetrator had her life thrown into turmoil as she faced an uncertain future of jailtime. But soap writers, who fancy themselves Agatha Christie, throw in a murder mystery or two filled with so many red herrings that their soap starts to smell like a fish market. All the way, the hero or heroine is sent to jail pending trial, with an intrepid lawyer, police officer, or private investigator (who is almost always the hero or heroine's sweetheart) try to find the real killer and bring him to justice. By story's end, which usually occurs several months past the audience's threshold of patience has been reached, the real perpetrator is conveniently revealed surrounded by the good townsfolk to witness his downfall. Sometimes, the real killer is obvious (usually the actor who just announced he hasn't re-signed his contract with the show), but mostly the killer is someone the writer conveniently pulled out of his butt at the last minute, making these types of storylines a real groaner for soap fans.

8. WTD - Any online soap fan knows what this acronym means. This cliche has been such a groaner that it has achieved a level of dismay from soap fans not approached by another other listed here. WTD means: Who's the Daddy? Yes, every soap fans has come to hate these types of stories. Most fans can expect that anytime a soap gal bed hops within 24-hours she will be thrown into a WTD story for the next coming months. Why are they such a groaner? Because there is very little surprise in them. Fans can see one coming a mile away, and even if the writers have no intention of telling a WTD story fans still expect one along the way-that is how cliched they have become. Fans can pretty much write these stories in their sleep. At one point, the results of a blood test or DNA test is altered, causing the heroine to wonder whether or not her little junior is the child of her true love or the guy she boinked impulsively after a break up. We see her fretting or screwing up her brow with fear that her hubby will find out that the kid just ain't his, thus causing all sorts of marital problems down the road. When written well, WTD stories can be compelling and fascinating to watch, but today's writers have a hard time just keeping audiences interested, much less titillated, by their dramas. So when a soap writer throws a WTD curve ball at the audience, the only reaction he gets is a slap on the forehead and a "Not another WTD story!"

9. Forged Paternities - As mentioned above, forging paternities are so common on soaps that you have to wonder about the kind of security soap hospitals employ today. It's bad enough that soap characters have to worry about whether or not they are going to live or die, but have to worry about things like whether their most personal information is readily accessible by anyone in town, usually the ones with the most axes to grind. With the amount of forged paternities going on on soaps, it's a wonder none of these fictional hospitals ever face lawsuits.

10. Redeemed Bad Boys/Girls - When done right, redeemed bad boys/girls can create for some compelling and interesting drama. After all, where would AW'sRachel Davis Cory have been if she hadn't changed from vixen to heroine? But recently, writers have abused this soap cliche, expecting audiences to forget and forgive some pretty nasty things they have their bad boys and girls do before their redemption. One of the more common redeemed bad boy cliches is that of the friendly neighborhood rapist. GH's Luke Spencer, OLTL's Todd Manning, AW's Jake McKinnon all raped their respective soap's heroines, only to find themselves being redeemed (to a point) by the love of said heroine (or in Jake's case, her twin sister). Sometimes, the hero isn't even redeemed, but continues his bad boy ways, all the while inexplicably earning the love and respect of the town's people. This is the case with GH'sSonny Corinthos and GL's Jonathan Randall, whose love for his cousin, Tammy Winslow, didn't exactly cool down his temper tantrums and hair pulling. On soaps, love really does mean never having to say you're sorry.

By Cynthia C. Scott - Cynthia C. Scott is a graduate of San Francisco State University, where she earned a B.A. in Creative Writing. She's currently a freelance writer and blogger. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Creos...  






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