In a little over a month, Netflix is going to hit a switch in a room somewhere and a new season of Arrested Development is going to be available to watch. It's an interesting experiment that Netflix is attempting, one that's been written about and overanalyzed since the moment it was announced.
A less popular but more interesting experiment begins online next Monday. It involves a show that, much like Arrested Development, featured silly characters in increasingly absurd situations and had a cult following made up of fans who were outraged when they found out their favorite show was going away.
And that's pretty much where the similarities end.
Starting Monday, All My Children returns as an online-only soap opera, and I don't know how I feel about this.
After 41 years on the air and countless marriages, divorces, murders, births, deaths, returns and departures, All My Children ended on a cliffhanger, a gunshot on a black screen. It was infuriating for someone like me who was a sporadic viewer of the show, and a complete betrayal to those longtime fans who had watched it for most of their lives.
You know how people, even now, complain about the ending of Lost and how unfulfilling it was? Those people don't know anything about disappointment.
At the time the cliffhanger was supposed to lead into a new, online version of the show that was supposed to materialize weeks after the TV finale aired. This did not happen. Instead, some of the actors moved on to other soap operas and it appeared that we would never have closure on the world of Pine Valley.
You would think that the news that the show is returning would be cause for celebration, but I'm not so sure. Consider the following:
3. Can Soap Operas Go Digital?
One of the great things about soap operas is the fact that they're a constant in our lives. They come on at the same time on the same channel every day. They're the friend that you can always count on no matter where you go. You can leave for college, but as long as you have a TV there will be faces in your life you know, even if they're fictional.
Going online gets rid of that sense of comfort. Sure, it's nice that I have the option of watching the show online whenever I want, but that just makes it like every other show I keep meaning to watch. The show is no longer that friend I know will be visiting every day, it's the friend I hang out with when I remember it exists. That's a big difference.
2. The Show Looks Different
While there are moments in the new trailer that certainly look like what I think of when I think "soap opera," it also has a lot of on-location shooting that looks cheap and ugly. When I think "soap opera," I think elaborate and obviously fake soundstages. I don't need scope when I watch a soap opera; I watch because I want less reality, not more.
1. No Susan Lucci
This is the biggie. Susan Lucci was All My Children, and is perhaps the biggest name in American soap opera history. For 41 years she played Erica Kane, and she was often the centerpiece of the show. While it's great that many of the other actors are returning to the show, having All My Children without Susan Lucci just feels wrong, like having Seinfeld without Seinfeld or The Sopranos without Tony.
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In the interest of being honest, I will admit that I did find myself getting a little excited watching the trailer for the new version. Right about the time Vincent Irizarry appeared on screen as Dr. David Hayward, I realized that in spite of my bitterness at how the show ended, I still missed these characters.
I don't know why I care about All My Children. Maybe it was because it was the soap opera my mom watched, maybe it was because it was the only thing on during my lunch breaks at work. Whatever the reason, I'm glad the show is getting a second chance, even if I'm not entirely sure I'll be along for the ride.
And hey, if nothing else, it's good to see that the people working on the show are hip to what's cool these days: