Quite unsoapily, “OLTL,” like “All My Children” in the fall, has become a victim of the dullest possible villain: slackened ratings and the simple fact that reality TV is cheaper to produce. But for months, the soap has been energetically milking its protracted death scene, bringing back beloved characters from decades past to reconcile, reminisce and reveal . . . not quite everything.
A lot of the story lines were inadvertently unresolved, it turns out, because when the show taped its final episode in November, everyone thought it would be picked up and shown on the Internet. But that deal is off.
To review the recent action, Gigi, who we thought was Stacy, is alive, and Victor, who we thought was Todd, is dead, along with Robert, who started out a cad and ended a hero. Viki and Clint are back together after many years of showing not the slightest interest, as are Cord and Tina and John and Natalie, with whom the writers took that “rocky road to love” thing a bit too far. To close the deal with Blair, Todd faked Cole’s death to get him out of the country, and he found out that his dad, Patrick, hadn’t been taken out by terrorists after all. Got it?
But despite the typically silly soap-opera plotlines, “One Life to Live” had some real-world impact, advancing social issues — it was the first daytime show to cast a black actress in a central role, Ellen Holly, who played Carla — and furthering the show-business careers of many a New York actor, among them Laurence Fishburne, who at 13 played a street kid, and Tommy Lee Jones, who was cast as Dr. Mark Toland in the early ’70s.
The closing of the show is also no small thing for New York stage actors, women in particular. I’ve been a fan of the soap since I was a cub reporter in the ’80s, and rarely do my husband and I go to the theater when I don’t look over the playbill, point to someone in the cast and say, “Oh, look, it’s so-and-so from ‘One Life!’ ”
Soap opera is the one medium in which women not only run the world but play vixens into their 60s, and make the jokes and the rules. The truth always comes out, and wrong actions always will be punished, period.
Yet redemption is a constant, too, and people do change a lot. Jane Austen would not be disappointed in the marriage rate in Llanview. And although the social commentary in the compassionate and crusading universe Agnes Nixon created could never have been accused of subtlety, “One Life to Live” consistently raised awareness about tough issues, everything from breast cancer to the bullying of the gay teen whom Ryan Phillippe played on the show in the ’90s.