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Another journalist's Review of OLTL Todd/Marty saga. "More engrossing than primetime"

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This is from Ed Martin, a colleague of Marlena De La Croix.

He thinks OLTL is better than any show on primetime right now....

He pretty much summed up how I feel about the show- from good to bad.


The most riveting and engrossing drama on broadcast television during the November 2008 sweeps period to date isn’t happening on CBS’ CSI, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Fox’ House or NBC’s Heroes – or anywhere in primetime, for that matter. It is playing out on ABC Daytime’s One Life to Live. This show is sizzling right now, with multiple storylines concluding, colliding and cascading off in wild new directions that will play out for months or years to come. The past, present and future of the show are all in skillful play. From a structural perspective – a critical element of superior serialized drama – this is some of the best soap opera storytelling I have seen in years. It is simply extraordinary in its simultaneous clarity and complexity. (Maybe the writing team on NBC’s increasingly disappointing Heroes should sit down with the gang at OLTL and ask them how it’s done.)

Unfortunately, there has been much unpleasantness at the center of it all, and no joy whatsoever, except for the births of a few puppies. As skilled as they are at story structure and characterization, I sometimes wonder if the writers, producers and network executives who are in charge of this show realize that if OLTL is to endure it must appeal to (rather than repel) women. For example, there have been entirely too many close-ups in recent days of a stillborn baby delivered last week by one of the main characters. I can deal with this tragic story development, because the child is at the center of so much drama involving so many characters, and the story has been extremely well played by the many actors involved. (They’re an amazing group.) But I don’t believe women want to see dead babies in their entertainment. Not ever.

As disturbing and upsetting as the story of Jessica’s baby has been, though, it has often been quite moving -- and it has never been offensive. That distinction goes to the other big OLTL drama of the month – the show’s veteran psychopath Todd Manning having sex with Marty Saybrook, the young woman he savagely attacked 15 years ago in what remains one of the most powerful stories in the history of daytime drama. Todd and two other young men in 1993 executed the brutal gang rape of Marty, then a disturbed young woman. (Todd was, in fact, the ringleader.) Those scenes were more intense than just about anything that had ever been shown on daytime television. The stunning story earned an armload of Emmy Awards, including honors for Susan Haskell, the actress who portrayed Marty then and continues to do so now, and Roger Howarth, the actor who portrayed Todd -- and has since been replaced by Trevor St. John.

Marty has come and gone on the show since 1993, but Todd has remained for most of that time, and while past writing teams have attempted to reform him to some extent – going so far as to have him raped by a madwoman -- he has remained a devious, manipulative, temperamental bully and, overall, an evil, dangerous man. I won’t go into the long and winding details here, but Todd during the last few months had been secretly caring for Marty after she suffered an accident that left her with amnesia. Todd’s original intentions were sinister, but in recent weeks he fell increasingly in love with Marty, all the while neglecting to tell her the truth about their past. Last week, Marty and Todd made love, with Marty unaware that she was with the man who raped her years ago.

As you might expect, a number of viewers are outraged by the insensitivity, inhumanity and overall creeping horror of this scenario. (Check out the heated column on this subject by former JackMyers contributor Marlena Delacroix and the blistering comments that follow it.) Todd raped Marty once again, they claim. It didn’t matter that he appeared to have reformed and was in love with her, or that their lovemaking was gentle and passionate and nothing at all like the violent atrocity Marty was made to endure years earlier. Nor did it matter that Marty consented, they say, because she was suffering amnesia and wasn’t in her right mind.

I have to agree with them. This tale, though well told, has been sickening given the history of these characters. I don’t believe that sex between two adults can be mutually consenting when one of the people involved has no idea what’s really going on, and especially when one of the two is a depraved brute who previously attacked the other. When Todd and Marty got together it may not have seemed like rape, but when Marty later learned the depth of Todd’s deception, her response was clearly that of a woman who had once again been violated in the worst possible way. It all seems horribly exploitative on the part of ABC. I am certain the network fully knew what it was doing, because it ran a PSA for the National Sexual Assault Hotline at the end of the episode in which Todd and Marty “made love.” Further, during the SOAPnet repeat of this episode, as the tension mounted and it became increasingly and alarmingly clear that Todd the Predator and Marty the Victim were going to have sex, a graphic in the lower left corner teased: “Todd’s Worst Crimes. Relive them all on SOAPnet.com.” Is nothing sacred?

ABC has always had a warped handle on the character of Todd. (Remember when ABC parent Disney briefly marketed a doll of this reprehensible rapist?) Sadly, in this instance the network had the opportunity to do something amazing with his long-running storyline, which has spanned two decades, and it would have been so simple. The writers had already established the inner conflict Todd was experiencing in the moments before he had sex with Marty. (He was even having flashbacks to the gang rape.) Rather than take her to bed, he should have broken down, confessed everything to her and taken her rage. There would have been no question at that time that Todd had indeed changed. That would have brought the saga full circle and been enormously satisfying for long-term viewers. It wouldn’t have excused anything Todd had done in the past, but it wouldn’t have been as revolting as the sight of him once again having his way with the woman he previously raped.

I wish ABC had shown more restraint and responsibility in the way it played this story. That said, I will compartmentalize my disgust and continue to enjoy the rest of the show. At present I cannot wait to tune in tomorrow and see what happens next on One Life to Live. But I can certainly understand why many people might throw up their hands and declare that they have had enough.

To communicate with or to be contacted by the executives and/or companies mentioned in this column, link to JackMyers Connection Hotline.

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Wow great assessment.

No matter what it is good drama and has gotten people to talk.

As I said last night I didn't watch all of it and I did get disgusted reading some of the stuff in the summaries.

I know that many are mad because this further shows how cruel Todd is and many have tried over and over to make excuses for the things he did or has done. This time it is hard for them to do that as he took so much advantage of Marty.

I for one have loved to hate Todd and have never made excuses for him so it is easy for me to still hate him. I have always felt for Marty and all of Todd's victims.

I had really big problems with this story until I saw the breakdown of what is happening right now. So far the pay off to the story has been well worth the disgust I felt months ago. I look forward to maybe Todd finally truly growing some and watching Marty come to grips with everything. And truly watch as Marty gets even.

I jsut hope this one time that even Vicki goes off on Todd. She has always seen past Todd's evilness and forgiven him but this is one time that she really needs to lay into Todd and I look forward to that. I want to see her give Todd the same thing she gave Tina.

This is a story that is going to touch everyone. It so reminds me of the Karen Wolek story in some ways in how it touched almost the whole town. That is what this story is doing and that is what soaps need to be about.

I see the problems with the victimization of women but so far with the fallout and stuff Todd is not going to get away with it. Ron seems to be on the right track of making Todd pay and to fully explore how this makes Marty feel and watch as Todd loses everything. I can give them credit for that because the recent rape of Sami on Days was so poorly handled and never dealt with and it took years for the rape of Laura to be dealt with on GH.

It looks like they are going to explore this and I see Todd really having to pay big time. It looks as if he is going to lose everything that is important to him. And maybe this will finally be what Todd needs to fully reform and grow up.

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It's been very good payoff, and IMO the show has improved mightily since they finished with Tess and "Tarty In The House." I still don't like the baby switch at all, or the nonsense with Vanessa Montez, but they've played all the fallout from these stories perfectly, particularly the scenes with Marty and Nora, and now Jessica and Natalie.

The problem is, they didn't need to do this. Todd and Marty sex will mar the show forever, and it was unnecessary exploitation. You could still have had all of this without the sex. And WTF do you do with Todd now? I refuse to tolerate his character as it currently exists, and I have no use for this creature. I cannot stomach the possibility that they might pen a story exonerating him for rape on the basis of Marty's "amnesia love." (And God help Tea Delgado if her idiotic battered wife persona decides he is worth defending on such a basis.) That to me would be the ultimate betrayal of the characters and the story, and their history.

I think the show is much improved with those stories wrapped and changing, but there is still a long way to go.

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