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General Hospital - Riding the Wave of Success

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By Stella Bednarz

A few years ago, GENERAL HOSPITAL was not a great soap. Despite the best of intentions from everyone involved, the show just didn't work. Wendy Riche took over as executive producer, determined to turn the soap around. Claire Labine (ex-RYAN'S HOPE) came aboard as head writer, and today, GH is a must-see show.

Let's begin with the move that garnered the most press: The resurrection of Luke and Laura Spencer (Anthony Geary and Genie Francis). Frankly, I wasn't excited when I heard that they were coming back. I loved the Ice Princess hide-and-seek saga as much as the next GH fan, but that was 10-year-old news. What could they do that would be interesting?

Plenty, as it turns out. Luke and Laura have lost none of their spark and spunk, but their relationship has deepened, thanks to their precocious son, Lucky (Jonathan Jackson). Although danger is never far away - some things never change - the unabashed love between the Spencers is as believable as ever. The Geary/Francis magic is still there, and Jackson is a rare find. He reminds me of River Phoenix circa Stand By Me.

Let's not overlook the most outspoken Spencer, and no, I don't mean Aunt Ruby (Norma Connolly). It's Foster, TV's most appealing pooch. Forget FRASIER's Eddie - Foster is the real deal. This dog has more range than half the actors on MODELS INC. He even has a girl, Annabelle. Alas, it's a Romeo and Juliet tale, since her owner, Edward Quartermaine (John Ingle), keeps them apart.

Love is also in the air for Port Charles's two-legged residents. The relationship between Lois (Rena Sofer) and her stray cat hubby, Ned "Call me Eddie" Ashton (Wallace Kurth) has been high energy and hilarious. The Brooklyn babe hung her "Maine" man out to dry after learning that he lied about his identity and married snipping Katherine (Mary Beth Evans). Kurth and the effervescent Softer get the best material in this triangle. Evans has the thankless task of playing an unsympathetic bitch, although her touching scenes at Damian's bedside revealed a tender side, not to mention what could be an interesting back story.

Sultry and sensuous describe the romance between Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) and Brenda Barrett (Vanessa Marcil). Streetwise Sonny is a chauvinistic rogue; Brenda is an independent spitfire turned on by a man who likes to dominate. Family connections are key to a character's long-term success on a soap, so the GH writers cleverly created an unconventional "family" for their solo newcomers when best pals Lois and Brenda formed L&B records. Sonny is part of the business and Miguel Morez (Ricky Martin) is their hot talent.

It's clear that GH considers Ricky Martin its next breakout star, but they were smart to start him out slowly. Viewers gradually got to know and like Miguel (No great surprise - his smile could melt icebergs). And Martin became accustomed to acting in English; his native language is Spanish. A plus: Miguel's strong Latin presence. It would be nice, though, if he could occasionally sing en espanol. And I get impatient when there are too many musical numbers when I'm dying to find out what's going to happen, storywise.

While I applaud GH for expanding its canvas with the African-American Ward family, it's taking a while for them to catch fire. Don't blame the actors. It's tough to get hooked on a plot that revolves around someone (Bradley) who was murdered decades ago.

A family that needs no introduction is the Quartermaines, who are as fractious and fascinating as ever. Monica's (Leslie Charleson) mastectomy showed how they function - and dysfunction. AJ (Sean Kanan) couldn't cope; Jason (Steve Burton) was compassionate; Alan (Stuart Damon) worried, but was a tower of strength. Edward harrumphed, but cared; Lila was sympathetic. Charleson is doing powerhouse work as the physician who can't heal herself. Meg Wylie performed ably as Lila during Anna Lee's sick leave, but Lee is an original.

When Tony Jones shed his Dr. Nice Guy lab coat, Brad Maule was revitalized. Tony is now more complex and interesting than he's ever been. His estranged wife, Bobbie (Jacklyn Zeman) hasn't fared as well. That misbegotten affair with Damian Smith (Leigh J. McCloskey) turned Bobbie into an obsessed wacko. Bobbie has survived worse than Damian - why did she go off the deep end now? And where is Lucas? Focused on mourning BJ, the Joneses' son has been forgotten.

Lucy Coe (Lynn Herring) is always entertaining, but the writers can't seem to decide who to pair her with - evil Damian or enigmatic Dr. Kevin Collins (Jon Lindstrom). Personally, I don't get the Damian thing - Lucy's too savvy to fall for his smarmy rap. Kevin is another story. This offbeat, cerebral guy - how many of them are there on daytime? - is intriguing. And Lucy deserves a man, and a storyline, of her own.

Too bad Kevin is stuck on pregnant Felicia (Kristina Wagner), who just found out that ex-hubby Frisco (Jack Wagner), not Mac Scorpio (John J. York) fathered her baby. This plot lacks punch because fan fave Frisco is nowhere in sight. (Don't blame GH; Wagner moved to MELROSE PLACE.)

But I nitpick. With well-drawn characters, thrilling plots and long-range vision, GENERAL HOSPITAL should be a mandatory port-of-call for quite a while.

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