I recently returned from a stint in Sydney but what I wish is that I’d just returned from a stint in Old Sydney Town. Were that the case, I would have seen a 1982 man dressed as a convict being violently ‘flogged’, and would also have acquisitively purchased some ‘gold dust’ in a tiny bottle from the souvenir shop, which was always reliably overseen by a depressed-looking woman in a mop cap. Better yet, I would have visited my favourite destination of yore, Waratah Park, which, at least in the nineteen seventies, had on the premises a kangaroo who looked approximately one century old and whom, the sign on his or her enclosure said, was actually Skippy herself, an allegation that even at the age of eight I looked upon with a jaundiced eye. Speaking of entertainment, my mother, whom I was visiting, told me that, having signed up for a ‘film appreciation’ class, she duly went to the first session, and found herself sitting on an uncomfortable chair and watching a costume drama that was indifferently projected, without even any lively discussion afterwards, because the teacher was sick. As a friend of mine commented, all this would really only give you an appreciation for being in your own living room. Something that can be watched in the comfort of one’s living room, however, is long-running American daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful, with which I caught up on my visit.
I’ve now been watching Bold, to at least some degree, for nearly twenty-five years. During a stint of being on unemployment benefits as a teenager, it was only one of the approximately half-a-dozen soap operas that I watched a day. What set Bold apart was, yes, its glamorous setting in the fashion industry, with the Forrester family, of the ‘Forrester Creations’ designer-clothing empire, constantly eating out in what was simply referred to as ‘the private dining room at the Club’, but also, as time went on, its ‘I’m My Own Grandad’ incestuous nature. More than once, I’ve had to do complicated mental calculations to determine that someone hasn’t just started dating their own child. So, on the all-too-rare occasions that I do manage to see the show, I want to be overcome by its sheer freaking greatness, the way I was a few years ago, when I tuned in after a long absence to discover that Brooke Logan Forrester (Katherine Kelly Lang) was having an affair with her son-in-law, Deacon. This gave rise to possibly my favourite episode of all time, when I witnessed Deacon’s wife, Brooke’s biological daughter, hearing an incriminating conversation between her husband and mother being transmitted through a baby monitor (the baby in question, would, of course, have been hearing its father talking passionately to its grandmother). When I tuned into Bold on this occasion, I was certainly overwhelmed, but for different reasons.
Approximately four fifths of the first episode that I saw was taken up by grande dame Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery, who can also be seen in The Towering Inferno), who has apparently, despite looking as healthy as a horse, just survived lung cancer, extensively haranguing one of the other characters about the evils of smoking. The character in question, Nick Marone (Jack Wagner), who is, for some reason, a ship’s captain, and who physically resembles David Bowie after he got off the drugs, apparently enjoys a good cigar; I don’t recall ever seeing Nick enjoying a good cigar but it seems that he does. Then, however, I tuned in a few days later, only to see Nick’s mother, Jackie (Lesley-Anne Down), also telling him at great length that, at all costs, he simply must not smoke and, what was more, actually playing him a videotape of Yul Brynner’s nineteen eighties public-service anti-smoking commercial. This peculiar action made me very uncomfortable, because one of the most reassuring aspects of American daytime drama is that the outside world is almost never acknowledged; you might see someone flick through a magazine occasionally, but no one ever watches television or talks about a person who actually exists.
While Nick did watch the entire commercial, and even acknowledged that Yul Brynner was one of his favourite actors (query: really?), I tuned in to the following episode to see that there was much distress over the fact that even watching Brynner hadn’t made Nick give up the ‘stogies’. As Jackie noted sombrely, ‘He always loved [Brynner’s] movies … He was affected but I don’t think it was enough.’ The discussion then raged for weeks, peppered with protests such as ‘First off, the humidor was a gift!’; the posing of rhetorical questions, such as ‘Is occasionally smoking really going to kill me?’; exclamations of ‘Au contraire!’; and the breaking out of statistics regarding the addictiveness of nicotine, and discussion of the evils of passive smoking. Even though they, to me, defeated their own argument by constantly pointing out that Stephanie ‘never smoked a day in her life’, it all eventually culminated in Nick dramatically throwing his cigars, one by one, onto the kind of successfully blazing open fire that I have only ever seen on television.
All this not only disturbed me greatly but was an unwelcome diversion from an intriguing storyline revolving around the fact that Brooke is now, it seems, on the brink of becoming involved with her stepson, Thomas. Forrester son and heir Ridge (Ronn Moss) to whom Brooke has been married at least three times (not to mention having also married Ridge’s father and half-brothers at different points) was delivering an extensive monologue about his great happiness with Brooke, and declaring that not a day goes by that he doesn’t thank God for her, which is the most dependable of indications that they are about to get divorced, yet again. The thing is, though, that Brooke is the lodestar of The Bold and the Beautiful. In so far as a show with such a massive cast can have a lead character, she is it, and, despite her flagrant carry-on over the years, is presented as a heroine, not a villainess.
Nothing that the writers have come up with in the intervening twenty-four years since Bold premiered in 1987 has ever bettered its premise: namely, that social-climbing Chemistry major Brooke set her cap at Ridge Forrester, even though he was engaged to the much more high-born Caroline Spencer (who eventually died from leukaemia, although the actress who played her, Joanna Johnson, of course came back several years later as Caroline’s long-lost identical twin). The thing is, however, that Katherine Kelly Lang was twenty-six years old when she first started playing Brooke Logan, and so is now aged fifty, while Ronn Moss is nearly sixty. This means that The Bold and the Beautiful has essentially already become a show about people in late middle age. What I want to know is whether it will eventually become a show about really old people. The show’s creators keep trying to come up with youthful characters that grab the audience, usually through the grand tradition of Brooke and Ridge’s many children ageing fifteen years overnight. But a bland young man with a closely cropped beard and a necklace, who indicates verbally an expertise with Smartphones and Flash, is simply never going to equal his forebears.
If The Bold and the Beautiful does continue as it is, with Brooke and Ridge staying at the centre of proceedings into their dotage, this will, I believe, be something quite new in daytime drama. Yes, Katherine (or Kay, as she was called) Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper) was a part of The Young and the Restless for thirty-eight years, but she didn’t start out as the young hottie in the way that Brooke did. Rather, Kay had Stephanie’s society-matron role, as the wife of Philip Chancellor II, who took off with Kay’s paid companion, Jill Foster. I admit that Kay had a lot of sex with stable boys at one point, but that was due, in part, to dejection at the fading of her looks, rather than to youthful sexual abandon. And, yes, the character of Jill Foster Abbott, as she became, is still a part of Young but has seemingly been portrayed by about 150 different actresses, so there has not been the continuity I require.
As I travelled from Melbourne Airport on the Skybus, I did, as ever, to my anger and disappointment, just miss my horoscope flashing up on the vehicle’s television screen. On the other hand, I got to read the outlook for Geminis, which was, bizarrely: ‘We are all a bit shocked by what you said and sometimes there is no way to apologise.’ Completely nutty as this was, it brought Brooke Logan Forrester back to the forefront of my mind, given her decades of shameless behaviour. I so hope that Katherine Kelly Lang forever stays in the role of Brooke and that we will still be seeing the actress and the character at sixty-five, remaining as utterly vixenish as she ever was.