Melodrama-rama: Why the soap opera is TV at its most authentic
Unsurprisingly, Days of Our Lives was the daytime champion of the 45th annual Daytime Emmy Awards, scoring awards for Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Directing, and Acting.
As one of the longest running scripted television shows in the world, the beloved soap opera has aired a new episode almost every day since it started in 1965. At this stage, Days of Our Lives isn’t just a soap opera; it’s a cherished television institution and one that proves the endurance and the importance of the genre overall.
Soap operas: High drama in a shot glass
Along with fellow soap opera mainstays like The Bold and the Beautiful, The Young and the Restless, and General Hospital, Days of Our Lives and every show like it offer high drama without pretense. There’s a reason why audiences have remained so invested in the ever-changing characters and stories of these shows and it isn’t just for the shocking plot twists and flashy displays of emotion.
Soap operas offer a community amid the reliable comforts of a daily routine. Most importantly perhaps, they show us our truths – even at their most ridiculous.
Obviously it goes without saying that the humble soap opera is one of the most maligned forms of popular entertainment out there. Soap operas may lack some of the sophistication of the average “prestige” show on television, but their entertainment value is no way lacking because of that.
If television were a fully stocked bar, your average prestige show would be the $25 glass of brandy you intend on savoring for as long as possible, while the soap opera is the two shots of Fireball you intend on knocking back as soon as they’re served. Both will likely give you the same buzz, but only one of them is going to impress the average person if you’re inclined to brag about your tastes.
To hell with prestige – we want passion!
However, there are some things that soap operas actually do better than some well respected dramas. They may be picking away at the lowest level of human emotions in their pursuit for narrative, but there’s something hugely cathartic about watching a show with such an uninhibited approach to love, hate, passion, and evil.
We might not have the freedom to express these feelings with such immodest vigor as the average character on a soap opera does, but lord knows we’d like to.
Wouldn’t life be so much more straightforward if secrets unveiled themselves in such indiscreet manners that we were forced to reckon with their truth right then and there? And who wouldn’t want to enjoy a dramatic exit, gush our lovelorn pleas as we feel them, and say exactly whatever we want to our enemies at the most inopportune time?
Soap operas show humanity in extremes; our best and worst in the most heightened of manners. Few of us have the guts to live like that in real life, so it’s liberating to live those feelings through the daily check-ins of a new soap opera episode.
Skills to pay the bills
There’s a lot of skill pumped into soap operas that often goes uncelebrated by the industry (besides a specialist awards ceremony like the Daytime Emmys). To write, direct, and perform in a show that almost consistently airs five days a week is no easy feat.
Whether the storylines, dialogue, and characters developed in such episodes are lacking the sophistication of other TV dramas like Westworld, The Walking Dead, Insecure, or Game of Thrones is besides the point. These shows only air anything between 12 and 24 episodes each year. The average soap opera will air around 200 or more.
James Franco – an actor who wonderfully portrayed a meta-semblance of his own public persona as the diabolical artist Franco in General Hospital in 2010 – told Vulture that his stint on the show actually made him a better actor.
Speaking of his challenging audition for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, where the actor was prompted to quickly memorize and perform his entire audition script, Franco divulged, “Because I had just done General Hospital, where I was doing 77 pages a day, I can memorize like that. I have to give credit to General Hospital for being able to memorize like that, and I got the part!”
So here’s to soap operas – a genre unafraid to pursue the ridiculous and the absurd and to showcase human foibles at their most dramatic. A genre that works fast and delivers quickly. They may not be the classiest productions on TV, but sometimes you just want a show that allows you to vicariously live your most ridiculous self through its own wicked lens.