Channel Surfer: 'SOAP'
Do you ever wonder if all those rumors about soap operas are true? Cheating couples, long lost relatives, and amnesia riddled people as far as the eye can see? Well then, do I have a treat for you. This week on Channel Surfer, we’re gonna look at SOAP, a 1977 television show satirizing the whole soap opera genre. Or are we?…wait…who are you?…who am I!? Oh no! I’ve lost my memory!!!
Original Run: 1977-1981
No. of Episodes: 93
Premise: SOAP takes place in the fictional town of Dunn’s River, Connecticut. It’s the story about two sisters, Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell. The Tate’s live a very affluent life style, while the Campbell’s don’t. Still, there’s a lot of love between the families. They’re also just as many secrets.
SOAP is basically a satire on the crazy plot devices that daytime soap operas use. It’s structured like a soap opera, with a narrator recapping the previous episode when the show starts, and summarizing the current episode when the show ends. Every character has their own crazy story line throughout the season. The show writers should really be commended for not only balancing these storylines, but also meshing them together throughout the season. Here’s are a few examples of the story elements SOAP employed, just to give you some perspective: Murder, seducing a priest, cults, UFO abductions, falling in love with a South American revolutionary, and, my personal favorite, trying to exorcise a demon from a newborn.
The show has two big claims to fame outside its pretty clever premise. First, it gave us the television show, Benson. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my early elementary school days involved me watching the channel 36 Power Hour of The Jefferson’s and Benson before going to school in the morning. Second, one of the main characters was a young Billy Crystal. You know, that guy from When Harry Met Sally. Crystal’s story arc was arguably the most interesting and groundbreaking journey in Television up to that point. Crystal played Jodie Campbell, an openly gay character. Understand that this was way before The Ellen Show and Will and Grace. Homosexual main characters on television just didn’t happen. Not only that, but one of Jodie’s story arcs involved his fight to keep a child he fathered after the mother abandons it (twice!).
Now, as much as I appreciated SOAP’s portrayal of gay issues, I was not a fan of its exploration of taboo subjects. SOAP suffers from what I like to call the “70’s Dilemma.” Comedy shows made in the 1970’s tend to try to strike a balance between humor and social analysis. They’ll bring up topics like abortion, racism, sexual abuse, etc. Some shows, like All in the Family, became famous for this. I know that this was meant to be thought provoking and inspire frank and honest discussions, but sometimes you just want to laugh, you know? The real problem with SOAP is that it tries to balance two extremes. It tries to be super silly one minute and harshly realistic the next. No show can really do this all that successfully.
The premise behind SOAP is brilliant and I really wish another television show would copy it. Imagine a fake soap opera on Adult Swim. But as it stands, SOAP is all we got. It's a show that you should watch at least once. At least the first season, which is the most tightly written.