Robert Sugden and the Curse of the Soap Opera Baby

Robron in happier times. Robert (Ryan Hawley) and Aaron (Danny Miller) at their wedding. |Image: ITV

Robron in happier times. Robert (Ryan Hawley) and Aaron (Danny Miller) at their wedding. |Image: ITV

I was going to keep my mouth shut. I was going to let this pass. But, I couldn’t. And I think it’s because I continually hold ITV’s fabulous Emmerdale to a higher standard.

Maybe that “hold” should be written in the past tense.

I’ve watched a lot of soaps my day, both in the U.S. and the U.K. and, let me tell you, British soaps are leagues and leagues better than their American counterparts, but when Rebecca White recently announced she was pregnant with Robert Sugden’s child, it was as if the Emmerdale writers were suddenly possessed by the zombified spirits of those sloppy, ineffectual scribes of the lame American daytime serial Days of our Lives. And my head nearly exploded.

I was disappointed. Then I got angry.

I got angry because Emmerdale is better than this.

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Always the most interesting village in Yorkshire. What must the denizens of Demdyke and Robblesfield feel like?

Emmerdale, in recent years, has given us amazing drama when when Jackson Walsh was paralyzed, when Zak Dingle beat Cain nearly to death, when Jai Sharma locked Charity Dingle in a shipping container, when Val Pollard contracted HIV, when the helicopter crashed into the village hall, and, most recently, the exquisite story of Ashley Thomas’s decline into dementia. And that short list doesn’t even include the mother of all edge-of-your-seat storylines: Cameron Murray’s brilliantly psychotic reign of terror.

So, no, Emmerdale writers, just because you’ve assayed some marvelous stories in the past, doesn’t mean you get a pass on this ridiculous “the baby is Robert’s” tale.

First and foremost, it’s just simply lazy storytelling. Second, you don’t get to deliberately mess with, perhaps inarguably, the most popular couple on your show because you can’t think of something less hackneyed to do with them. Third, you don’t get to mess with your own audience’s expectations without feeling the repercussions. Fourth, if you want said audience to keep tuning in, stop monkeying around with the canvas because you feel like you can.

Bottom line: this comes down to privilege. In this case, it’s straight privilege. When serial writers hit on a male couple that works with the audience, they don’t know how to continue to make them dramatic – or at least interesting – without messing with their relationship. And the quickest, easiest, most ludicrous way to do that is to introduce a baby into the dynamic.

Think I’m kidding?

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And baby makes three. Classic gay men with baby trope. Syed (Marc Elliott) and Christian (John Partridge) and sprog in EastEnders. |Image: Radio Times

Ste and (every boyfriend or husband)[Hollyoaks]: Ste has kids that are always cocking things up.

Craig and John-Paul [Hollyoaks]: An off-screen row about having a baby drove “McDean” apart and John-Paul returned to Chester to discover he was a father.

Christian and Syed [EastEnders]: Syed had a baby with an ex-wife.

Will and Sonny [Days of our Lives]: One of the most egregious uses of the baby cliché with a gay couple in the U.S.

Kyle and Oliver [One Live to Live]: Oliver has drunken sex with a woman who gets pregnant, then she dies and he fights for custody. Seriously?

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Oliver Fish (Scott Evans) and boyfriend Kyle Lewis (Brett Claywell) and Oliver’s child, Sierra Rose, on the American drama One Life to Live.

There are others, but you get the idea.

What I find particularly galling about the Robert/Rebecca tryst is that it is so typical of people who do not know how to write for a bi character. “He’s bi, he’ll sleep with anyone. I think we should get Bex up the duff!” No! Stop it! Stop it right now!

Instead of exposing your audience to realistic bisexual people and interactions, you’re just prolonging and engraining a terrible myth about bisexual folks: that they’re all promiscuous and incapable of forming a lasting relationship with anyone of any gender.

And you know this, Emmerdale. You know it – or at least someone on your writing staff knows it – because in the eloquently written scenes where Robert opens up to Aaron – just before the car crash – Robert tells him that just because a woman offers it to him, doesn’t mean he’ll take it because he loves Aaron.

Then, the first time he has the opportunity, he does just that. You have ignored the story that you set in motion, you have ignored the entire character brief, and you have ignored the legions of fans that want these two men together, all for the sake of a lazy, cheap plot point that engrains stereotypes.

And not just stereotypes about bisexual and gay people, but stereotypes about how poorly stories are told on serials.

Not. Acceptable.

Robert Sudgen is an intricate, complex, deeply flawed character. And he has been since childhood. That’s why the story of his father finding him with another boy as a teenager works so well in the realm of retcon plausibility.

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Emmerdale mainstay, the late Clive Hornby, played Jack Sugden, seen here with Karl Davies as Robert after the younger Sugden was met with the elder’s fist in an altercation. |Image: Yorkshire Television

Robert and Jack were famously always at war. Robert and Jack never understood one another and Robert’s love-hate relationship with his adoptive brother, Andy, has been well documented throughout the last two decades, especially as teens when they were jockeying for position as favorite son. It’s quite easy to infer that this bedroom incident may have been in the back of Jack’s mind when he sent Robert away from the village for good soon thereafter when the Sugden brothers and Katie Addyman were involved in the infamous “playing chicken car accident” that killed Max King.

Let’s also remember that Robert’s biological mother died when he was only several months old. And that he has an older maternal half-sister that we’ve all forgotten about. There are plenty of rich veins still left to mine in the psyche of Robert Sugden.

I hope Emmerdale has the strength of character to right this ship. Either have the baby be Ross Barton’s after all – the most practical solution – or have Rebecca die soon after giving birth in an emergency situation somewhere stupid like the stables at Wylie’s Farm (where Katie died!). Then have Aaron Dingle show up and deliver the baby or discover dead Rebecca. Something. Anything.

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Aaron forgave Robert’s infidelities earlier this year before Rebecca revealed she did not get an abortion. It was too much for Aaron and the popular couple are now on the outs. |Image: ITV

And Emmerdale? Put RobRon back together. And figure out a way for them to have lots of drama in their lives without Robert cheating again. Danny Miller and Ryan Hawley are far too good to waste on the single notes you’ve been giving them lately.

The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on Days of Our Lives

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Christopher Sean, Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson played “the gays of Salem” on Days of our Lives. They are seen here at the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2015.

The cut below is from a good article by Jim Halterman regarding the loss of the big LGBT storyline on NBC’s Days of our Lives.

While I understand new writers coming in with their own objectives and vision for the show as well as the preoccupation with celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the show, the fact that the LGBT presence (which has brought the show accolades over the past few years) is dwindling is definitely disconcerting.

Source: The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ | XFINITY TV Blog by Comcast

Like many people, I was extremely invested in the so-called WilSon story over the last four years and DAYS’ blockheaded move — certainly in my estimation — to take this story off the table led me to say good riddance to the show and stop watching.

Here again is my take to augment Halterman’s.

Congrats, Freddie Smith, DOOL on Emmy Wins, Inclusion

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Freddie Smith (l) as Sonny Kiriakis, opposite Guy Wilson as Will Horton, picked up a 2015 Daytime Emmy Award for his portrayal of “one of the good guys” on NBC’s venerable drama, Days of our Lives.

Kudos to Freddie Smith, who won a richly deserved Daytime Emmy Award yesterday for his role as Sonny Kiriakis on NBC’s Days of our Lives. Smith, whom I have long-called the best actor on soaps, was overshadowed in awards seasons past by three wins in a row by then-scene partner Chandler Massey. Smith has had many more Emmy-worthy scenes than this year’s reel showed. I’m glad his quiet, subtle, earnest acting did get the respect it deserves.

Smith has already wrapped filming, and the show will suffer for it, but continuing dramas are just that — continuing. Like sands through the hourglass, baby; you just keep keeping on!

One thing, though, Smith embraced Sonny from the jump and he made this young gay man more than just a poster child. DAYS integrated him into the canvas, involved him with tentpole characters — some of my favorite of his scenes were two-handers with the great John Aniston — and made him a three-dimensional person, a good guy, and someone to root for. The fact that the character was gay was completely immaterial. Sonny and Will had daytime’s first same-sex wedding and DAYS pulled out all the stops and wrapped up the best-long arc plotting I’ve ever seen on soaps. The show, deservingly, tied for Outstanding Drama last night as well.

I have sentimental favorites in the pantheon of American daytime dramas, but the continued inclusion of LGBT characters into the narrative in challenging, meaningful ways will always mean that DAYS comes first in my book. Also, Peggy McKay; I mean, come on!

Freddie dedicated his Emmy to the LGBT community. He’s a class act, that one.

DAYS/Freddie/WilSon-Related Recent-ish Posts Include:

I Do: The WilSon Wedding, Playing the Long Game, and Celebrating the Zeitgeist
‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem
More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising


H/T Ron, aka 477mrfixit, for the cut

Thanks, Petteri Paavola

Petteri Paavola, in case you are not in the know, is a young man who has played the role of Elias Vikstedt in the Finnish soap opera Salatut Elämät for the last four years.

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Ronny Roslof (left) and Petteri Paavola portrayed lovers Lari and Elias — known by fans worldwide by the portmanteau Larias — on the Finnish sudser. Roslof remains on the show, his once-closeted character is now in an out relationship with an older man.

He announced recently that he was leaving the show and the character was written out, having headed to Belgium to live with his mother. It’s not known at this time if he will return.

The relationship between Elias and Lari captivated audiences around the globe, thanks to YouTube and the good offices of MissFinlandia88, the handle of the dedicated YouTuber who subtitled these clips in English — and even got the show’s blessing to do it.

What do I care? Well, a post I wrote about Salatut Elämät in January 2013 has been the most-read piece on this site for two years running. Go figure. Who knew gay Finnish soap opera characters would bring so much of the world to me?

If you don’t come back — or even if you do, — thanks, Petteri. I’ve enjoyed meeting so many of your fans!

The Infamous Most-Read Post

So Long, Larias – The Last Post

Christopher Sean and Seeing More Asian Men On Television

Excellent interview with Christopher Sean on BuzzFeed:

The Actor Who Is Changing How We See Asian Men On Television.

Sean has been making waves on daytime television as a spanner thrown in the works for Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis, the first gay married couple on NBC’s Days of our Lives. Sean is a terrific actor and has terrific chemistry with both Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson, who play Will and Sonny. I think the introduction of Sean has reinvigorated the Will and Sonny storyline and has created an additional cheering section rooting for Sean and either of the guys, but especially Sonny.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis' Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver's death was central to the plot of the show's finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Something similar happened in the now-iconic Luke/Noah pairing on As The World Turns. When the writers introduced Eric Sheffer Stevens as Dr. Reid Oliver, his chemistry with Van Hansis as Luke Snyder was palpable and it upset the fandom applecart in quite unexpected ways. In fact, ATWT’s headwriter at the time, Jean Passanante, noted that if the show had not already been cancelled that the actors’ chemistry could have easily led the writers to create a longterm romantic triangle. By the time the show came to an end — in qintessential soapy fashion when Reid was killed by a train but lived long enough to make sure his heart was donated to save the life of Chris Hughes (don’t ya love it! LOL) — the Nuke (Noah and Luke) and the LuRe (Luke and Reid) camps were already being drawn up.

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. |Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. When Paul came out to his Japanese grandfather on air, he spoke to him only in Japanese.|Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

On Days, Sean’s recently out ex-pro baseball player Paul Norita, has already slept with Will, saved Sonny’s life and it looks like he’s about to be exposed as Will’s grandmother’s stepson! Oh, did I forget to mention he’s Sonny’s ex as well? It’s a lot of soapy froth and I get a kick out of it. Sean’s chemistry with Smith was noticeable from their first scenes and Team WilSon (Will and Sonny) and Team PaulSon (Paul and Sonny) are already getting their standards made.

I am a hardcore member of Team WilSon, but I do love what Sean brings to the table. He’s a great addition to the cast and I love that he’s moving the needle on bringing more hues to a too-white canvas. And, dammit all, he is NOT hard to look at either!

Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia? | Roberto Perez

This is an excellent thinkpiece on HuffPo Gay Voices from early in August. I would have referenced it earlier, but I’ve been busy recovering from some surgery by not writing! Perdóname.

Perez references the telenovela (soap opera, in English) Que Pobres Tan Ricos, a Mexican drama broadcast in the US on the cable channel Univision. His thesis is that these types of programs tackling gay relationships and homophobia is helping the Latino community better understand LGBT people.

He is absolutely correct, of that I am positive. Alert readers will surely know by now how often I have beat the drum for serial drama and its power to impact the culture. I am reminded of Freddie Smith, the actor who plays a young, gay character on Days of our Lives, relating the story that a fan had written him telling Smith that he had come out to his grandmother by telling her that he was “like Sonny.” It was a perfect way for that young man to relate to his grandmother, who did not have the life experience to process, “I’m gay” in a way that would make sense to her. However by using a character that she understood — and liked — as the analogy, he was setting himself up for success and acceptance.

Anytime we can use powerful storytelling to make others understand how very much alike we all are, the better off we’ll be.

Here’s a link to Perez’s post. Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia? I wouldn’t bother trying to check it out on Univision, though. Que Pobres was cancelled at the end of August. No se puede siempre ganarlo todo … or something like that.

Where the Beautiful People Go to High School

Back from my moving-across-half-of-the-country sabbatical to bring you a quick check-in on the goings-on at Westfield Prep. And there are a lot of things going on!

For the uninitiated, Westfield Prep and environs is the mythical(?) Southern California setting for the super-soapy teen web drama Youthful Daze.

When Tommy Dinato (Ethan Daniel Corbett) comes back to town, it’s clear that he has a past with Drew Castle (series creator Bryan James), but it’s not until a heated argument turns into a heated make out session do we learn that their history is a romantic one.

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Nothing stays private for too long thanks to the movie studio everyone carries in their hip pocket. Will this restroom snogfest become fodder for the high school gossips or is it Grade-A blackmail material? As they say, tune in tomorrow.

Now, campers, your faithful correspondent, ‘Uncle Grandpa,’ is a bit long in the tooth for angsty teen drama, no matter how cute the angsty teens happen to be, but I was struck by this statement from creator James, “…[Youthful Daze] showcase[s] the straight storylines and the gay ones with no hang ups or discrimination in execution. We are a soap opera that has something for everyone.”

And that’s the way it should be. Besides, every generation needs their angsty teen stories and improbable dramas; it’s how we learn we’re not alone in the world. Take this well-crafted little soap out for a spin, I think you’ll enjoy yourself.

Here’s a preview, and below a link to one of the latest episodes.

http://ww2.webisodesnetwork.com/youthful-daze/videos/1304