Soap Opera Weekly
July 31, 2001
Volume 12, Issue 31
OLTL's Inmates Took Over The Asylum
by Marlena DeLacroix
Did you see OLTL's special July 4 episode?
Wow! Who ever expected soap fans to get such a great payoff for staying indoors
and watching television on a holiday? 'Trading Places', as the episode was
called, was funny, fresh, and totally original. Not since 'The Daisy Awards',
OLTL's spoof of the Daytime Emmys, has a soap so savagely made fun of itself –
and daytime drama in general. The one-episode satire was set up as show shrink
Rae Cummings' (Linda Dano) hour-long dream.
Rae was called to St. Ann's (Llanview's mental hospital/asylum), where,
wandering the halls, she ran into many of the show's main characters, who had
literally changed places: Todd and Viki (and Viki's alters), Nora and Lindsay,
Bo and R.J., Jessica and Jen, Will and Cristian, and last but not least, Rae
herself with little Starr. Interspersed were characters inspired by '60s and
'70s television – a nun impersonated by Renee named Sister Mary Richards (from
The Mary Tyler Moore Show)and a flying nun impersonated by Ben, (a take
on Sally Field's character on The Flying Nun). Part Rocky
Horror Picture Show/part college lampoon/part drag show, 'Trading Places'
was packed with so many references and inside jokes that I had to watch the
episode three times to catch them all. (Marlena has never before watched a
single soap episode more than twice in 30-plus years of viewing!) What was
totally divine about 'Trading Places' was that everyone and everything connected
with OLTL was fair game. For example, some characters made nasty fun of the
poorly conceived character Rae, a shrink who infamously, if a bit nonsensically,
listens to anyone's problems anywhere and anytime in Llanview. "'Are you sure
you're a psychologist?' Sister Mary Richards kept asking Rae over and over.
Later, in the middle of a zany chase sequence, 'Lindsay' (really Hillary
B. Smith dressed as Lindsay) took a moment to check herself in the mirror.
Smith was brilliant to catch this tiny mannerism of the vain Lindsay. Still
later, 'Max' (a cross-dressing Fiona Hutchison) and 'Gabrielle' (played
by James DePaiva) were interrupted during one of the typical shouting
matches that characterizes their relationship by the swelling notes of 'their
song' (Michael Bolton's That's What Love Is All About). They instantly
plunged into a deep kiss and fell into bed (with 'Max' jumping on top!).
what will probably be most remembered about this episode was the cross-casting.
DePaiva was a pip as a rather chunky Gabrielle. Bob Wood's wearing
R.J. dread locks, and Timothy Stickney wearing a Bo-style hat, were
once-in-a-lifetime hoots. And I liked Erika Slezak as a shifty-eyed,
rather seedy Todd. But Roger Howarth deserves and Emmy nomination for his
brilliant impersonation of Viki and her alternate personalities. As Viki,
Howarth's sweet expressions and upper-class 'at-talls' he tacked right on
the end of many of her sentences were right on the money. In a conversation with
Rae, 'Viki' suddenly turned into Niki Smith. ('It's Niki Smith Time', Howarth
exulted hilariously). Later, in a soap moment destined to be classic,
Howarth as naughty 'Niki' danced across the room, shimmying 'her'
enormous fake breasts from side to side. Wasn't it all a scream?
To me, the
episode seemed to me to be the deepest, longest in-house vent in soap opera
history. Because, television viewers, we deceive ourselves when we think we are
the only ones who know how funny and utterly absurd soap operas can be. It's
purely my guess, but I wonder if the people who make the shows – the actors,
writers, producers – aren't even more frustrated about the state of soaps than
we are? What better way of letting off a little steam than by letting the
inmates take over the asylum for a day?…"