Soap Opera Weekly
Volume 11, Issue 17, April 25, 2000
The Babe Hits One
Out of the Park
By: Marlena De Lacroix
A friend who has, like moi, been watching One Life To Live for the
past 32 years watched the March 29 all-Viki special episode, featuring Viki
preparing to go to the hospital for her breast cancer surgery. As soon as the
episode started, we began chanting all the obstacles we had watched Viki
overcome since the show's debut: a stroke...brain surgery...kidnappings of her
children...being on trial for a murder she didn't commit...several major
breakouts of dissociative identity disorder (during one of which one of her
alters murdered her father, and during another of which an alter killed a
man)...the deaths of two husbands..two divorces from a third husband...the death
of daughter Megan.
Watching Victoria Lord Carpenter suffer nobly and overcome obstacles is why
we love the character who has held center stage on OLTL from the start.
Viki is everywoman; her victories are our victories. So it was an obvious, if
perhaps too facile, choice for a soap as hungry for acclaim as OLTL to
produce a special episode in which Our Lady of the Perpetual Overcoming dealt
with the widespread disease breast cancer. In the past, OLTL Executive
Producer Jill Farren Phelps has done bravura work producing several special
episodes on Guiding Light (such as Ross' 1992 Election Day episode, and Billy's
bachelor party) and Santa Barbara (such as Cruz's It's a Wonderful
Life dream). OLTL head writer Megan McTavish has even had her moment.
In fact, she pulled off a major miracle at All My Children by writing the
early 1999 episodes for which Susan Lucci finally won her Outstanding Lead
Actress Emmy: the family intervention with Erica's anorexic daughter, Bianca.
But what most determined the success of this OLTL special episode was
the performer who was spotlighted. When you have Babe Ruth on your team, of
course that's who you send up to bat. So it was no surprise that Phelps chose
five-time Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy-winner Erika Slezak. And in this special
episode, Slezak demonstrated why she is the quintessential soap opera actress.
She can show humanity, she can show compassion, she can wring our hearts, she
can mist up, she can get hysterical. And unlike some other soap actresses, she
never for a moment loses her dignity or the audience's respect.
I have always loved Slezak as a performer because as many times as I've seen
her triumph over yet another problem as Viki, she arrives at the next problem or
storyline perfectly fresh, with Viki's vulnerability and intelligence intact.
(In fact, Viki is perhaps the only female character on OLTL who hasn't
suffered an IQ decrease in the past two years -- Nora and Blair being the two
most notable victims.) The audience never gets tired of her. To build that kind
of audience rapport takes a lot of skill and talent on a longtime soap
performer's part. And in the special breast cancer episode, which was kind of "A
Day in the Life of Viki" before she went to the hospital for a modified radical
mastectomy, we got to see Slezak in every single scene, in all kinds of
situations, personal and professional.
I was absolutely thrilled to see a Viki we way too rarely see, doing her job,
giving her staff at the newspaper a farewell talk (loved her oh-so-current nod
to newspaper/internet competition) and even making a speech at a playground
fund-raiser. As a newspaper publisher, Viki is a powerful woman (think the
Washington Post's Katherine Graham), and that has never been played up enough.
Of course, the playground scene was used as a backdrop for Viki's beau, Ben, to
coincidentally show up, basketball in hand. This is soap opera! But more on Viki
and Ben later.
I thought the episode's strongest scenes were of a vulnerable Viki alone
(crying in the attic, unpacking in her hospital room) and those with her family.
Throughout this cancer crisis, Kevin has been a magnificent support to Viki, so
much so that I finally, finally buy Timothy Gibbs as Slezak's son. And no
mother/daughter relationship on soaps could be as sweet and close as Viki and
Jessica's. Jessica's "hang in there, Mom" scene was very moving.
But what I found incredibly awkward about the episode and the whole storyline
is that Viki would not tell Ben about her cancer. I know Viki's secret is being
kept from Ben for some future maximum melodramatic soap-opera effect. But come
on! In real life wouldn't a woman tell her significant other she was facing
surgery? This part of the story is so unrealistic it's downright insulting to
the viewer's intelligence.
Which is too bad, because other than that, the episode was a nearly perfect
an hour of soap opera as we can expect these days. What made it especially
interesting to moi as a critic was the realization that what I enjoyed most
about it is exactly what annoys me about the show on a day-to-day basis. Usually
OLTL is massively overproduced, with the (practically) non-stop music and
the dark, funereal lighting upstaging the cast. But in the special episode, the
meticulous production paid off. The intermittent soft, sensitive music and
darkish, gold-hued lighting set an appropriately soft tone as the background for
Viki's suffering. Not that anything could upstage Erika Slezak. When you're Babe
Ruth, you hit one out of the park no matter who is managing the team.