Best & Worst of 2016
In my six years of writing this blog, I’ve now had to begin four of these year-end Best & Worst lists with the caveat that there was a writing turnover that took place in August/September, so it was sort of like grading two totally different shows. The shift from Josh Griffith’s version of Days to the Dena Higley/Ryan Quan incarnation has been less abrupt than some of the past changeovers — i.e., no serial killer or sharp “new direction” — but I find the present version of the show way, way more palatable than what was going on last winter and spring. Even with things that aren’t totally (or at all) working, it feels like Days again to me. That said, there’s so much stuff that was packed into this year, partly because Griffith started and dropped a whole slew of things that never paid off. I almost called this the “Best, Worst, & Other of 2016,” because there were a few instances in which “best” simply meant “least offensive option I could remember.” But with all that out of the way, here goes…
BEST RECAST: Vanessa Williams as Valerie Grant
I can only think of three recasts that debuted this year: Jordi Vilasuso as Dario, who’s… fine even though the character has no point and was replacing an actor who held the role for six months years ago, and Marci Miller as Abigail, who’s doing pretty well with tough material and is also very new. So maybe this one goes to Vanessa Williams by default, but that’s selling her short. Valerie last appeared onscreen in 1982, and she was played by three actresses during her original run, so it isn’t as if Williams was taking over for a beloved performer who’s fresh in viewers’ minds. But from the moment she stepped into Abe’s hospital room, she’s come across as a refreshing, natural presence on the show. She’s definitely younger than the character should be, but not distractingly so, and I love that this gives both Abe and Julie stuff to do. In a year where I spent a whole lot of time wishing that things happening onscreen would go away and never be mentioned again, this is one case in which I’m actually eager to see more.
BIGGEST WASTE OF TALENT: Vincent Irizarry as Deimos Kiriakis
Soap vet Vincent Irizarry, best known for popular runs on Guiding Light and All My Children, joined Days near the top of 2016 as Victor’s never-before-referenced younger brother, fresh off a 30-year prison stint and out for revenge. Within months, he had stolen Victor’s fortune and left Maggie paralyzed — and that’s on top of the fact that his quest to obtain the serum to cure Topit’s Syndrome (remember that?!) led to Bo’s death. Pretty good recipe for a new villain, right? Instead, the writing kept taking bizarre left turns, with everyone from Nicole to Brady to Victor making excuses for Deimos, while he simultaneously sort of felt bad for the things he’d done while also continuing to be a ruthless bastard. This sort of propping never makes a character more likable, so instead of creating a worthy successor to Stefano or old-school Victor, they’ve just created this darker version of Daniel, whom even the talented Irizarry can’t salvage. Days seems to want to have its cake and eat it, too, with this character, but instead they’re just winding up with that sad mess Paige threw on the floor at the saddest birthday party ever.
MOST IMPROVED CHARACTER: Jennifer Horton and Belle Black (tie)
For the past several years — and due in no small part to the juvenile writing for the “Dannifer” pairing — Jennifer Horton saw her previous spunk and sense of morality traded out for a shrewish, overbearing judginess. Her pill addiction story wasn’t exactly the stuff of daytime writing legend, but it did serve to knock her down a few pegs (and gave us that surprisingly sparky fling with Eric), and they wisely used her as a supporting character in her children’s storylines for the remainder of the year. In recent months, she bought the Spectator, the paper that she and Jack used to run, and I’m interested to see her as a reporter and with a fresh love interest in 2017. Meanwhile, Belle returned after eight years away and, instead of getting a reset, slipped right back into the same self-centered waffling between Shawn and Philip — but this time, with an additional slutty edge and terrible mothering skills! I was clamoring for her to get the hell off my screen again (even though, as John and Marlena’s daughter, she should be a crucial part of the show’s next generation), but then something strange happened. In Martha Madison’s last weeks before Belle exited, they reunited her with Shawn and showcased a more compassionate side of the character. Her friendship with Chad and delicate handling of Jen’s addiction were genuinely compelling, and I was shocked at my sadness to see that character go. I would love to see Belle again if they’d take the care to write her as the woman we saw in those final few weeks.
WORST CHARACTER: Summer Townsend
In a year full of messes, this was a highly competitive category. There were longtime characters written in damaging ways (Hope), talented actors saddled with characters who made little sense (Deimos), and characters with no point or distinguishing traits (Fynn). But you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint a Salemite as all-around dreadful as Summer. After Brady’s heart transplant, Daniel’s spirit (or something) led him via visions to L.A., where he found an unstable grifter whom Daniel happened to know years earlier and whom he’d suspected was also his sister. DNA results confirmed that Summer, who was said onscreen to be in her 30s and certainly didn’t appear much older than 40, was the child Maggie had given up at age 17, even though that child would have to be years older than Daniel — who was established at the time of his death to be 50. If making a muddled mess out of Maggie’s backstory weren’t bad enough, Summer never actually did much of anything. Sure, she killed that guy who came after her for money, and she lied to Brady, but she was never really a threat to the Brady/Theresa pairing, and she brought out the most obnoxious sides of Maggie and Victor. She mostly just hung around limply, feeling sorry for herself, before an abrupt exit that left Maggie with yet another offscreen child she never mentions, let alone sees. (Notice how there wasn’t even a nod toward Summer during the recent Horton ornament ceremony?) There was probably a kernel of potential in this character, but it didn’t come close to popping into something dynamic or even watchable.
BEST TREND: Visiting Characters
Too often, being out of Salem means that characters essentially cease to exist. They don’t show up for weddings or funerals, and they often don’t even warrant mentions at the holidays or during major family events. In the past several years, though, Days has been much more open to having familiar faces pop into town for short stints. In 2016 alone, we got visits from Melanie, Chloe (who later returned full-time), Orpheus, Clyde, Xander, Eve, Shane, Kimberly, Laura, and Nancy — plus visions of Stefano, Bo, Larry Welch, Jack, and even a grown-up Zack Brady — as part of their loved ones’ stories. Was the writing always spectacular? Nah. Could some of these visits have been longer? Of course. But I’m always glad to see the world outside of the present-day canvas acknowledged, and these appearances help add a layer of reality to stories that, let’s be honest, could often use all the help they can get. There are already several return engagements confirmed for 2017, so here’s hoping this is one trend that sticks.
WORST TREND: Casual Homicide
In the first months of 2016, we saw Hope, Joey, and Summer — a beloved veteran, an important legacy child, and a newbie for whom we were supposed to feel sympathy — commit murder and get away with it. The Salem PD helped cover up the first two, and Dario aided Summer in dumping the third body, and until the change of writers this fall, there was no real acknowledgment of any of these characters paying for what they’d done. On top of these three, they also had Kate callously think she had killed Deimos, and Eric (who at least paid for his crime) was turned into a murderer after a drunk-driving accident that caused Daniel’s death. If not for dumping Josh Griffith as head writer, Days very well might have continued with this bizarre, cavalier treatment of homicides until the show was wrecked beyond repair. There are characters who make mistakes, and then there are irredeemable acts, and Days lost sight of that line more than once in the past year. With any luck, the ridiculous story gymnastics that are being required to write Hope out of her present corner will make them think twice before going ahead with another “shocking twist” of this nature.
WORST COUPLE: Nicole and Deimos
This one started out idiotically, and it ended the year the same way, albeit for totally different reasons. Nicole just happened to bear a startling resemblance to Helena, the woman both Victor and Deimos loved 30 years ago, even though Victor had never before mentioned or hinted at this, despite having married Nicole. She planned to use this resemblance to get close to Deimos and help Victor and Maggie turn the tables on him after the crimes he’d committed. Stupid, but clear, and it was kind of an interesting mission for a grieving Nicole. Then a jealous Kate “killed” Deimos and tried to frame Nicole, and when he turned up alive, Nicole suddenly had real feelings for him, and the Helena angle was dropped. Now Nicole is sleeping with a guy who has committed all manner of serious misdeeds that people have to keep inexplicably excusing, and she looks like a moron for it. Arianne Zucker and Vincent Irizarry definitely have chemistry, but that isn’t nearly enough to overcome the confusing, illogical writing for this pairing.
WORST TRIANGLE: Rafe/Hope/Aiden
I used to think that Hope and Rafe had a lot of promise as a pairing, because they had an easy, friendly chemistry while working together on the Salem PD. But as soon as the decision was made to axe Daniel Cosgrove’s Aiden and pair Hope with Rafe officially, the show started shoving them down our throats in such a heavy-handed way (a dying Bo asking Rafe to take care of Hope?!) that their appeal all but vanished. And then they made the bizarre decision to undo Aiden’s death with a ridiculous “Andre switched him out for a doppelgänger” retcon. Hope for some reason contemplated reuniting with a man who looked like someone who’s recently tried to kill her and whose son had raped her daughter, and Rafe — at his absolute most annoying — moped around and groused about Aiden for weeks on end. When they finally let Aiden go full villain and had him holding Stefano’s murder over Hope’s head, the story actually began to have some life, but I still wasn’t upset when they opted to write him out again.
BEST TWIST: Chloe is Carrying Nicole’s Baby
I really had no idea what to think when Chloe — who previously knew Deimos as “Robert” in Chicago — went ahead and slept with Deimos almost immediately after learning that a) he’d lied to her, b) he’d used her to get information on the Kiriakises, and c) he was badly injured but didn’t want her to go to the authorities. But it turned out to be worth it after Chloe turned up pregnant, Philip agreed to pretend to be the father, and then Deimos’s paternity test actually showed that he wasn’t the father. This is one of those weird Dena Higley stories that requires a big leap of logic at the start, but I think it was worth it in order to do this twist on a baby switch, in which Chloe carried and gave birth to Nicole and Daniel’s child — only Nicole didn’t know it. This thing hasn’t gelled quite enough for me to call it a successful story, but the twist that Chloe offered to be Nicole and Daniel’s surrogate offscreen last fall was genuinely surprising, and it created a whole slew of interesting, overlapping dynamics. I wish Nicole would get her head out of her ass about Deimos, and I think it was foolish to write out Philip (though it looks like they’re subbing in Brady for him), but Nicole now having a biological child that she doesn’t know is hers should be powerful for anyone who’s followed the show the last 8-9 years, and I love that they’re placing so much weight on the Nicole/Chloe friendship. Besides, that throwaway line about a drunk man causing a ruckus in the clinic has me intrigued for the next chapter…
MOST UNNECESSARY STORY: Ciara’s Rape
I still cannot fathom how anyone rubber-stamped this trainwreck. Ciara and Chase’s SORASing was awkward enough given the timeline: they were onscreen as 10-year-olds at the end of summer 2015, and then, with no real break or transition time, they became teens. Mere months later, Chase was pinning Ciara down on the Hortons’ couch and raping her. Rape is overused enough as a plot device, and this was made even ickier because the memory of child Ciara was still fresh in viewers’ minds. Even worse, the story never really went anywhere, the actress playing Ciara remained too green to make the fallout compelling, and Chase — a complex character played by a decent actor and who wasn’t actually related to anyone in Salem (meaning he could be paired with anyone) was ruined. I could perhaps have seen the social value of doing a rape story if they’d used it to cast some light on the epidemic of college campus sexual assaults, but there was no redeeming value to this incident or to saddling yet another Salem heroine with the weighty baggage of such a violation.
WORST STORY: Hope Kills Stefano
Talk about a misguided act. I remember watching the episode last winter in which Hope — after being goaded by a wheelchair-bound Stefano for an hour — whipped around and fired her gun at him, killing him. I remember thinking that there had to be some twist coming, because it was too plain that she’d killed a man who, in spite of all the evil things he’d done over the years, was unarmed and basically just being mean to her. (I should probably give out a special award for that hilarious line Stefano had about “your banal dead husband,” which we saw no fewer than 600 times via flashback.) And then they compounded it by having her call Rafe for help… and having the two of them conspire to dump the body and cover the shooting… and having them frame Andre for the murder… and then having a random innocent man take the fall for reasons that made no sense. No matter how tortured they let Hope feel, the fact remained that she shot and killed an old man. It was a terrible, idiotic move that could’ve so easily been done in a way that spared the character but still provided drama: what if Stefano had in some way been threatening Ciara’s life from that wheelchair (say he’d planted an explosive device in her backpack and was taunting Hope that he was going to detonate it)? Hope would’ve been much more justified in what she did, Andre still could’ve been out for blood, and the Higley/Quan writing regime wouldn’t have to go through the rigamarole of Hope’s second prison story in six years just to have her actually be held accountable for what she did. The fact that we know Joe Mascolo isn’t coming back makes this even more bitter, because for a character as legendary as Stefano DiMera to go out as part of such a problematic tale just doesn’t feel right.
BEST STORY: Abigail’s Descent into Madness
This was not the easiest category to decide, on account of the fact that there were barely any stories with a discernible throughline, and the ones that sort of had one were generally a mess… and while the weird, twisty journey of Chad and Abigail wasn’t without its bumps, it’s at least been consistently interesting and has maintained momentum. The writing for Abigail as her paranoia about Ben turned to dangerous mental illness was very sharp, and Kate Mansi really stepped up to the challenge of some difficult material as Abigail lit Ben on fire and was overcome by delusions in the world’s worst mental hospital, Shady Hills. The conflict between Jennifer and Chad over Thomas’s custody wasn’t as smoothly executed as it could’ve been, but it made for some interesting drama, and this new phase of the story — with Gabi, JJ, and Dario folded in — has a promising geometry to it. And they’re actually playing the fallout of Abigail’s breakdown now that she’s back, instead of just sweeping it under the rug like they usually do with things like this. In short: this story, centered on a promising next-generation couple, wasn’t totally awful, and there’s been a lot of potential that might or might not have actually been fulfilled, so… let’s be grateful for that much and hope 2017 is a much better year.