Soap Dead

Every Friday night, I try to post another term of Soap Opera Jargon. Find previous entries on the Soap Opera Jargon page on this site.
Soap Dead – Miraculous returns from the dead have been a part of soap operas almost from the beginning, whether it was a carefully laid plot or a “guess who didn’t make it in Hollywood and came crawling back.” However, it didn’t used to be as common as it is today. (See Sudden Doppleganger) Now returning from the dead is so common that people have developed a term, “soap dead” to describe a situation where viewers assume no character is really dead and the actor or at least the character will be back.

There have been a lot of memorable returns over the years. One of the MOST memorable was on As the World Turns when the monk who had been sinisterly lurking around town for weeks pushed back his cowl and said “Hello, Barbara” revealing ubervillian¬† James Stenbeck in his first of many returns from the dead. This scene made such an impact that if you say “Hello, Barbara” to almost any soap fan and they will know exactly what you mean. ATWT also had one of the best written returns. When Shannon O’Hara McKendrick returned to town it had already been announced by the soap magazines, but it still managed to shock us by setting up a situation where Duncan’s current wife Jessica was assumed to be the source of the phone call that urged Duncan to come because they had his wife in custody, he opened the door and it was Shannon instead. (Sadly they hadn’t planned what should happen nearly as well after week 1 and ultimately Shannon and Duncan were shipped out of town again, ignoring tons of story possibilities.) Once in awhile we can still be surprised. On The Young and the Restless Phillip Chancellor II came back from the dead after being peacefully in his grave for 16 years, when the other end of Cane’s phone calls was revealed at the end of an episode. (I yelled “WHAT!” outloud.) However, it’s such a common occurrence now that they don’t even always bother to come up with a story that makes sense to explain the return like the wax doll replacement that was used for The Bold and the Beautiful‘s Taylor Hayes Forrester or the twin who showed up to take a bullet for Cane/Ethan/Whatever they’re calling him this week on The Young and the Restless. Days of Our Lives has made in an unusually campy joke with pretty much everyone in town back from the dead a couple of times and Tony Demeria is not dead because it was his cousin Andre who was killed, but wait Andre is a live too and Tony was really being held on an island the whole time so both Tony and Andre were the same person, but now Tony is supposedly really dead….I give up.

On Guiding Light, the most memorable come back was Roger Thorpe who came back after a decade (even though his portrayer Michael Zaslow said he held really, really still a long time to assure they couldn’t).¬† He’d been shot and fell over a cliff, but was found living as a CIA agent on a tropical island. However, Phillip Spaulding, Alan Spaulding, Beth Raines Spaulding, and Reva Shayne Lewis probably get the Phoenix crowns for coming back from the dead, or at least the assumed dead, multiple times.¬† A fair sprinkling of other people around town, including Danny Santos, came back from the dead at least once.

At this point returns from the dead are so common than many fans and critics worry about what the concept of “Soap Dead” is doing to the genre. If almost everyone comes back from the dead eventually, how upset can you get when they die? How can you get emotionally invested with the fallout when you’re sure the death isn’t permanent and they will be back among the living? Is “Soap Dead” a flexible answer to casting challenges that help chase ratings or part of the reason not as many people feel the emotional connection to soaps they once did? Stay tuned.


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One Response to “Soap Dead”

  1. glmanny Says:

    Reblogged this on Glmanny's Blog and commented:

    Check out this greatest hit for Soap Opera Jargon day.

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