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Pat Harrington Jr.
Parody of television soap-operas--the show's humor relies on exaggerating soap-operas' characteristic plot implausibility and melodrama to ridiculous extremes, then adds a fair bit of the truly bizarre, including some remarkable characters. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
This is a show that everyone deserves a chance to see. A more brilliant cast and crew was never assembled for anything! These days, they talk about how "Friends" and "Seinfeld" have such great ensembles--"Soap" wrote the book on great ensembles! The only ones since which even come close are, first and foremost, the cast of "Remember WENN," and possibly the cast of "Frasier."
Everyone was great. Jay Johnson as demure Chuck and his daffy doll Bob, and Ted Wass as dim bulb Danny were always hilarious. Enigmatic but always worth a belly laugh was Arthur Peterson as the shell-shocked Major, forever trapped in his own little war. Anyone who's seen the episode with Sigmund, the Major's long-dead, moth-eaten stuffed dog (that he still believes to be alive) knows why the Major was so funny. Billy Crystal brought an understated air of dignity to his role as homosexual Jodie. Robert Guillaume won an Emmy beffore departing into his own spinoff as back-talking, "I-ain't-getting-that," tell-it-like-it-is butler Benson. His show, "Benson," ran longer than "Soap," and he won a Best Actor Emmy there. But the main part of the show--the planets the other characters revolved around--were Katherine Helmond, Cathryn Damon, Richard Mulligan, and Robert Mandan as the Tates and Campbells. Richard Mulligan was sidesplitting as Burt Campbell, a nervous, rubber-faced ball of energy. His physical comedy scenes were way out there, especially one where he stumbles in drunk, accidentally steps up onto a table, and is afraid to come down. Equally funny is a scene in which he and Danny are playing "police chase" while sitting in chairs in the living room. He was a great balance for the late Cathryn Damon, who beautifully and elegantly portrayed Mary Campbell. though some of her best stuff was when she really let loose (check out the third season), Damon's Mary was always a little more down-to-earth than the other characters, and one of the best-played on the show. They couldn't have matched up a better couple than these two, and it shows. Mulligan won an Emmy for "Soap" in 1980, and was nominated again the following year. Damon also won in '80, and was nominated each of the four seasons except the second, where Mary had less to do than usual. Surely, the episode she won for had to have been the one in which Mary thinks she has seen Burt disappear before her very eyes. She goes over to the Tates' house and, trying to explain it all, lapses into insanity. By the time it's done, she's saying that she's crazy and laughing hysterically. That is classic television.
Robert Mandan was big fun as pompous, skirt-chasing Chester, and was a great balance to my favorite, Katherine Helmond, as loony and delightfully dim Jessica Tate, Mary's sister. Helmond was dynamic, making the most of every second of screen time. She had a lot of top moments during the course of the show. Once, Jessica was being kidnapped by guerillas, and she has them put down their guns and help her move some furniture first, then asks if she can call "the nail lady" to cancel her appointment tomorrow--it seems that she charges anyway if you don't show up--then pulls the soldiers' own guns on them. Jessica's murder trial provides some of the show's most hilarious events. There's the time Jessica and her lawyer were in a small room outside the courtroom before the verdict is read, and her lawyer grabs her and tells her he loves her. At this moment, in comes Chester, and Jessica (fearful of what Chester would say) launches into a a waltz with her lawyer. She claims that they're learning the Hustle, and invites Chester to join. In a matter of seconds, the three are strutting around and dancing. To this day, it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. The first day of the trial is one of the show's best scenes. Jessica, late along with her family and already having made a bad impression on the judge), bursts into the courtroom and begins hugging and greeting people as if hosting a party. She walks up to the judge and explains her tardiness, managing to unwittingly toss in an insult to "the idiotic inefficiency of the judicial system." She then looks over and gasps. She asks proudly, "Is this my jury?" She goes over to them, arms open, before she is pulled to her seat. She then has a friendly conversation with the prosecutor before getting up and trying to pull the defense and prosecution tables together. "It creates an almost antagonistic atmosphere," she says. "So 'them vs. us." She is later appalled by the slanderous words of the prosecutor and stands. "I don't have to take this--I'm going." Her attempt to storm out is stopped, but she warns: "All right, but if he continues in this manner, I will not come back tomorrow." Than, to the prosecutor: "Go ahead. But be nice." She could be dramatic, too, though; once, in one of her best moments on the show, Jessica single-handedly exorcises the Devil from her baby grandson in a bravura performance. Even after watching only one episode, it's easy to see why she was nominated (but, oddly enough, never won) for an Emmy every season that "Soap" was on the air. With a cast like this, what show could go wrong?
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