Growing up watching television, I've always noticed that the best shows are the ones that question the status quo. Sure, some people might be offended, but you don't have a pulse if you enjoy something that doesn't have a pulse. Not only does "Soap", the Emmy-winning scattershot mockery of the now-endangered daytime drama, have a pulse, it has a brain, heart and soul.
The setup is in Dunn's River, a fictional Connecticut suburb where the married siblings, ditzy but good-hearted blueblood Jessica Tate (Emmy winner Kath Helmond of "Who's The Boss" and "Coach") and practical but anxious blue collar Mary Campbell (the late Emmy winner Cathryn Damon of "Webster") are the matriarchs of their own equally erratic and eccentric families.
For Jessica, she has her unfaithful stockbroker hubby Chester (Robert Mandan); night and day daughters Eunice (Jennifer Salt, daughter of Oscar-winning scribe Waldo, and now a TV/film scribe herself) and Corinne (Diana Canova); spoiled smart-aleck son Billy (Jimmy Baio, brother of Scott); demented father/WW 2 vet The Major (Arthur Peterson) and defiant butler Benson Dubois (a brilliantly sharp Robert Guillaume, who got his own spin off series after the show's first two seasons).
Mary's clan is no saner. She has her second husband, spineless wreck contractor Burt (the late Rick Mulligan of "Empty Nest"); himbo pistol-headed son Danny (Ted Wass of "Blossom); sly homosexual son Jodie (future Saturday Night Live player and Oscars Awards host Billy Crystal in a groundbreaking role) and nutty, inappropriate, ventriloquist step-son Chuck/Bob (talented Jay Johnston).
Basically, THEY ARE ALL NUTS (excluding Benson) and it's emphasized that THEY ARE ALL NUTS (excluding Benson) when they go through situations involving murder, infidelity, rape, incest, racism, homophobia, sexual teacher-student relations, interracial romance, mental breakdowns, dementia, sexual impotence, third-world country revolutions, religious cults, demonic possession (!), alien abduction (!!!) and other moments that make Agnes Dixon ("All My Children") look like a rank amateur in the art of plotting soap operas.
This delightful sitcom was practically an asylum and creator/showrunner Susan Harris ("Benson", "The Golden Girls" and scribe of the infamous abortion episode from "Maude") ran it for four years (1977-1981). A fifth season was planned, but ABC, the show's original broadcaster, axed it due to pressure from both (!) right and left-wing organizations. It's a damn shame because, aside from the works of Harris's then-mentor, Norman Lear, no sitcom has been socially brave and honest around that time. Set this show against any bow-tie-wearing reality BS today, and IT WILL WIN.
Being one of the few females in the TV showrunning game in the late 70s, Harris, who wrote nearly every episode and appeared in two as a jailed tart (!), transplanted the soap opera's serialized format and injected into a prime time show (predating the action TV serial "24"), hooking viewers by putting her characters in off-beat pickles that parody the genre (Maybe that's another reason why the show was canned: entertainment politics). It's interesting Ms. Harris, now retired, hasn't been approached by "SNL" at the time.
Series director Jay Sandrich ("The Cosby Show") expertly helmed the show's madness, accented by the romantic yet subversive music by George Aliceson Tipton (worked with equally subversive musician Harry Nilsson) and the quirky narration by the late announcer Rod Roddy ("The Price Is Right").
And there's also the cast, ranging in age. They were all so superb, it's hard to pick a favorite. It seems they were told to be themselves, and they heeded the advice. Even the guest stars are fun and they would go off to do other shows like Doris Roberts ("Remington Steele", "Everybody Loves Raymond"), Joe Mantegna ("Criminal Minds"), Sorrell Booke ("The Dukes of Hazzard") and Howard Hessman ("WKRP", "Head Of The Class"), to name a few.
A precursor to shows like "Arrested Development", "Modern Family", "30 Rock", "The Office (USA)" and "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia", "Soap" stands as a example of a sitcom that goes over the edge, and has a good time doing it. If cable networks, HBO and Showtime, established its' original scripted programming much earlier, the show would have found sanctuary from the then-Big Three TV Network cartel. Instead, it's an outstanding artifact that was ahead of its' time, exposing humanity's shortcomings in a ludicrous and (still) controversial fashion. The racy stuff will combat today's right-wing morals and left-wing political correctness, but if you can laugh when watching the show, you're a human being, albeit a wacky one.
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