IT's long been fashionable to malign soap operas. They're trashy.
They're flashy. But the fact is, prime time's never been more full of them
and dinner party conversations are driven by analysis of their characters and
crises. Here's a quick history of the five major league soaps. It's time to
lather up! Kate Langbroek runs the bath.
IN the beginning there was Madge, the blousy barmaid matriarch of Ramsay
Street. And Madge begat a cute mechanic called Charlene, who married Scott. And
an ex-stripper called Daphne ran the local coffee shop, till she was verily
smote by a speeding car.
Ten years, a couple of Grease stars and a set of twins later, this homegrown
show is still going strong, having returned to the formula that saw it weather
the treacherous currents of serial soap. Only the names have changed
(mercifully!). The resident barmaid is now Cheryl, who, in a delicious twist of
fate, snaffled Madge's last husband, the eternally matey Lou Carpenter, and
settled down to a little begetting of her own. The arrival of baby Louise
Carpenter to her fortyish mother signalled that, not only had Cheryl and her
clan (earnest Brett and diabetic Danni) arrived to stay, but they'd brought with
them a swag of '90s family issues.
Block your ears, Madge . . . for sex has come to Ramsay Street. Yes, sex
before marriage. And yes, sex before 7pm (bring on the family channel).
Erinsborough, however, is no Melrose Place. Just because Cody has dirty weekends
with Rick, Brett is desperate to lose his now- legendary virginity, and
Annalise wants to bonk Sam to within an inch of his life, doesn't mean that
these average Aussies don't have higher callings.
Look at Lou's battle to save Erinsborough from the dreaded freeway extension,
not to mention Cody's championing of women's rights (and those of
cross-dressers) by posing as a man on the university cricket team. All this
and a liberal sprinkling of family values as well (``Goodnight Mary-Ellen,
Goodnight John-Boy"). Goodnight Madge.
Resident Bitch: Hasn't been one since Julie died at the How to Host a Murder
Most Loved: Helen Daniels (the only original cast member).
Most Hated: Mrs Mangel (no-one's come close since).
Resident Intellectual: Cody (don't be fooled by that grunge exterior).
Resident Dope: Rick. Rick. Rick.
Most Naked: Holly.
THIS constellation of fabulous nobodies never shines brighter than when lerv
gets in the way of a good friendship. Betrayal is as at home at this cool
address as the micro mini, the pumped pec and designer water. Like all great
soaps, MP is long on lust and short on philosophy and high on every Gen-X
Spawned from the tortured-teen test tube of Aaron Spelling's Beverly Hills
90210 via Kelly's Lolita-like crush on hunky tradesman Jake the show initially
looked doomed to perish on the sword of its own niceness. Could newlyweds Jane
and Michael really be that perfect?
Could anyone (who hadn't spent their life in a plastic bubble) be as naive as
Billy? Could Alison really be that chirpy in the morning?
Basically, it was hard to care. These kids were so squeaky clean, even their
communal barbecue didn't smoke.
Then along came Amanda . . . Alison's boss, Billy's girlfriend and the
nemesis of nice. With her icy stare, smart mouth and take-no- prisoners attitude
to men (``Reality check, Alison, Billy's all mine"), she lifted ratings higher
than her impossible hemlines. It was true, there was no hotter place.
Suddenly, pleasant facades came tumbling down. Hotshot doctor Michael became
a three-timing cad first with fellow intern Kimberly, then (ouch!) with Jane's
baby sister, the soon-to-be psycho Sydney.
Macho Jake took to punching walls and then girlfriend Jo, who ran into the
arms of the evil, drug-dealing Reid, whom she later murdered (naturally!).
Meanwhile, the perenially petulant Billy showed his true colors by dumping the
briefly pregnant Amanda and making a play for flatmate Alison, who drove a
possessive boyfriend to suicide. Even placid Matt, the show's token gay, outed
his Marine lover, married a Russian woman and cracked on to Billy's best mate.
Stay tuned for: who ran over Michael in Jane's stolen car; Alison's
confrontation with her incestuous father; the fate of Jo's baby; Sydney's
roller-coaster career as a prostitute, and more bed-swapping than the emergency
ward at the Prince Alfred.
Resident Bitch: Amanda (Kimberly and Sydney jockeying for second).
Most Loved: Sweet, sweet Jane.
Most Hated: Evil Michael Mancini.
Resident Intellectual: Billy (he wishes!).
Resident Dope: Jake (pass me the wrench).
Most Naked: Amanda/Jake (Usually together).
When will it be back: Within two months.
BEVERLY HILLS 90210.
AAH to be a teenager again . . . all you need, it seems, is the right post
code and a suitably narcissistic view of yourself. Take the show's stars the
Walsh family who at the beginning of the series were just hicks from Minnesota
but by episode six had acquired all the posturings and dollar-value
sensibilities of true Beverly Hills dwellers.
In a smooth metamorphosis, twins Brandon and Brenda transformed themselves
from Parka-wearing grubs into preening butterflies of modern capitalism. Once
they'd got their fashion priorities right (Brenda wears ripped Trussardi jeans;
Brandon drives a Stingray) they found instant friends in the form of the
emotionally bruised rich-kid Kelly, the daffy rich-kid Donna, the movie star's
son Steve, the alcoholic rich-kid Dylan, the desperate-for-street-cred David
and the impossibly nerdy Andrea.
With their friendships secured mainly by sleeping with each other's
boyfriends and girlfriends this band of hardship-challenged teens survived
high school together and even graduated to college. But there was some progress
along the way. Kelly reformed herself from being the school tart, while Donna
decided to give Brooke Shields a run for her money as the world's oldest virgin.
Steve learnt he was even too stupid to cheat successfully on his exams, Dylan
and Brenda found the true meaning of teenage infatuation (`I think we should
start seeing other people'), while Brandon realised he was a one-pot screamer
after he wrapped his precious car around a lamp post.
Meanwhile, Andrea really used her brain and fell pregnant.
Just the stuff of teen fantasies, which is why this show is one of the most
popular in the world. Go figure. The only sad news for diehard fans is the
departure of the feisty yet watchably whiney Brenda. Enter Valerie, the Brenda
wannabe who has a long way to go yet. But with four more college years ahead of
them, and no limit on the American Express gold card, anything could happen.
Resident Bitch: Brenda (though look where it got her!).
Most Loved: Mrs Walsh (she makes Mrs Brady look like Ghengis Khan).
Most Hated: Brandon's loony girlfriend Emily (until she found therapy).
Resident Intellectual: Andrea (despite her ignorance of contraception).
Resident Dope: Steve (he bribed a janitor!).
Most Naked: Jake from Melrose Place (in a shirtless guest appearance).
HOME AND AWAY.
IF, as George Bernard Shaw said, conflict is drama, Channel 7's Home and Away
makes Bosnia look like a schoolyard scrap. How can so few fight with so many
about so little. None the less, replacing soapie froth and bubble with wrath and
trouble has worked a treat for this stalwart.
When the original wild-child Bobby was killed by a runaway speedboat
(naturally!) several seasons ago, it looked as though the show had lost an
irreplacable star attraction. But this is Summer Bay, where every new tide
washes up a fresh batch of human driftwood. No one here lives in a conventional
family and no relationship is what it seems.
Between them, Pippa and Michael (and her first husband Tom RIP) have
fostered more children than Ailsa's served burgers at the local diner, but even
they were knocked for six when foster siblings Shannen and Curtis took to
playing doctors and nurses. Throw in Foxy Roxy's cancer scare, her steamy
romance with fellow schoolteacher Rob, Jack's dabbling with steroids, and show
mascot Sally's running away from home as Pippa and Michael's marriage fell
apart, and it's a wonder this tiny hamlet hasn't been renamed Simmer Bay!
And there's more to come. Revelations of Shannen's childhood sexual abuse at
the hands of Uncle Timmy and the endless empathy for her trauma-induced bulimia
(``Shannen hear you've been chuckin' up all over the place").
Only one thing is certain. Like Jack, when he fell off Pippa's roof while
trying to fix the antenna, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Resident Bitch: Fisher.
Most Loved: Pippa.
Most Hated: The Steroid Dealer.
Resident Intellectual: Damien (smart enough to leave Summer Bay).
Resident Dope: Adam, Tug and now Jack.
Most Naked: Shane (nice pecs!).
TAKE a pack of young models, make them share a stunning beach front property,
reheat some romantic sub-plots from Dynasty, and stir. The only original aspect
to Models Inc is Kylie Travis's bizarre Australian accent. If the fashion world
was disturbed by Pret-a- Porter, they must be apoplectic over Aaron Spelling's
feisty babe-fest Models Inc, which turns the catwalk into a slumber party for
dysfunctional, pampered blondes.
Set around a Hollywood modelling agency, the characters have personalities as
wafer-thin as their bodies and random catfights over any man with an intense
gaze who crosses their path.
Models Inc started with a murder and a juicy suspect in the form of obsessive
fashion photographer Brian. The whodunnit format didn't last long and Brian
fell in love with Sarah, an alcholic who later fell pregant to a priest, then
Cynthia who is a bulimic rape victim.
Monique loves Adam, who runs an international chain of nightclubs, and the
acid-tongued minx Julie has snagged herself a millionaire surfie/romance
novelist. Reality knocks at Models Inc, but no-one answers the door.
Linda Gray brings soap cred to her role as Hillary, the older, wiser, yet
still sexy woman who runs the agency; Hillary turned out too maternal to be the
arch bitch, so they bussed in Grayson, Adam's bitter ex-drug addict wife who has
a slash and burn approach to reconciliation.
Still to come: Plenty. As the show has been axed we can expect the second
series to lose whatever tenuous grasp on planet earth it had.
Will Linda's acting career take off? Will Eric quit the bar and return to
being a gigolo? Will Grayson have Monique firebombed? Will Brian get Cynthia to
eat something? The fur will fly at the finale on 4 April.
Resident bitch: Julie, although she's been much less of a cow since falling
Most loved: Cynthia. She's sort of a sexy, black, Mary McKillop.
Most hated: Grayson. I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too.
Resident intellectual: Yeah, right. At a pinch, Hillary.
Resident dope: Linda. Someone please tell her to get a life.
Most naked: Julie & Craig; at it like knives.
Least naked: Sarah. The producers belatedly realised she's short and chubby,
and now she always wears a sweater, caftan or tracky daks. --