Waging a brilliant campaign to lose even the most entrenched of its viewers, Channel Nine has dropped Days of Our Lives. On air for forty-six years, DOOL as it’s affectionately known by nobody at all, seemed to be as permanent a fixture for Channel Nine as corporate corruption.
If you’re not a pensioner, pregnant person or one of the serially unemployed, this news probably means very little to you. You’re probably saying ‘Why do I care about television sitcoms, I get all the melodramatic drama I need from Labor politics’ which you should stop saying immediately. But what a lot of people don’t know is that ‘Days’ as my grandmother called it, is one of the greatest cultural artefacts this world, nay, galaxy has ever seen.
Created in 1965 in a world with more soap operas than Mozarts bath (what?) , Days of Our Lives swiftly proved itself to be a different animal than many of its counterparts, which were often excessively soppy and nostalgic, if not moralistic and uptight. By the 1970s the show had spearheaded many TV firsts, such as depicting an interracial marriage, or a couple undergoing artificial insemination. More recently the show was the first soap to feature a homosexual relationship. The show featured the usual tropes of soap operas – vast sprees of weddings and funerals, and children of unknown parentage – children who were always ‘upstairs’ until they suddenly emerged fully grown as dramatic teenage heartthrobs. Close camera angles on reaction shots and the narrowed eyes that signified scheming. It kicked off the trend of power couples years before Ross and Rachel, with entire magazines being dedicated to the latest twist of Bo and Hope, Mike and Margo and “Roman” and Diana (hint – it was actually the dastardly John Black). It also had Tom Horton who lost his memory in Korea and came back and romanced his younger sister, but eww.
But by far the most wonderful thing this show ever did was hire my personal hero James E. Reilly. When I started watching in the 1990s, I was a sickly school child staying at home with my grandmother. As I helped her shuck peas, I was exposed to the startlingly insane story-lines of this television maverick.
As I was still deeply in my formative stages, I can only theorise what effect watching the evil, eye-patched Vivian bury Carly Manning miles underground in a coffin, before taunting her for weeks through an elaborate set of speakers. I think I’m probably fine, but then again, I really love daytime television soaps.
The characters of DOOL, already prone to hyperbole were extended by Reilly into a strange hyper-level of genius. Evil mastermind Stefano, who had a habit of abducting the townspeople of Salem (the locale of DOOL) and hiding them on his secret island Melas (Salem backward) and brainwashing them for… reasons. In fact Stefano is all about the brainwashing, and tends to resort to it for reasons of business, personal and recreational nature. It’s almost like he was brainwashed into believing brainwashing is a valid coping mechanism. Somehow, and not even the internet can really enlighten me as to how, his brainwashing caused the ‘Salem Stalker’ to come about, a terrifying serial killer who was adorably termed ‘Jake the Ripper.’
At one point, Reilly orchestrated a story so complex and so brilliant, that the actress Eileen Davidson, who played the role of Stefano’s brainwashed daughter, played not only her character of Kristen Blake, but also four other Kristen Blake lookalikes – including a nun and a man who may have been meant to be her brother. Every single one of these characters at one point pretended to be Kristen Blake, which was plausible, being played by the same actress. Plausible yet confusing. This plot resolved itself by Kristen trapping all her lookalikes on an island. But which one escaped? A decade’s worth of storyline eventually revealed it to be Susan Black, who wasn’t the nun unfortunately. Eileen Davidson won a Daytime Emmy for her masterful attempt at playing herself five times.
But none of this – none of it at all – compares to storyline of Marlena Evans, who is still in the show to this day (although possibly living in the mountains). Marlena was the vanguard of the coma chic that swept through television in the eighties/nineties like a somnolent wave. She’s been brainwashed, amnesiacal and stalked more times than she’s had jaunty perms, and at one point Stefano locked her in a golden cage underneath Paris, which was remarkably like Moulin Rouge, but without the songs or Nicole Kidman, thus making it better than Moulin Rouge.
And in 1996 she was also possessed by the devil. My illness by this point was basically gone, and motions were being made to return me to school. But there was absolutely no way I could miss the exorcism attempt by John Black, who by the way, woke up from a car accident coma and decided to be a priest, but had also raised two children with Marlena – or perhaps that was his twin brother Roman? I cannot be bothered to verify this, because this article needs to be written sometime before the sun explodes. By various methods, including slapping myself in the face so hard that I looked like I had a temperature, I managed to get myself another day eating kippers with gran. And thank God I did. Because that day, at the climax of the Marlena possession storyline, she turns up to a charity fundraiser and summons a swarm of bees on the guests.
This moment, beyond any work of literature, film or music, is what inspires me to write. I like to think before this I might have gone into architecture or medicine.
James E. Reilly was eventually unfulfilled by the limitations of DOOL, which I can only imagine involved him pitching a story where the town time-travels into the heart of the sun and opens a casino for dinosaurs made out of pants – and it being summarily rejected. In retaliation he created the TV show Passions, which revolved around another town named Salem, but starred a 300 year old witch named Tabitha and her talking doll. After DOOL suffered terribly in ratings, he was asked to come back as head writer and given carte blanche to do whatever he goddamn wanted, before he died of a heart attack in 2008 – the same year Passions was cancelled.
It’s entirely likely that Days of Our Lives will be picked up by a cable company, much as its sister-soap Young and The Restless was by Foxtel. There it can continue its trend of starting the career of many of our most beloved actors – such as Supernatural star Jensen Eckles.
But I like to think that in the style true to its form, the day after Days of Our Lives disappears from Channel Nine, a new TV show will take its place – which looks eerily familiar. It will have on an eyepatch, and claim to remember nothing – nothing at all. And its name will be something like Trays of Our Wives or maybe Lays of Our Drives. And behind it all was Stefano, brainwashing the show into the future.