12 Soap Opera Tropes We Could Use a Break From
Image: ABC; CBS; Howard Wise, Jill Johnson/JPI
Baby switches, returns from the dead, SORASing. We’ve seen them all too many times.
Soap operas have a reputation for telling absurd storylines. It’s often rightly deserved, but many primetime dramas employ the same soap tropes. It can just be more evident in soaps because they’re on five days a week, 52 weeks a year. That’s a lot of story to tell. But while all these plot devices have been used to great dramatic effect at one point or another, they become eye-roll-inducing when viewers spot them a mile out. Soaps.com is taking a look some of the most obvious soap opera tropes we’d like to see retired for a while.
One day a supercouple’s child will head off to boarding school and a few months later they’ll come down with Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. This affliction causes them to age 10 – 20 years in the blink of an eye. It can be a necessary device to introduce new characters that have established connections on the canvas and to drive story, like when Erica Kane’s (Susan Lucci) daughter Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) returned to Pine Valley afraid to come out to her mother as a lesbian on All My Children. But it also has its drawbacks. SORASing can be jarring and forced like when the Ashby twins (Lexie Stevenson and Noah Alexander Gerry) were introduced on The Young and the Restless. It can also rob viewers of forming an emotional attachment to the characters and actors they watch grow up on screen à la General Hospital’s Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough).
Returns from the dead
In what used to be a shocking plot device, the back from the dead trope is now so overused deaths rarely hold much weight. Fans know characters will be resurrected in a year or so by an evil scientist, like Days of our Lives’ Dr. Rolf (William Utay) who brought back EJ DiMera (James Scott), Will Horton (Chandler Massey), and Jack Deveraux (Matthew Ashford). Or, their body weight will break through a drain pipe in the ground and they’ll escape through the town’s sewers after being accidentally buried alive as JT Hellstrom (Thad Luckinbill) did on The Young and the Restless. Sometimes it’s better to just let a character die — even if we love them.
Amnesia is a trope used to draw out the drama of our favorite couples reuniting, often after they return from the dead. When (who we thought was) Jason Morgan first came back in the form of Billy Miller on General Hospital, he didn’t remember his life as Stone Cold and fell for Elizabeth Webber’s (Rebecca Herbst) manipulations before regaining his presumed memories and stretching out his eventual reunion with Jason’s wife Sam McCall (Kelly Monaco). Over on The Bold and the Beautiful, Liam Spencer (Scott Clifton) suffered a blow to the head, lost his memories, and was squirreled away by Quinn Fuller (Rena Sofer) who convinced him they were in love until he realized she was crazy. He remembered his deep love for Steffy Forrester (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who had just married his brother Wyatt Spencer (Darin Brooks), thereby prolonging Liam and Steffy’s reunion. Both these and other examples usually end up more frustrating than entertaining.
Love triangles from hell
Every soap has employed this device – Liz/Jason/Sam on General Hospital, Sharon/Nick/Phyllis on The Young and the Restless – but perhaps no soap currently airing beats the dead love triangle horse more than The Bold and the Beautiful. Brooke Logan (Katherine Kelly Lang) and Taylor Hayes’ (Hunter Tylo) epic fights over Ridge Forrester (Thorsten Kaye) have been going on for almost 30 years. At some point, you’d think one of them would be disgusted enough to back out. Instead, they handed down their love triangle gene to the next generation as their daughters Steffy and Hope Logan Spencer (Annika Noelle) have been passing Liam back and forth (though much more amicably these days) for what feels like just as long. It’s enough to make you want to reach through the screen and shake some respect into these women.
Soaps seem to think sexual harassment/coercion/rape is a gateway to romance. It’s always been problematic, but it’s especially hard to watch in the era of #MeToo. The most obvious example of this trope is General Hospital’s legendary supercouple Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) and Laura Webber (Genie Francis) who began their relationship after he raped her at the Campus Disco. There was also the presumed dead, amnesiac Marty Saybrooke (Susan Haskell) who fell in love with her rapist Todd Manning (Trevor St. John) and willingly had sex with him (before regaining her memory) on One Life to Live. Then there was EJ on Days of our Lives who blackmailed Sami Brady (Alison Sweeney) into having sex with him, which eventually turned into true love, because, of course. Not that she deserved it, but Sami did drug Austin Reed (Patrick Muldoon) years prior so he’d sleep with her and they almost married. Though we sometimes root for these toxic fictional characters and couples, these situations aren’t the romantic escape most viewers look for when turning on their stories.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
If a character (especially a straight-laced one) is losing time, suddenly hanging out at dive bars, or finding pieces of paper with strange men’s phone numbers on it, then a D.I.D. diagnosis can’t be far behind. Just look at Abigail Deveraux DiMera (Marci Miller) on Days of our Lives. She’d wake up from a nap not remembering donning a black wig and sleeping with Stefan O. DiMera (Tyler Christopher), who thereby perpetrated the above trope. However, no soap holds a candle to One Life to Live who milked this device with all it had. First, Victoria Lord Buchanan (Erika Slezak) endured a decades-long battle for supremacy with her alters and then her daughter Jessica Buchanan (Bree Williamson) suffered the same fate. There has to be a better way to make a “good girl” interesting than giving her a split personality to cut loose with.
Soaps do love to toy with the idea of blood relations getting it on. Guiding Light’s Tammy Winslow (Stephanie Gatschet) and Jonathan Randall (Tom Pelphrey) were cousins who went there, but usually, it’s just a tease like Passions’ Whitney Russell (Brook Kerr) and Chad Harris-Crane (Charles Divins), who thought they were siblings (they weren’t) who had procreated. Or, The Young and the Restless’ Summer Newman (Hunter King), who briefly thought she was Jack Abbot’s daughter while dating his son Kyle Abbott (then played by Hartley Sawyer). On The Bold and the Beautiful, Ridge and Bridget Forrester (Jennifer Finnigan) kissed despite them believing they were siblings for most of their lives and him serving as her step-father for many of her formative years. It’s super icky and we’re not sure why soaps love it so much.
Whenever you have two characters expecting a baby at the same time on a soap you can predict with almost 100 percent accuracy that someone’s going home with the wrong offspring. For example, Nelle Benson’s (Chloe Lanier) final act of vengeance on General Hospital against the Corinthos clan before going off to prison was to secretly give her and Michael’s (Chad Duell) baby to Brad Cooper (Parry Shen) after his freshly adopted son unexpectedly died. Over on Days of our Lives, Nicole Walker (Arianne Zucker) let Sami falsely grieve her baby, so Nicole could be a mother to a live one. And, on The Bold and the Beautiful, Hope currently believes her baby is dead, while Steffy thinks she adopted a stranger’s child, but in reality, it’s Hope’s. These were all baby switches viewers called as soon as the pregnancies/adoptions were announced and weren’t thrilled to be right about it.
When you think of crime lords you think of Al Capone who ruled Chicago or John Gotti who built his empire in New York City. But crime lords in daytime, like Days of our Lives’ Victor Kiriakis (John Aniston) and Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo) or General Hospital’s Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard, who also played John Gotti in a Lifetime movie) and the Jerome family, make their illegal fortunes and/or plan world domination from sleepy little middle America towns. Not to mention, their illegal activities are rarely made clear – viewers are just told they’re ruthless gangsters. Unless you’re the Don of Port Charles, of course. Sonny’s just a simple coffee importer. Right?
Brain tumors can make you do bad things. At least they do on soaps when a popular actor’s character needs to be redeemed. Most recently, former The Young and the Restless fan favorite JT’s out of character behavior of abusing Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle) was explained away by this trope, as was General Hospital’s Franco’s serial killer ways when soap icon Roger Howarth took over the role. Though Ben Weston (Robert Scott Wilson) didn’t have a tumor on Days of our Lives, it has been made clear he has a medical condition that caused him to become the Necktie Killer. Thankfully, there’s medication for that otherwise heroine Ciara Brady (Victoria Konefal) would never look twice at him.
Sometimes it’s an evil serial killer twin like Kevin Collins’ (Jon Lindstrom) brother Ryan Chamberlain on General Hospital. Other times it’s someone who changes their face to further their nefarious plans like when Sheila Carter (Kimberlin Brown) got plastic surgery to look like Phyllis Summers (Michelle Stafford) on The Young and the Restless. Of course, it could also just be a dimwitted doppelganger like Days of our Lives’ Hattie Adams who bears no relation but looks enough like Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) to fool her loved ones. It can be fun to watch our favorite actors act against type for a little bit, but it’s an overused trope that makes everyone on soaps look stupid for not realizing whoever they are talking to, kissing, or having sex with (this one should be the real giveaway) isn’t the person they know most intimately.
Microchips and bionic eyes
Technology is constantly evolving to make our lives better and easier, but can it be taken too far? You bet, especially on a soap opera. On General Hospital there’s a secret program that involved putting one twin’s memories on a flash drive and implanting them into their sibling so they believe the memories are their own. On Days of our Lives, Stefan helped Steve Johnson (Stephen Nichols) get a bionic eye when he went blind in his remaining good one. Not only could Stefan control that eye remotely, but it also recorded top-secret ISA information that got Patch arrested for espionage. We love a good sci-fi story, but sometimes on soaps, they’re just a bit hard to take seriously.