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Erika Slezak Library

Soap Opera Weekly
July 31, 2001
Volume 12, Issue 31

Critical Condition:
OLTL's Inmates Took Over The Asylum

by Marlena DeLacroix

Postmark Llanview:

Did you see OLTL's special July 4 episode? Wow! Who ever expected soap fans to get such a great payoff for staying indoors and watching television on a holiday? 'Trading Places', as the episode was called, was funny, fresh, and totally original. Not since 'The Daisy Awards', OLTL's spoof of the Daytime Emmys, has a soap so savagely made fun of itself and daytime drama in general. The one-episode satire was set up as show shrink Rae Cummings' (Linda Dano) hour-long dream.

Rae was called to St. Ann's (Llanview's mental hospital/asylum), where, wandering the halls, she ran into many of the show's main characters, who had literally changed places: Todd and Viki (and Viki's alters), Nora and Lindsay, Bo and R.J., Jessica and Jen, Will and Cristian, and last but not least, Rae herself with little Starr. Interspersed were characters inspired by '60s and '70s television a nun impersonated by Renee named Sister Mary Richards (from The Mary Tyler Moore Show)and a flying nun impersonated by Ben, (a take on Sally Field's character on The Flying Nun). Part Rocky Horror Picture Show/part college lampoon/part drag show, 'Trading Places' was packed with so many references and inside jokes that I had to watch the episode three times to catch them all. (Marlena has never before watched a single soap episode more than twice in 30-plus years of viewing!) What was totally divine about 'Trading Places' was that everyone and everything connected with OLTL was fair game. For example, some characters made nasty fun of the poorly conceived character Rae, a shrink who infamously, if a bit nonsensically, listens to anyone's problems anywhere and anytime in Llanview. "'Are you sure you're a psychologist?' Sister Mary Richards kept asking Rae over and over.

Later, in the middle of a zany chase sequence, 'Lindsay' (really Hillary B. Smith dressed as Lindsay) took a moment to check herself in the mirror. Smith was brilliant to catch this tiny mannerism of the vain Lindsay. Still later, 'Max' (a cross-dressing Fiona Hutchison) and 'Gabrielle' (played by James DePaiva) were interrupted during one of the typical shouting matches that characterizes their relationship by the swelling notes of 'their song' (Michael Bolton's That's What Love Is All About). They instantly plunged into a deep kiss and fell into bed (with 'Max' jumping on top!).

But what will probably be most remembered about this episode was the cross-casting. DePaiva was a pip as a rather chunky Gabrielle. Bob Wood's wearing R.J. dread locks, and Timothy Stickney wearing a Bo-style hat, were once-in-a-lifetime hoots. And I liked Erika Slezak as a shifty-eyed, rather seedy Todd. But Roger Howarth deserves and Emmy nomination for his brilliant impersonation of Viki and her alternate personalities. As Viki, Howarth's sweet expressions and upper-class 'at-talls' he tacked right on the end of many of her sentences were right on the money. In a conversation with Rae, 'Viki' suddenly turned into Niki Smith. ('It's Niki Smith Time', Howarth exulted hilariously). Later, in a soap moment destined to be classic, Howarth as naughty 'Niki' danced across the room, shimmying 'her' enormous fake breasts from side to side. Wasn't it all a scream?

To me, the episode seemed to me to be the deepest, longest in-house vent in soap opera history. Because, television viewers, we deceive ourselves when we think we are the only ones who know how funny and utterly absurd soap operas can be. It's purely my guess, but I wonder if the people who make the shows the actors, writers, producers aren't even more frustrated about the state of soaps than we are? What better way of letting off a little steam than by letting the inmates take over the asylum for a day?"

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