Friday, September 26, 2008


I confess. I'm addicted to General Hospital: Night Shift. Previously a casual oh-let's-see-what's-going-on-with-"Scrubs" viewer, I now find myself practically counting down the days, the hours even, until the next episode is posted on YouTube.

This wasn't supposed to happen. A few months ago when I was in New York City, I unintentionally caught the second-season premiere of the once-a-week prime-time SoapNet-only General Hospital spin-off because I was getting ready for a lunch appointment and didn't feel like interrupting my grooming to change the channel. I'd purposely avoided Season 1 because I thought the very idea of a SoapNet-only GH spin-off was the cheesiest thing ever to hit the small screen (most reality TV notwithstanding).

But nine episodes later, after weeks of incrementally increasing interest, I'm totally hooked. The thing I love most about Night Shift is that it brings me back to the days of my youth when I watched daytime TV with my mom. Back then, relationships--romantic, platonic, familial and otherwise-- drove soap story, not bloody mob wars, outrageous sci-fi twists and tired vendettas. For the most part, daytime drama was populated by characters doing a lot of the things people do in real life.

Night Shift is a huge step back in that direction. For the first time since the late-'70s, General Hospital --yes, the hospital--front burner, driving story and getting major screen time. Tuning into Night Shift is almost like watching Grey's Anatomy without all the graphic detail and the hammy semaphoric acting. With the exception of Nurse Epiphany's romance with an orderly played by a 70-something Billy Dee Williams (looking old enough to be her daddy and slightly embarrassed because of it), all of the main continuing storylines have slowly but surely pulled me in.

There's Dr. Kyle Julian, the gay intern at odds with his adopted older attending-resident brother, Dr. Leo Julian (and about to punch him in the photo above), who has just slept with Kyle's roommate, Dr. Claire Simpson, after freaking out from fear that his once-tentative romance with holistic-medicine specialist Dr. Saira Batra was going too smoothly. (So true to life: Everybody plays the fool, yearning for love and romance but suspicious and unwilling to accept it when it comes too easily--or at all.) Then there is the budding triangle between GH's Dr. Robin Scorpio and Dr. Patrick Drake (collectively dubbed "Scrubs" by fans) and Jagger Cates (played by hunky-as-ever Antonio Sabato Jr., who originated the character on GH in the mid-'80s and revived him for Night Shift after some 13 years away). And the most touching storyline of all has Robin's dad, legendary super-agent Robert Scorpio, battling colon cancer.

No wonder Emmy winners Anthony Geary and Finola Hughes (Luke Spencer and Anna Devane, respectively) and '80s GH vets Sharon Wyatt and John D. Reilly (Tiffany and Sean Donely) will bring their characters to Night Shift's two-part finale on October 14 and 21. (I pray that it's not to say goodbye to a slipping Robert Scorpio.) If that doesn't say something about the show's perceived quality, well...well...let me go on....

Despite the fact that the Night Shift storylines involving core GH characters seem to exist in a separate universe from the parent show (last season, heart-transplant patient Maxie was knocking on death's door on Night Shift while prancing around town half-naked, stirring up trouble on GH), I find myself completely invested in all of the flawed but mostly likeable characters.

In fact, a few days ago, as I watched the final scenes of Episode 10, I actually found myself tearing up twice. Once was when the mother of the Leo and Kyle (played by ex-All My Children star and Emmy winner Kathleen Noone), after being admonished by both sons for not being Mommie Perfect, apologized and pleaded with them to reconcile, because when everything else is gone, she promised, they'll be all each other have left. The second time was over something Robert said to his pregnant HIV-positive daughter, Robin, who has been burned so many times by loved ones (including dear old dad) that she's basically encased her heart in armor to avoid being bruised by her baby daddy and would-be fiance, Patrick. "Any life worth living," he promised, "is going to be just a little bit dangerous."

Memo to daytime's head writers: This is how real live intelligent people talk. Lose the outrageous (whoever's idea it was to send several One Life To Live characters back in time to 1968, I'm talking to you!) and get back to telling engaging, semi-realistic stories about life, love and pain. Stat!
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