YOUNG AND RESTLESS has spent 28 of its 44 years on the air as the No. 1 rated soap, a perch it still holds comfortably — and understandably so; superior production values, a stable of first-rate actors and character-driven stories have kept viewers coming back for more of the familial, romantic and corporate drama of Genoa City’s residents.
Behind the scenes, there has been a rash of changes at the top in recent years, which have resulted in marked differences on-screen. After a four-year tenure as executive producer, Jill Farren Phelps exited in 2016, as did Charles Pratt, Jr., who had done a two-year term as head writer and co-EP. Pratt’s stay was marked by flashy storytelling events (think plane crashes and burning buildings) and some outrageous twists, like Victor enlisting Marco to take over look-alike Jack Abbott’s life, that were jarring to those viewers accustomed to the show’s more traditional pace and plotting.
When Phelps was dismissed, Mal Young, who brought a wealth of experience shepherding British soaps, was named EP. Soon, Young tapped two veteran Y&R scribes (Sally Sussman, who became head writer and co-EP, and former head writer Kay Alden, who came aboard as executive story consultant) to succeed Pratt. Since both Sussman and Alden were protegées of Y&R’s venerated creator/head writer, the late William J. Bell, it is no surprise that they sought to gently steer the show in the direction of its original blueprint — fewer special effects and fireworks, more focus on the familiar territory of interpersonal intricacies and foibles. However, they, too, recently finished their Y&R tours of duty, and Young is assuming responsibility for the writing team — and viewers are bracing for yet another creative transition.
Under Pratt, the Newman family began to fracture; Sussman went even further and busted them into smithereens. Victor’s latest round of machinations, which resulted in Adam’s death, was the last straw and shattered the inner workings of the clan. Nikki walked out on Victor, Victoria made it clear that she was done with being Daddy’s little girl and Nick and his father have severed all ties (Victor changing the locks on the tack house and kicking his son off the ranch was heavy-duty but gripping stuff).
As a consequence of distancing himself from his pop, Nick — who had been bristling under Victor’s control for years — is finally standing on his own and shaping his destiny. His charming relationship with Chelsea, his brother’s widow (who is sitting on the explosive secret that baby Christian is actually not his biological son, but Adam’s), is poised to be messy in all the right, sudsy ways, but is veering a bit toward the dull in the meantime.
Which brings us to the point that there’s a serious shortage of strong couples. Michael and Lauren have been married for over a decade … and it feels like it’s been almost as long since they were the center of their own storyline. The show was wise to revisit “Philly”, the surprise Billy/Phyllis pairing, which began as an affair, but has blossomed into a full-fledged relationship in its own right — but their bond is showing signs of stress because his ex-wife, Victoria, has renewed her efforts to reclaim the love of her life. With two strong women involved, this is shaping up to be a compelling triangle, especially since Victoria had recently suffered a concussion that has, as a side effect, turn-on-a-dime mood swings. Although still hung up on Billy, could Victoria’s efforts to pursue him be a symptom of her injury or is this a genuine pursuit? Until we find out, the face-offs between Victoria and Phyllis as their rivalry heats up have been catty fun. We’re certainly intrigued by the prospect of a love connection between Mariah and Tessa, who are trying to ignore their budding affection — in no small part because Mariah is dating Devon and Tessa is linked to Mariah’s brother, Noah. And the show has certainly injected major dramatic oomph into the marriage of Cane and Lily via his one-night stand with Juliet and her resulting pregnancy, which has torn the Ashby family apart. As rough as the arc has been on “Lane” fans, we look forward to seeing Cane try to claw his way back into Lily’s good graces.
There are a bunch of other new pairings in the Genoa City mix, but with the exception of the sweet young-love tale of Reed and Mattie (which isn’t on the front burner, nor should it be), the matches feel off. Cases in point: Sharon’s liaison with Scott, who seems to have better chemistry with Abby, Abby and Zack (it’s way too obvious that a big disappointment is coming her way), and Ashley and Ravi; Abhi Sinha is charming as Ravi, but Eileen Davidson’s powerful screen presence makes the character seem out of his league.
The show had great success with “Hevon”, the chemistry-rich pairing of Mishael Morgan’s Hilary and Bryton James’s Devon. The erstwhile Hamiltons continue to have something of a “destiny duo” feel about them, even though they have each ostensibly moved on. Hilary remains one of the most entertaining characters on the show, and while she seems to have it all (beauty, brains, celebrity), she is in many ways her own worst enemy, and putting her in charge of a gossip show has been pure gold, as she goes to great lengths to score an exclusive, usually the kind that publicly embarrasses the city’s movers and shakers.
Speaking of which: Newman Enterprises (the turf of Victor and Co.) and Jabot (the Abbotts’ domain) have long been the biggest corporate players in town, with Chancellor Industries thrown into the mix from time to time. Now, Brash & Sassy and Hamilton/Winters have set up shop as well, crowding the field and resulting in too many yarns mired in takeovers, profits, losses, and endless wheeling and dealing. Of late, Jack has become strangely power hungry, gobbling up Fenmore’s and vigorously gunning to bring down B&S. We’d rather see our favorite rogue focus on Jabot, but still spar with Victor and take some time out for love — which, in our opinion, shouldn’t be with Nikki. With two failed marriages behind them, watching these mature individuals moon over each other like teenagers is rather disconcerting. And, of course, the potency of Victor and Nikki’s sweeping saga has kept fans tuning in for decades, and we assume it’s only a matter of time before this captivating couple is together again.
Bringing back Jack and Ashley’s estranged mother, Dina Mergeron, has been nothing short of genius. Y&R has capitalized on its rich history to address the unresolved, decades-long story point of Dina’s desertion of her kids, which is fueling big story for the Abbott family. Jack and Ashley’s emotional evolution from contention to prickly tolerance to concern to guarded closeness with their mother has been engrossing (how Jack’s dysfunctional relationships with women started) and even humorous (just when things are humming along, Dina will toss out a judgmental comment that’ll stick right in Ashley’s craw). We’re also looking forward to learning Dina’s secret agenda for mending fences with her children.
We do think that Y&R needs to slow down the pace of bringing on new faces. In short order, Zack, Tessa, Crystal and Jordan, plus the recasts of Reed, Scott and the Ashby twins, have entered the scene, which is limiting the spotlight on veterans in need of more story — and there are plenty of those, including Neil, Chris, Paul, Michael, Lauren and even Gloria. But we do commend the writers for the spoils they’ve continued to give to beloved legacy characters Victor, Nikki, Jack, Ashley, Nick, Sharon and Jill (when she’s in town). This is an area where Y&R frequently outshines its competition (e.g., GH, where long-timers like Monica and Felicia are story-starved).
For now, we’re reserving judgment on Abby becoming as ruthless as Victor, Scott as a globe-trotting journalist turned mild-mannered executive and the sex ring in Genoa City — although Alice’s surprise return upped the ante, given her complicated past with Sharon.
Y&R has been consistently churning out solid and relatable entertainment throughout its head writer switches. We hope that Mal Young will provide a fresh injection of intrigue, but not veer too far from the proven formula that earned the show its sterling reputation.