The Wheeler Centre’s Shannon Hick confesses her unexpected passion for the daytime soap Days of Our Lives – and how she once shaped her uni schedule around it, so as not to miss the antics of Devil Marlena or the evil, sister-betraying, date-raping Sami.
A colleague was sick recently and had the day off work. Rather than ask if she was feeling better, I asked, ‘Did you watch Days of Our Lives?’ It wasn’t until I absorbed the puzzled looks around me that I realised I had given away one of my most embarrassing secrets … I watch, am fascinated by (and sometimes live vicariously through) the soapiest of soap operas, Days of Our Lives. And while the trappings of adulthood curtail my regular catch-ups with the residents of Salem these days, I’m not afraid to admit (in the spirit of full disclosure) that in my university undergrad years, Days was a central part of the days of my life.
For those who may not know it, or perhaps belong to The Bold and the Beautiful soapie camp (because you’re pretty much one or the other, I’m told), Days of Our Lives is one of the longest-running soap operas in the world. It chronicles the lives of several families who live in the middle-American town of Salem. Their love lives, marriages, divorces, live burials, frequent kidnappings, brain-washings and demonic possessions are chronicled in neat one-hour time slots each weekday – guaranteed until at least 2014. There’s something special about a show when you haven’t watched it for four years and then, one day while you’re sick on the couch surrounded by Kleenex, the hourglass opening credits begin and you immediately know exactly what is happening.
I was first exposed to Days aged eight or so. I was playing a friend’s house after school. While in a corner of the lounge room, we dressed her Barbie for the biggest party of her life, my friend’s mother sat on the couch with her Nescafe Blend 43 in front of the TV, which streamed soft-focus images of permed, heavily shoulder-padded women reciting dramatically adult things.
It wasn’t until after high school, following the cancellation of the teen-oriented supernatural soap Passions, that I found the ‘time’ to rediscover Days of Our Lives. Soon, the residents of Salem became part of my uni life routine. In between holding down a part-time job and managing a total of 16 or so contact hours, I quite willingly allowed myself to become intimately acquainted with all the characters in the show. I sat on the couch and pretended to read lecture and tutorial notes – when what I really did was watch Jerry Springer, Oprah and Days back-to-back, then run for the bus, a train and another bus to uni. Why ponder Baudrillard and his theories on postmodernism when I could drop into the televisual world of Brady’s pub, to watch the residents of Salem dodge and cover up their latest scandals?
Two of the most remarkable storylines, which kept me coming back for more each day, were the Carrie Brady/Sami Brady/Austin Reed love triangle and – everyone’s favorite – Marlena’s demonic possession.
The Carrie, Sami and Austin storyline was a highlight for several reasons, one being that the actor who played Austin was probably the hottest guy on the show. And curiously, I was fascinated by the measures evil genius Sami would go to, to ruin her sister’s life. Using her best trickery (and some date-rape drugs), Sami trapped Austin, her sister’s true love, into sleeping with her, and chaos predictably ensued.
The action wasn’t exactly served up thick and fast – it was drawn out over several months, even years, as time operates on a different continuum in daytime TV land. But it was unquestionably entertaining. Sami disrupted weddings, faked her son’s paternity, and had a convenient bout of temporary amnesia, all to get her claws into Austin. It was total brain trash and I loved it.
A showdown between feuding sisters Sami and Carrie Brady erupts into a full-blown catfight.
In perhaps one of the most infamous storylines in soap history, town doctor Marlena Evans became possessed by the devil. Marlena’s character has been kept busy over the years, avoiding the clutches of evil villain Stefano DiMera, who has an unhealthy obsession with her. A quick summary on Wikipedia reveals she’s been kidnapped numerous times, survived a 30-storey plummet, been used as a surrogate for genetically engineered babies during a four-year coma, and been brainwashed to believe she was a serial killer, all while holding down a respectable psychiatry position at Salem hospital. See … working women can have it all!
Marlena became possessed by the devil after Stefano moved in next-door to her and began secretly sneaking into her apartment and opening her soul, by giving her mind-altering drugs. As ‘Maredevil’, she began to wreak havoc on the town’s residents, trying to kill her own child, transforming into a panther, sending a swarm of bees after Shawn D, and attempting to seduce priest Father John Black (formerly, just plain old John Black, one of the loves of Marlena’s life). It’s weirdly impressive how head writer James E. Reilly (also creator of Passions) conjured up the devil so effortlessly with yellow contact lenses, pale make-up and few voice-altering tricks.
Devil Marlena in the lead-up to her excorcism.
With the devil cast out of Salem and more conventional story lines back to the forefront, Days of Our Lives continues to intrigue me. I like to catch glimpses of it every now and then, to check in on Marlena and see how much the make-up department go overboard on the orange fake tan for E. J. DiMera (Salem’s own British racing car driver – and new villain extraordinaire). And it’s nice to see that Salem is still the site of the fountain of youth. How else can you explain the reverse ageing of resident cop Hope Brady? (Once the focus of another of the show’s most popular storylines – as the writers placed ever-more preposterous obstacles in the way of her union with improbably named soulmate, Bo.)
Days of Our Lives is testament to the fact that a little escapist fantasy every now and then can put your own life into complete perspective … and as a bonus, I’ll have some idea of what to do if I’m ever kidnapped or blackmailed by a member of the DiMera family.
Shannon Hick is marketing coordinator at the Wheeler Centre.
You can hear two Melbourne personalities confess their Unexpected Passions to Sam Pang at the Wheeler Centre next Friday 27 June at 7pm. The event is free, but bookings are recommended.
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