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GUEST BLOG #11: Ed Martin Checks Into "General Hospital"
April 27, 2009  | By Ed Martin
Bianculli here: Today's guest column has Ed Martin, who counts daytime soaps among his specialties, offering ways to further revitalize ABC's recently recharged General Hospital. I'm not a fan of the show these days -- but if Ed's ideas about swapped lookalikes, revived dead characters and long-dormant revenge plots come to pass, I just might become one.

Click to read his full column about Constance Towers, Elizabeth Taylor and others...

How Helena Cassadine Can Save General Hospital

By Ed Martin

helena cassadine.jpgABC's once-mighty General Hospital has been on a downward slide for far too long. Too many years of too many violent and repetitive (and ultimately silly) stories about mobsters and their women, coupled with the senseless deaths in recent years of a number of popular core characters, have left it in ruins.

But the last two weeks have brought with them a blast from the past that has once again made GH a television show worth watching. Given the industry's cock-eyed obsession with youth at the expense of all else, it is rather satisfying to report that the bolt of lightning that has brightened up the dull and dreary world of Port Charles is a sizzling senior citizen played by Constance Towers, a veteran actress who was born in 1933 and is now in her sixth decade of film and television work! As the murderous, manipulative madwoman Helena Cassadine, Ms. Towers rocks the witch.

helena elizabeth taylor.jpg

Actually, I have never been a fan of the all-powerful, unstoppable, bloodthirsty Helena. She was created way back in 1981 as the means by which Elizabeth Taylor -- then a self-declared GH super-fan -- could attend the wedding of the now-legendary Luke and Laura. She was barely referenced during the decade that followed, except when Laura disappeared (in early 1982, when Genie Francis left the show) and reappeared (in late 1983) after being held captive at the Cassadine compound in Greece, where she was forced to marry Helena's oldest son Stavros. But throughout much of the '90s and frequently during this decade Helena has returned to Port Charles time and again to cause all kinds of trouble.

As written for Ms. Taylor, Helena was the epitome of class and elegance, her malevolence measured by her place in international society. But as written for Ms. Towers, she is just a mad, malevolent meddler. If it were up to me, Helena would never have come back to Port Charles after the big wedding, or she would have been killed off years ago. Back in the days of the grand executive producer Gloria Monty, when stories on the show had distinct beginnings and endings and villains came and went, always paying for their crimes, a homicidal evildoer like Helena would have never been permitted to survive for as long as she has.

But I am so alarmed by the current state of General Hospital that I'm going to cut Helena some slack. In fact, I now believe Helena could be utilized in a story that would undo much of the seemingly irreversible damage that has been done to GH during this decade, especially where the show's once story-rich Quartermaine family is concerned.

Indeed, it seems to me GH has been losing fans at a rapid clip since it began killing off members of the Quartermaine clan. It would take a drastic and outrageous story to fix the resultant mess, and that's precisely what makes Helena uniquely qualified to ride to the rescue on her broomstick. The character and her family's history, dating back almost 30 years, are so over the top that nothing she might do would surprise viewers. After all, it was the saga of the Cassadine family's plan to freeze Port Charles in August 1981, by way of a weather-controlling machine hidden on a remote tropical island, that propelled GH into the pop-culture pantheon even before Luke and Laura famously got hitched.


Here's what GH should do with Helena. In a wild storyline that would recall the GH of old, it should be revealed that AJ, the oldest son of Drs. Alan and Monica Quartermaine, did not die in 2005 when he was murdered by an already forgotten minor character. Rather, one of Helena's minions got to AJ before his "lifeless" body was discovered and injected him with one of those only-on-a-soap drugs that kept him alive, albeit with a barely perceptible heartbeat. AJ was later removed from the now-crowded Quartermaine crypt and whisked away to that secret lab Helena had built ages ago, several floors below the basement of the title hospital. In 2001, we were told that Helena's son Stavros hadn't really died when Luke seemingly killed him back in 1983. He was actually in that same subterranean lab in a state of suspended animation awaiting the development of the treatment that would revive him almost two decades later.

As Helena's story progressed, we would learn that Cassadine medical personnel revived AJ and slowly nursed him back to health, all the while programming him to be loyal to Helena, who had grown tired of her long-running conflict with Luke and Laura Spencer and decided instead to seek long-overdue revenge on the Quartermaines -- and not simply because Tracy Quartermaine is now married to Luke. Longtime viewers will recall that it was a Quartermaine -- the globe-trotting Alexandra -- who first brought the Cassadines to Port Charles back in 1981 and touched off a series of events that eventually led to the death of Helena's beloved husband, Mikkos. With AJ as her pawn, Helena would eventually take control of the Quartermaines' vast business empire, restoring her to a position of great power in the international financial community.

We could then happily discover that, despite his programmed loyalty to Helena, AJ felt the need to make things right with his father Alan, whom AJ shot in the back the last time the two were together. When Alan suffered that fatal heart attack after the Metro Court Hotel hostage crisis in 2007, AJ secretly arranged to have him brought to Helena's subterranean lab, where he has since been stabilized and remains in a coma. Helena was fine with this because she had nothing against Alan and thought that he, too, could be useful to her if he regained his health, perhaps as chief of staff at General Hospital after she takes control of it.

emily quartermaine rebecca shaw.jpg

Further, it would be revealed that Helena had, at the time of Emily Quartermaine's murder in 2007, been having the young intern followed at all times, since she despised the girl and could not abide the love her grandson Nikolas Cassadine had for her. Helena had been planning to kidnap Emily and brainwash her into rejecting Nikolas, and she had arranged for a double to replace Emily while the brainwashing took place. As it happens, it wasn't Emily whom Diego Alcazar murdered on that fateful night. It was the double. (Remember, the actual murder occurred off-camera!) The recently introduced Rebecca would turn out to be the brainwashed Emily, sent into action by Helena as part of her nefarious plan.

There are other much-missed characters that could be tucked away in Helena's lab, including Justus Ward, the grandson of Quartermaine patriarch Edward, and Georgie Jones, ex-wife of Tracy's son Dillon. It's not like any of this extreme science-fiction would be new to GH, or even to the Cassadines. After all, Stefan Cassadine secretly kept Lesley Webber alive for 12 years after Helena attempted to kill her in 1984, and Helena held Lucky Spencer hostage for one year and brainwashed him while Luke and Laura grieved the "loss" of their son in a fire. And, as mentioned above, Helena kept a comatose Stavros alive for 18 years until he returned to briefly wreak havoc on the residents of Port Charles in 2001 before falling into a bottomless pit in that same subterranean lab. The Cassadines are world-class experts at mischievously switching bodies, keeping the almost dead alive, creating convincing lookalikes, and fooling everyone into thinking their loved ones are either lost or not. We need them to be restored to their full power, and we need that now!

helena rebecca gh.jpg

Think of the excitement that would be generated by this wild and wacky storyline -- one that would be very vintage GH -- as so many much-missed characters returned to the narrative in the biggest Cassadine caper since the classic story of the weather machine. (And if some of them had to be recast, so what?) Best of all, the sublime Ms. Towers could act the hell out of it all as she became the shining salvation of daytime drama that she deserves to be.



Ed Martin is the television critic and programming analyst for the media industry Web site JackMyers.com. The former senior editor of the award-winning, much-missed television and advertising trade magazine Inside Media, Ed has also written for USA Today, Advertising Age, Television Week, Broadcasting & Cable and TV Guide.
Earlier in his career, Ed was publicity director for the independent feature film production and distribution company Vestron Pictures, where he orchestrated publicity campaigns and produced electronic press kits for dozens of movies including the one and only Dirty Dancing. The fact that it is now referred to as a "classic" makes Ed feel old.




Curtis said:

Real fans of GH recognize that it's not the grand story lines that have been holding them for years. It's the great background characters that hold our interest and how they blend in with the "big" stars.

We've been watching occasionally since about the time Another World folded and very regularly since the Sonny Corinthos story lines started twelve or thirteen years ago. He's funny to watch in a Shatner-school-of-acting kind of way. Over the top all the time but we know that Maurice Bernard had Sonny's manic depression written in to his character's history. It explains a lot about his self-destructive swings with his many wives and how he relates to the rest of the cast.

The writers would do well to focus on smaller story lines more because of the fun - Diane and Max (Sonny's lawyer and bodyguard) have great on-screen chemistry as do Diane and Alexis. We watch he growth of Spinelli the computer geek with great relish and hope that he continues to break out of his nerdiness but retain his compassion. His Shakespearean take on the relationships of the mob crime figures was good writing and his delivery of complex dialogue show promise for his actors skills.

We knew Helena was coming back as soon as Emily Quartermain and Ethan Lovitt showed up in vitrually the same week. Holly Sutton and Robert and Anna Scorpio are not far behind we're sure. So you may get your wish. We just hope that "big" plot doings in Port Chuckles don't overshadow the lesser characters too much.

Comment posted on April 27, 2009 9:57 AM

David Rivera said:

I was a fanatical GH-watcher back when the good guys were good guys and the main characters were either doctors or law enforcement authorities, like Scorpio and Frisco Jones. I've watched semi-regularly since then as the central characters are now murdering mobsters. I've been waiting for them to put an end to the mob-centric storylines for a long time now--over a deacde--so clearly I'm in the minority when I say I find this endless romanticization of the show's protagonist, Sonny Corinthos, as tired and silly. The characters all pay lip service to how horrible and dangerous mob-life is, but the show's plots--and the viewers' rooting-interests--still lie with the mob. Enough, I say!

I love your idea of resurrecting so many of the show's deceased characters en masse. I can just see it: a secret lab is uncovered and, lined up in cryogenic tanks, is everyone they've killed off over the past several years!

Comment posted on April 27, 2009 3:00 PM

Giada said:

I was so surprised to see a soap article on this blog. I'm glad. I always liked Helena's devious ways, but I wish preposterous plots could be kept to a minimum. Now, I wouldn't mind Stefan Cassadine (the terrific Stephen Nichols) to return to the fold and I would accept whatever plot to see that happening. The idea of having AJ (Billy Warlock) back also screams storyline potential. Alas, the less I remember and I am reminded about popsicle-Stavros (Robert Kelker Kelly deserved better) and the 2nd Lucky "protect your Queen" brainwashing nonsense the better. (Then head-writer) Megan McTavish ruined that show enough already at the time. With Helena back (hurrah!) I want the constant cold sense of threat, the twisted manipulation and the cruel fearless backstabbing that's a little over the top, and yes, I may welcome A LITTLE brainwashing here and there, but Ed Martin's en masse resurrection sounds too much "Days of our lives" to me. But oh, I hope Helena keeps a copy or two or those damn-hot bodyguards of hers, down there in her basement. Bottom line, despite their sometimes ill-advised obsession with the mob, I trust Guza and his team and, no matter the plot, as long as there are Michele Val Jean and Karen Harris to write the sripts I'm a happy watcher. (David B here, just with a fast comment: One of the greatest things about inviting other TV columnists to this site is tapping their passions when they're different from my own. If THEY think a soap, or anything else, is TV WORTH WATCHING, I want to hear why. Glad you liked Ed's latest entry. So did I.-- David B.)

Comment posted on April 28, 2009 6:37 PM
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