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Remembering 'Passions', the Weirdest Soap Opera of the Millennium

From orangutans to incest to sentient dolls and fake pregnancies — Passions had it all and I was there, skipping school to stay home and watch.

by Sarah Hagi
May 2 2017, 8:51pm

Source via. YouTube

Some of my greatest childhood memories are of staying home from school and watching daytime television. For school aged me, daytime television was the biggest motivation for faking sick. Even now, when I find myself at home on a weekday morning watching commercials advertising for private colleges and personal injury lawyers, I get a sense of comfort and warmth that takes me back to my childhood. I can almost smell my mother preparing dinner.

Soap operas were easily the best part of daytime television and I would find myself fully immersed in the over-the-top plotlines. Is this what adulthood is like? I would ask myself. Why are they always in the hospital? Unfortunately, I now know being an adult is way less fun, dramatic and as full of beautiful people as The Young and the Restless.

But there was one show that stood out from all the others—Passions. It was like nothing I'd seen on television before. Premiering in 1999 and ending in 2007, the show was created by James E. Reilly, a former head writer at Days of Our Lives (best known as the writer of a plotline that involved a character being possessed by Satan). Airing later than most soaps at 3 PM, the show's cast also featured way more young and sexy actors than most shows, aiming to bring in a slightly younger audience. It was perfect.

By now, if you're not familiar with Passions you're probably wondering, what is this show about? Please get to the point. Why am I reading this? The thing is, the show was about so many things it's difficult to know where to begin. Passions had a plotline just about everything: sexual violence, incest, dwarfism, classism, fraud, murder, zombies, tsunamis and magic; all woven in with regular soap opera tropes like familial betrayal, adultery and all those fun things but dialled to 11. In a review, The New York Times aptly described the show as "As if David Lynch had taken over All My Children," going so far as to call it "The Twin Peaks of daytime." And it truly was.

Taking place in the fictional small coastal town of Harmony, the show's first season initially focused on the working class Mexican-Irish Lopez-Fitzgerald family and the wealthy Crane family. While Passions was supremely messed up in a lot of ways, I guess they deserve credit for being a little woke as far as racial diversity goes. Mexican-Irish? Hell yeah. And since we're talking about diversity, the show featured not only racial diversity but there was a an actual orangutan that served as the caretaker/nurse for a character's mom.

When it came to Passions, having a linear plot wasn't much of a priority. In fact, the show was torturous to watch during the summer when I was able to catch episodes daily. Actually tuning into show everyday was hellish because so little happens in each episode, almost like the creators never expected anyone to actually watch it every day. Each full day in the Passions universe lasted at least one week in real-life time. For example one day (in Passions time) all the young people of Harmony participated in a battle of the bands (I think?) and the song lasted for a whole week's worth of episodes. Meaning, each episode we'd get a snippet of a character lip syncing to a really bad song. But the best part about Passions, was that plot was secondary. The characters and actual plot devices were all that mattered.

Most soap operas rely on sexual assault a lot more than they should, and Passions once again took regular tropes to another level. According to the show's extremely detailed Wikipedia page, "In 2005, so many plotlines came to involve an element of rape that fans began to refer to that year as the 'Year of the Rapes.'" At one point, it felt like any female character (and a few men) were about to get assaulted at any moment. Being too young to fully grasp how messed up this was, I just accepted it as a fact of life. People got assaulted at any given moment for no apparent reason.

The show did get weirdly emotional though. Not only was there an orangutan in the show, but there was an actual witch named Tabitha whose sidekick was a sentient doll named Timmy. In a weird twist of fate, Timmy was killed off the show (by the zombie of another character) and the same day the actor who played him (Josh Ryan Evans) died after a medical procedure. The scene was incredibly emotional for any regular viewer of the show.

While I can go on for several more thousand words about all the amazing things that happened on Passions I'll just stick to a few of the highlights

  • A character trapped a pregnant woman in a pit, faked her own pregnancy by using a sack of flour, stole the baby and successfully passed it off as her own.
  • A character was cared for by an orangutan nurse named Precious.
  • The audience knew two characters who were in love were brother and sister, though they did not know, and we had to watch them have a sexual relationship as siblings. It was bad.
  • Tabitha, a witch, survived a tsunami by surfing on a door.

I don't remember when I stopped keeping up with the show regularly, but I remember at some point feeling worn out from all the drama. Now, it reminds me more of an golden age of television soaps that no longer exists. I don't think I'm the only one who thinks about and remembers Passions so fondly, people are still posting character tribute videos on YouTube as recently as a month ago. The death of soap operas has been imminent for years, with prestige dramas and "peak" television, they almost feel irrelevant. It's a shame, because sometimes I just want a type of nonsense Riverdale can't really give me. Once daytime soaps are obsolete, Passions will stand out from the rest despite its (in soap years) short life as the messiest and best of them all.

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