It's official: Pine Valley and Llanview, those hot spots of romance and intrigue in the Philadelphia suburbs, are open for business again. And business is brisk.
Both All My Children and One Life to Live began their online reincarnations Monday with lively, eventful, dramatically re-tailored debuts.
It's ironic that soap operas, TV's oldest, most hidebound genre, with direct roots to the radio era, would be the first to leap across the digital divide.
But AMC and OLTL, which were afternoon neighbors on ABC for decades before being canceled two years ago, are now available at any time of the day or night on the Internet, via Hulu or at iTunes (for $.99 an episode).
Remarkably, the vintage wine is still flavorful in its new bottles.
Both shows have been reduced to 30-minute episodes, posting Monday through Thursday (recaps on Friday). Both have hip new theme songs, more skin on display, and heightened senses of suspense. Just as important, both return their most dependable and despicable villains - Dr. David Hayward (Vincent Irizarry) on Children and Todd Manning (Roger Howarth) on One Life.
Full disclosure: Agnes Nixon, the doyenne of daytime and creator of both these shows, is my mother-in-law, and I used to write for All My Children.
AMC opens with Brooke (Julia Barr) awakening from a nightmare with the familiar vermilion All My Children scrapbook on her chest.
It's been five years since JR fired that fatal bullet at Chandler Mansion in AMC's network finale, and Brooke is still shaken by the memory. Actually it's only been 20 months, but time is notoriously flexible on soaps.
The cliff-hanger, by the way, was something of a TV joke. All My Children went away, not with "Who shot J.R.", but with "Who Did JR shoot?"
So, who did die that night? And who has been lingering in a coma all this time? Did you really think those mysteries would be resolved tout de suite?
The delivery system for the show may have changed, but the storytelling technique hasn't. AMC quickly gets five or so plot balls up in the air and starts juggling. Among them, Jessie (Darnell Williams) is pampering Angie (Debbi Morgan) over breakfast and Opal (Jill Cortlandt) is smothering the just-returned, prodigal Petey (new addition Rob Scott Wilson).
There is an obvious strategy here to balance heritage and hotties. A number of familiar faces have been lured back to Pine Valley, including David Canary (Adam - and presumably his gentle twin, Stuart), Ray MacDonell (Dr. Joe Martin, the town patriarch), and Cady McLain (Dixie).
Viewer beware: not Susan Lucci (Erica Kane) or Tad Martin (Michael Knight). But don't give up hope entirely: all roads lead to the Main Line.
The veterans are joined by a number of fresh young dudes and ingenues, notably Nickelodeon refugee Denyse Tontz as Miranda Montgomery.
The actors don't seem to have settled into their grooves yet and the writing is a little stiff, but it's a start.
One Life to Live jumped in with both feet. The cast seemed tuned up - stars Bob Wood (Bo Buchanan) and Robin Strasser (Dorian Lord, the junior senator from Pennsylvania to you) - were really loaded for bear in the first outing.
No time has elapsed in Llanview since the ABC finale. Viki (Erika Slezak) is still admiring the engagement sparkler given to her by Clint (Jerry verDorn).
But One Life is less focused on legacy and more intent on hot and contemporary. Most of the episode transpires in the town's flashy new nightclub, Shelter. There's electronic dance music throbbing, beautiful girls in shrinky-dink dresses and a phalanx of beefy bouncers.
Jennifer "JWoww" Farley hasn't made an appearance yet as a bartender at Shelter, but already the show looks more like Snooki's Jersey Shore than Asa Buchanan's Main Line.
With its faster pace and shorthand exposition, OLTL seems to have adapted better to the abbreviated online format. Despite the return of lifers like Hillary B. Smith (Nora) and Kassie DePaiva (Blair), the older soap seems determined to turn the page and lure a new audience.
Luckily for loyal fans like me, One Life has retained characters like David (Tuc Watkins) and Nigel the butler (Peter Bartlett) who lend the show a welcome grace note of comedy.
A new day has dawned in Pine Valley and Llanview. The differences - a brighter, more naturalistic look and more realistic sets - are apparent right away.
But even though I have a fast Internet connection, the screen still froze several times on my Hulu feed. That never happened when I was watching on VHF.