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October 10, 2015

Reasons Soap was a groundbreaking show worth watching again - VIDEOS

by Debra McDuffee, posted May 29th 2008 11:02AM
cast of SoapThere are a lot of great shows that stand out in my mind as favorites from my childhood: Magnum P.I., Simon and Simon, Cheers, Quantum Leap. They all paved the way for future shows in some form, but the one that was truly groundbreaking is Soap.

For those of you who are generationally challenged by this post and have no idea what I am talking about, Soap was a sitcom -- sort of -- that aired from 1977 to 1981, a pitifully short time for the originality that it oozed. What was so special about Soap?

1. It was essentially the first time we saw Billy Crystal
And what a role: a very gay man who fathers a child and is in a custody battle for her. And toward the end of the series, he is somehow hypnotized into thinking he is an old Jewish man, probably where Billy's famous schtick originated.

2. Soap explored very controversial topics for its time
Homosexuality and gay parenting, interracial marriage, impotence, cheating spouses and of course we can't forget the demon possession (see number 7).

3. Not quite a sitcom, definitely not a drama
Soap was a perfect tongue-in-cheek parody of daytime soap operas complete with serial story from week-to-week. I love that Soap was one of the first shows to transcend a category.

4. Katherine Helmond as Jessica Tate
OK, she was great as Mona on Who's the Boss, but you can't appreciate her if you haven't seen Soap. She brought such tenderness to the role of Jessica Tate, sometimes flaky and shallow, but always generous and feeling.

5. Richard Mulligan as Burt Campbell
Again, he had a career before Empty Nest, you know. As Burt Campbell, his most challenging plot line was his mental illness, and he played the role with such a loving goofiness. Such a wide range of facial expressions conveyed his struggles.

6. Robert Guillaume as Benson the butler
Insolent, sarcastic Benson, who had the running gag of asking one of his employers to get the door every time the doorbell would ring. He was confidante to Jessica and really her very best friend, which was such a touching relationship that ignored social standing, race, and all other potential barriers. Robert Guillaume's role was so popular, he got his own spin-off, Benson.

7. Hilariously absurd story lines
Soap may have had its share of controversial story lines, but the brilliance came because those were interwoven with the absurd. Demon possession, a character that is a ventriloquist's dummy (he talks for the psychologically damaged ventriloquist), a cult, and alien abduction are the ones that come to mind.

8. The introduction and conclusion of each episode
The narrator -- Rod Roddy -- was priceless. As a recap at the beginning of each show, he'd voice-over the scenes with tongue-in-cheek descriptions of what happened. At the end, he'd posit "dramatic" questions as to what might happen next. "Confused? You won't be after this episode of Soap." I put videos of these at the conclusion of the post: you've got to see them if you never have.

9. Incredibly well played dramatic moments
Yes, it's a farce, but don't for a moment think that Soap is somehow sub-par. The writing is top-notch and the acting is above and beyond what you'd find on the typical sitcom or soap opera. When a serious scene is called for, it is played with dignity and honesty.

So if you've never seen Soap, or are now jonesing to see it again, rejoice with me in the fact that the entire series will be released on DVD on June 10. Amazon is taking preorders!

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AD owes much to Soap but something as out there as Soap doesn't seem outrageous until you consider we had 3 networks at that time. That's it. You watched ABC, NBC or CBS. You did not have 100 other channels. So for something like this to be one of 3 choices every week, it's mindblowing.

Likewise, All in the Family would never even get on the air today, yet it was on at a time when people had very few choices and the other choices were astoundingly safe.

May 30 2008 at 2:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My favorite line - when Jody mentioned that Plato was homosexual, Jessica says "You mean Mickey's dog was gay?" Also, Jessica was a milf long before the term was ever conceived.

May 29 2008 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mark's comment

goofy was his lover...


May 29 2008 at 8:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have all the individual seasons on DVD too, and I've gone through the series three times since I got them. But, as much as I liked him as Jodie, introducing Billy Crystal to the world is Soap's biggest sin.

May 29 2008 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have always been meaning to buy this show. I always loved the updates and the questions at the end about the next epi. Dirt reminded me of Soap in the first season with Don Konkey's re-caps of the previous eps.

May 29 2008 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PSWii60 Gamer

I too have the entire set of dvd's, each season bought separately as they were released. One of my favorite shows when I was younger and, as you said, groundbreaking.

Imagine my joy when Doc Cottle was introduced on Battlestar Galactica. I laughed at first, remembering the antics of Dutch and Chester as they broke out of prison and hid in the basement at the Tate household and I was thrilled to see him again on another show I love. Donnelly Rhodes plays both characters so well I don't even think of them as being the same actor anymore.

May 29 2008 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I already have it on dvd, but never rewatched yet. I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the memory. It's the only show that I watched that I remember my dad enjoying (he did like Mary Hartman, but I didn't watch that).

May 29 2008 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to segsig's comment

I loved both Soap and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Wish there were shows like that on now. I'm not really a sitcom person, but I do enjoy a good laugh and those two shows made me laugh all the time.

May 29 2008 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It was the Arrested Development of the 80s, and I'd argue that AD has been just as groundbreaking, if not more so.

Both shows were fantastically written, witty, not-taking-itself-too-seriously, great characters, and delighting in their own absurdities.

All I hope for is more AD one day.

May 29 2008 at 12:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Robert Mandan as "Chester Tate" as "Marlena Dietrich". Genius.

May 29 2008 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The entire series is already on DVD, I have it. Soap was awesome...until the last season. It's best we forget that.

May 29 2008 at 11:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

Without SOAP, we never would have gotten Arrested Development.

May 29 2008 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Akbar Fazil's comment

I completely agree about the Arrested Development comment. I recently watched all three seasons of AD marathon-style for the first time and the first thing I though was...hey, this is a reincarnation of Soap. As soon as I finished watching AD, I wondered where I could find those old Soap episodes!

May 29 2008 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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