In The Bold and The Beautiful last week, Steffy Forrester (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) married Dr John “Finn” Finnegan (Tanner Novlan). It was an unusual wedding for a soap opera. Not because Finn’s villainous, absent birth mother was about to leap from the shadows and reveal herself (that’s par for the course).
Rather, because for almost the entire trajectory of their characters’ romance, Wood and Novlan were not permitted to touch.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, American television production shut down. In June that year, The Bold and The Beautiful was the first US network TV drama to resume shooting. Strict COVID-19 guidelines included regular testing and mandatory masks and face shields off camera. Scenes featuring only one or two actors, rather than ensembles, became commonplace. On camera, actors were unmasked but maintained strict social distancing.
This presented problems, because soaps revolve around romance. How do you make a soap opera without kissing?
The show came up with innovative solutions such as body doubles. When the script called for Steffy and Finn to kiss, for instance, Novlan’s actual wife, actor Kayla Ewell stepped into Steffy’s shoes, with the scenes shot from behind.
The mannequins became a cult hit, ending up with a plotline of their own featuring troubled fashion designer Thomas Forrester (Matthew Atkinson), who began to hallucinate that a mannequin designed to look like the woman he was in love with actually became her.
This plotline kicked off a narrative trajectory (involving mistaken identity, an unplanned pregnancy, an altered paternity test and a wrongful arrest) that ultimately ended with Steffy and Finn’s wedding.
It kept me company during the long, long days of last year’s second lockdown in Melbourne: one reliable bright spot in a time that was anything but.
A 20-year obsession
I have been a soap viewer since I was 12. I used to watch Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and Passions during school holidays or when home sick. The Bold and The Beautiful, though, has always been “my” show. I’ve watched it steadily now for over 20 years. A lot in my life has changed in that period, but Bold has always been there, consistent in its melodrama.
The Bold and The Beautiful, for those who have never caught five minutes of it before the news, is an American soap opera set in the world of high fashion in Los Angeles.
It centres on three key families — the Forresters, the Logans, and the Spencers — who have been falling in love with each other, trying to murder each other, and stealing fashion designs from each other since 1987.
For many years, the central focus was designer Ridge Forrester (Ronn Moss) and his love triangle with Brooke Logan and Taylor Hayes. Ridge and co are still around (although Ridge is now played by Thorsten Kaye), but the central action now focuses on their children — including our most recent newlywed, (for the fifth time,) Steffy.
In Melbourne, we’re now in our sixth lockdown. It’s not fun, but knowing I can sit down every afternoon at 4:30 for half an hour of high fashion hijinks helps get me through.
For half an hour, I don’t need to think deeply: all I need to wonder is how Steffy is going to feel about her new evil mother-in-law, and what will happen if Thomas ever encounters that mannequin again.
I also exchange text messages with my own mother about the more disastrous fashion choices.
Slow drip TV
Free to air is not, generally speaking, how we watch TV now. We’re accustomed to bingeing entire seasons. Currently, 10play has episodes of Bold going back to 2020 (so you could watch the mannequin arc), and a good collection of classic episodes. But this barely scratches the surface. There are over 8,000 Bold episodes and counting.
The show is designed for slow-drip, routine watching. Soaps are for returning to day after day, not bingeing. They’re also made with a distracted viewer in mind, so key plot points are always reiterated several times. And during lockdown, this has been exactly what I needed.
No matter what the case numbers look like, The Bold and The Beautiful will be there for me, as it has been since I was 12. The plot will always be bananas (although a few weeks ago, with the advent of COVID-19 vaccinations, the actors returned to kissing each other instead of mannequins). If I somehow manage to miss an episode (unlikely, during lockdown), they’ll always explain things again the next day.
Everything in the world might be unstable and disquieting, but I can always rely on one thing: the Forresters, Logans and Spencers will never stop fighting and falling in love at 4:30pm.
Jodi McAlister, Lecturer in Writing, Literature and Culture, Deakin University