OTALIA GOES OUT WITH A CORDIAL HANDSHAKE
CBS daytime drama Guiding Light concludes its 75-year run today, bringing an end to the lesbian relationship known as Otalia — and the misery of disenchanted and disappointed fans.
The relationship between Olivia (Crystal Chappell) and Natalia (Jessica Leccia) wasn’t always such a joke. In fact, it started off pretty well, and at times was moving and refreshingly progressive. The enemies-turned-friends-turned-"lovers" developed a passionate fan following over the last year and became one of the most popular couples on the show, even before they were technically a couple. Simply put, Otalia came to mean a lot to a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons.
All of which made the travesty their storyline became that much worse.
After months of becoming emotionally invested in the couple’s romantic relationship, many fans became increasingly frustrated as the writers began using every trick in the book — including obvious and obnoxious stereotypical lesbian storylines — to avoid showing the women, you know, actually together.
Woman tries to deny her feelings for another woman by sleeping with a man? Check!
Lesbian storyline hijacked and consumed by resulting pregnancy? Check!
Double-standard around physical affection between heterosexual vs. homosexual couples employed? Check! Check!
The double-standard around kissing was probably the most painful aspect, because by the end, it was actually impossible to watch the show without noticing it. The writers didn’t even seem to be trying to hide it anymore — in one scene this week, the heterosexual couples actually engaged in a kissing contest at a wedding, while Olivia and Natalia looked on, a foot apart from each other. I found myself actually hoping Kanye West would storm the set to rant about it.
Can you think of any other couple in the (recent) history of daytime that spent over a year flirting, dating, living together, even taking vacations together — and never once kissing?
Leccia and Chappell get props for making their characters and their relationship so appealing in the first place; publicly supporting the romance; and doing the best they could even after CBS threw them — and viewers — under the discrimination bus.
"I think that there’s a lot to be said for yearning," Chappell told us in an interview last week. "And I think we played that very well. I think they wrote it very well over the last year or so. But at some point it seems unreal that you wouldn’t just kiss somebody hello or goodbye."
Guiding Light actor Justin Deas also pointed out the issue in an interview with TV Guide this week. "The lesbians on our show can’t kiss? What’s wrong with us?" he said, adding, "There’s a greater chance that GL would have brought in a donkey for Buzz to have sex with."
You know this is a glaring double-standard when even the straight people are complaining about it.
All My Children was skittish about showing two women kissing once, too — several years ago. This year, AMC showed a lesbian couple kissing, in bed together, and getting married. (Although in many other ways, the Otalia storyline was arguably much better than AMC’s.)
To be clear: most viewers, including me, weren’t tuning in to Guiding Light primarily to see Olivia and Natalia kiss. The appeal of Otalia was their relationship; the physical affection just an extension or expression of that.
But when the writers/network refused to let the couple kiss (or even hold hands until close to the end), they made them — and us — second-class citizens, and ruined the fantasy element that is the the heart of daytime drama. I get enough of seeing lesbian couples being treated like second-class citizens in the real world, thank you very much, I don’t need to watch it for fun (or for your ratings benefit).
So when they weren’t studiously avoiding kissing, what were Olivia and Natalia doing in the last two weeks of the show? Saying goodbye to Natalia’s son Rafe, who joined the Army; attending heterosexual weddings; picking out baby names, and reassuring the baby’s father, Frank, that’s he’s super special.
Also, they made Natalia wear this dress, which is just mean:
There was a good storyline in which Doris, the town mayor and the show’s other lesbian, finally came out to her daughter after year’s of being closeted. But that, and the fact that Olivia and Natalia didn’t turn into lesbian serial killers, is about the only good thing I can say about the end of Guiding Light.
Not everyone feels this way, of course — many (although a dwindling number) of the Otalia fans still appreciate having the relationship at all, or feel that the portrayal of Otalia at the end wasn’t that bad. That’s fine; we don’t all have to agree — in fact, I believe the Official Lesbian and Bisexual Bylaws require us to disagree with each other as often as possible.
So whether you agree or disagree, let me know your thoughts on the end of Otalia in the comments.
UPDATE: GL Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler tells TV Guide in a new interview that she would have let them kiss in another year or so, but “we did the best we could on the way out.”
— by Sarah Warn