Tag Archives: Us Weekly

In defense of change

Change is good.

Or so the old saying goes. I must have heard that one a thousand times, but the instance that sticks out most in my head is when an old colleague used it on me. I had just announced my plans to leave Teen People to take a job at Us Weekly, and I was feeling nervous about my decision. This particular colleague dropped by my office to wish me well, and I ended up unloading my misgivings on him.

He wasn’t a big fan of mine, and I knew he was glad to see me go. For him, any old cliché probably would have done if it ended our conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’m pretty sure he pulled that one out of his ass. He probably had no idea what an impression he made.

He was right…sort of. Change can be good, and in this professional instance it was not only good — it was essential. But change can also be not-so-good. There’s a lot to be said for stability, predictability and the dreaded routine. Change for the sake of change only is often just a waste of time.

When I was younger, one of my relatives came to live with us for a while. One of my most vivid memories about him (among many vivid, unpleasant memories) was that he used to change undershirts several times a day. Every time I think of him, I also think of his white V-neck t-shirts flapping in the wind on the clothesline in the backyard like blank flags at half-mast.

As I can’t recall him ever doing anything more strenuous than thumping his Holy Bible, I had no idea why he needed to change his t-shirts so often. Maybe it was because my mother did all of the laundry, so why not? Change for the sake of change may have been good for him, but it was a burden for my mom. Though I’ve fully embraced change in my recent adulthood, I’ve remained suspicious and maybe even a little afraid of it too.

But now I’m beginning to see change in an entirely different light. Even when it’s not-so-good, or just for its own sake, it can end up having a net positive effect. Hannah Horvath on Girls would probably agree.

The fourth season of Girls won me over after a kind of hum-drum third season, and I think it was all because of change. There was so much of it. The biggest one: Hannah moved to Iowa (albeit briefly) to attend grad school, which set off a chain of unfortunate events for Hannah but fortunate ones for this viewer.

As a result of the stint in Iowa, she lost Adam, and upon her return, even more change was in store. She took a job as a substitute high-school teacher and her friends became a less prominent presence in her life. Hannah spent more time with Adam’s new girlfriend Mimi-Rose in episode 7 than she did with Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa the entire season! If that wasn’t enough life upheaval, her father also came out as gay. That’s a lot of change for a 10-episode season.

(As an aside, I love the juxtaposition of her dad announcing he’s gay to her mother getting tenure, which, in academia, is the antithesis of change, as Loreen “I never have to move again” Horvath clearly realizes.)

The move to Iowa was one of the best developments that the series writer and star Lena Dunham has come up with yet. It took Hannah out of the orbit of her annoying New York circle, none of whom, with the exception of Adam and Shoshanna, I could possibly care less about. The Iowa episodes were some of my favorite ones of the season, partly because her New York crowd were barely in them. But most of all, I loved them because the change of scenery and Hannah’s ultimate failure in Iowa were the catalysts for the first signs of true emotional growth we’ve seen in her yet.

I don’t think she would have been able to be so supportive of her father and not make his coming out all about her without the Iowa experience. And look at how she remained in the background during the water-childbirth scenes, not grabbing center stage as old Hannah surely would have done. Had she not let go of so many illusions about herself, about her life, about life in general after Iowa, she probably would have taken Adam back in the season finale rather than seeing that they simply didn’t work anymore…if they ever actually did.

I’m thrilled that Hannah is starting to evolve, but I’m glad that she hasn’t completely changed her irritating ways. Her interaction with her student Cleo offered much-needed assurance that old-school Hannah is alive and well. Some might find her insufferable, but I love her despite her flaws…because of her flaws.

I get Hannah. Maybe it’s the writer in us. We’re a strange, complicated, contradictory breed. I hope friends and strangers don’t feel about me the way people do about Hannah, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out that some of them do. It’s not like I’ve never picked up and left everyone I cared about behind for far less clear-cut reasons than Hannah’s motivation for moving to Iowa.

I’m sure more big changes (some just for the sake of it) are in store for both Hannah and me. Maybe they’ll bring about continued evolution and make us more palatable to the people around us. Perhaps, as it did with Hannah, change will finally put me in the orbit of a guy who might actually be good for me and not just provide more fodder for my writing.

I like Mr. Parker. He’s cute and he totally nailed Hannah in just a couple of episodes. I’m curious to see where they go in season five. I love that he called her on her thirst for drama, but I hope she doesn’t bend like Carrie Bradshaw did with Aiden when she tried to give up smoking for him on Sex and the City. Hannah’s dramatic tendencies are a large part of what makes her and Girls interesting.

The last thing she (or I, a once-again thoroughly entertained viewer) needs is change in the form of a sexy new guy swooping in and altering Hannah or her maddening ways. I love them just the way they are.

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What Did Madonna Have that Miley Cyrus Doesn’t (5 Things)

Every year, it gets worse. Music award shows fall lower on my radar, slip sliding away, down — and, in some cases, off — my list of must-see-TV. I used to take them all in, semi-religiously (though not nearly as much so as I’ve dwelled and doted on the Oscars since the mid ’70s): the Grammys, the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards. In my days as an editor at Teen People and Us Weekly, I used to attend several of them each year — and I can’t say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it.

Maybe I’m too old or too removed (literally) from the action, but I can barely keep track of when they’re on anymore. I had no idea that the MTV Video Music Awards were being handed out last Sunday until the morning after (afternoon, Roman time) when I started reading the comments about them in my Facebook News Feed. Most of the commentary was about Miley Cyrus and her “controversial” performance with Robin Thicke, whose black-and-white candy-cane outfit one Facebook friend compared to Beetlejuice, providing an indisputable visual aid.

The reviews, I figured, must have been better than the show itself, which I still haven’t felt compelled to watch in its entirety. Yesterday while channel surfing in Florence, I landed on MTV and caught the last 30 minutes or so of the ceremony. It reinforced what I already knew: I didn’t really miss a thing — not even Miley’s latest bid for adult pop stardom (remember how flat “Can’t Be Tamed” fell three years ago?), which I finally got around to witnessing on YouTube yesterday morning.

Verdict: I’d rather spend all day watching Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show on repeat than ever again having to be subjected to Miley Cyrus shaking her ass at Robin Thicke — and mangling not only her own latest hit in her off-key way but also a verse from his sublime chart-topper “Blurred Lines,” which has thankfully kept “We Can’t Stop” from becoming Miley’s first No. 1 Hot 100 single.

Watching her cavort around the stage like a puppy in heat with neither bark nor bite, I was less appalled by the sexual content of her performance than I was by how unsexy it was. Desperation is never an enticing come-hither look. Perhaps if Miley had a modicum of musical talent (or even a fraction of, say, Kelly Clarkson’s), she wouldn’t have to try so hard to command our attention. Kelly can perform in a sackcloth — which she pretty much did during American Idol‘s “Idol Gives Back” in 2007 — and still wow a crowd.

If her goal is to be the next Madonna, she’s failing spectacularly. Anyone old enough to remember Madonna’s VMAs debut (and the show’s itself) — in 1984, when she premiered “Like a Virgin” by rolling around on the floor in a wedding dress — already knows that Miley is no Madonna. Sure they both have a limited vocal range, but what Madonna lacked in musical technique, she more than made up for in performance art. The “Like a Virgin” VMAs routine may have been campy, but that was intentional, and in the nearly three decades of shock antics that followed (the “Justify My Love” video, the Sex book, making out with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs), Madonna may have been a lot of things, but cheap and cheesy were never two of them.

Who knows if Miley even aspires to be the next Madonna — or the next anyone? But if she wants to create half the ripple effect of Madonna at the peak of her attention-grabbing prowess, she’ll need at least five things currently not in her arsenal of pop ammunition….

1. Timeless songs Five years into Madonna’s recording career — back when she was at the half-decade mark that Miley is currently straddling (along with the hottest male pop star she can get her crotch on) —  Madonna had already offered such enduring pop classics as “Holiday,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” “Into the Groove” and “Papa Don’t Preach.” I was never a huge fan of any of those hits (having not been particularly sold on Madonna’s brand of pure pop until she began to pursue critical acclaim with the Like a Prayer album in 1989), but I can sing pretty much every lyric to all of them, whether I like it (or them) or not.

Right now I can’t even hear the choruses of either of Miley’s two pre-“We Can’t Stop” biggest hits — “Party in the U.S.A.” and “The Climb” — in my head. “We Can’t Stop” is fresher in my mind, but only because it provided the soundtrack to the first half of Miley’s VMAs bump-and-grind fest. In the 2030s, will anyone be dying to hear any of Miley’s songs, or remember what she was singing when she had her VMAs moment 20 years ago? Did any of the post-show hoopla even mention her singing?

2. A woman’s body Memo to all those female stars who think too thin is beautiful: Having the body of a teenage boy is not sexy. Miley, who will turn 21 on November 23, may no longer be a girl, but she’s definitely not yet a woman, too paraphrase Britney Spears, who though also on the cusp of turning 21 when she sang that song, looked far more the part of a woman. Sure Madonna had more than 10 years on Miley when she started shoving the envelope with her early ’90s sex phase (and she easily filled out that bullet bra), but that’s precisely the reason why it worked. Miley looks like a little girl who just had her first orgasm and is trying to prove that she’s all grown up now. Madonna didn’t have anything left to prove in music circa 1992. She came across as a grown woman who just enjoyed sex.

3. Classy collaborators Madonna had Nile Rodgers (producer of “Like a Virgin”), Prince (her duet partner on Like a Prayer‘s “Love Song”), Warren Beatty (her costar in the 1990 film Dick Tracy and her boyfriend at the time), Herb Ritts (director of the “Cherish” video) and Naomi Campbell and Isabella Rossellini (two of her costars in the 1992 Sex book), among many other A-list cohorts. Okay, so Britney and Christina Aguilera were not the classiest pop stars on the planet when she made out with them onstage at the VMAs in 2003, but at least they were two of the biggest. Of the seven people it took to write “We Can’t Stop,” Miley is the one with the most impressive pedigree, which is a clue to how low she’s aiming creatively.

4. An audience that hasn’t already seen everything If the public hadn’t watched Miley grow up as Hannah Montana, I doubt that anyone would have blinked at her VMAs performance. As it is, I suspect that people are more embarrassed for her than shocked by her daring. After all, from Madonna to Lady Gaga to the topless girls in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video, we’ve already seen everything, including Janet Jackson’s nipple. Miley is a like a stripper who slides down the pole already fully naked, which, if the censors would allow it, she probably would have done, in a desperate bid to remain relevant in an age where, if you’re a female pop star with limited talent, you’re only as talked about as your last strip tease.

5. Better moves Is sticking out your tongue the new thing — the “strike a pose” of 2013? It looks even more ridiculous when it’s accompanied by “twerking,” which, in one of her few opinions to which I’d proudly cosign, The View cohost Sherri Shepherd likened to a “ho move.” It makes me long for the ’90s days of “voguing.” I never thought Madonna was much of a dancer, but compared to “twerking,” “voguing” looks like high art, and when Madonna performed “Vogue” at the 1990 VMAs, she did so decked out in full 18th-century French royalty regalia. That, boys, girls and Miley Cyrus, is how pop legends are made.

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Shockers! Sane Words of Semi-Wisdom from Amanda Bynes on Twitter

@AmandaBynes is usually a tweeting disaster, but she’s a savvy one. While calling @Drake and @JennyMcCarthy “ugly” isn’t going to help her case in Hollywood, it probably did win her some new “followers” because everybody loves a good celebrity smackdown. Beyond the bile, though, there are actually some sweet observations about life and love. Like many 27 year olds, she has a weakness for cliches (“Be careful what you wish for”) and platitudes (“win from within,” “Love isn’t real if it’s not forever”), but if you scroll patiently through Bynes’s tweets, original ideas eventually emerge.

They’re so easy to overlook because she tends to give far more space to negativity, whether it’s in the form of rants against magazine editors, including those at my professional alma mater Us Weekly, and the paparazzi (for the Top 2 offenses: covering her “erratic behavior” and running bad photos of her) and @PerezHilton (for simply existing).

If she’s just looking for attention, it’s working. While I enjoyed her work in Hairspray and Easy A, I was never particularly interested in Bynes or thought much about her one way or the other until she started driving really badly and getting arrested. Now that she’s taken to going off on Twitter, I’m a little bit hooked. I never follow celebrities, and I starting following her because I could use the daily entertainment.

10 Sort of Smart and Totally Sane Things Amanda Bynes Has Said on Twitter

The reason I’m suing everyone I’m suing: defamation (of character) n. the act of making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation. If the defamatory statement is printed or broadcast over the media it is libel and, if only oral, it is slander.

 

@joeyislame don’t hurt yourself babe! You’re beautiful! Ily!

 

Don’t worry about thoughts, it doesn’t matter how it feels, all that matters is how it looks..

 

I don’t care what you think, I care what you say.

 

When I like you the only one who can make me not like you is you.

 

When you’re beside me I’m beside myself

 

When you’re in love, only one persons opinion of you matters.

 

If you don’t get jealous it’s because you don’t care

 

Men always want to be a woman’s first love. Women like to be a man’s last romance.

 

What you think about is what you are ❤

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“Google Me!”: The Hot New Pick-Up Line?

Recently, I’ve developed a terribly annoying habit — probably less so for myself than for the people who meet me, though I’ve yet to get any complaints. It’s the Z-list equivalent of celebrities talking about themselves in the third person. I’ve always hated when they did that. It’s like, who does she think she is? Mary J. Blige?

(Oh, wait! She is…)

When I meet new people, and they get to asking all of those pesky introductory questions — Where are you from? What do you do? A journalist? What kind? — sometimes I scribble down my first name and surname (or write it, if we’re online), and say, “Google me.”

I always expect them to be appalled and come back with some cutting remark: “Who do you think you are? Mary J. Blige?” But most of them do as they’re told and come back with words of encouragement. I think I’ve even gotten a few dates out of it. (“Oh, so he’s not always a drunk exhibitionist,” I imagine them whispering to themselves as they scroll down.) “Google Me”: the hot new pick-up line!

Last year, one guy in Bangkok who’d already gone out with me twice before he Googled me (per my instructions, of course), spent a half hour on the phone with me raving about the amount of space I took up in the search engine. “Twenty-two pages!” he marveled over and over, as if it was as note-worthy as winning an Oscar.

I tried to explain to him that any blogger who produces as much content as I do would get tons of Google mentions. It didn’t make me a better, or more impressive, person. It’s not like I’m Mary J. Blige or something. He wouldn’t budge. It took a trip to the hospital later that evening for a dislocated shoulder (something for which I accepted full responsibility — but you won’t find that on Google) for him to change the subject.

I suppose as pick-up lines go, one could do a lot worse. (“Top or bottom?” and “Is it true that when you go black you never go back?” come immediately to mind — and yes, I really did get the latter one the other day.) But then, there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned way of getting to know somebody, slowly peeling away layers, until the core in revealed. Of course, Facebook and Twitter have already taken most of the mystery out of new relationships, so one doesn’t even need to have a major Google presence to overshare too fast.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an ulterior motive besides my not wanting to explain the intricacies of what I do for the zillionth time. I figure Googling me is sort of like running a background check. Afterwards, a stranger whom I might want to be something more will know I’m legit and not a deranged ax murderer. I can’t say I’ve never resorted to Googling a new acquaintance myself; nor can I say that a new acquaintance has ever suggested I do so. I wonder how turned off I’d be.

I once worked with a guy at Us Weekly who told me that every time a new employee reported to work, he did his homework by Googling them. That was why on my first day, he already knew way too much about me. And this was in 2002, well before people regularly went around doing things like Googling each other. If I hadn’t liked my new colleague as much as I did, I probably would have thought he was kind of creepy (which is a realization I eventually came to, about a year into the gig). But I was kind of flattered that he’d taken the time to get to know me before actually getting to know me — even if he did it for everyone in the office.

As far as I know, it’s the last time anyone’s ever Googled me unprompted — which might be even sadder than using “Google me” as a hot new pick-up line. I’ll have to remember to Google another one.

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Do Famous Women Always Cheat for Love?

“There is a huge gender double standard when it comes to cheating. If you ask me (and you didn’t, I realize), it all comes down to the general perception of how men and women have sex. I’m stereotyping and generalizing here, but men need a physical connection. Women need an emotional connection. There’s a reason that there’s no such thing as Viagra for women. (Well, save for dark chocolate. That might count.) So, perhaps we find it easier to forgive someone who is ‘in love’ rather than ‘in lust’ because lust is more fleeting than love.”

That’s the intelligent and provocative response of one of my favorite bloggers, a woman, to my recent post “What ‘Fatal Attraction’ Taught Me About Love, Cheating and the Battle of the Sexes 25 Years Later.” When I wrote that post, I was referring to men and women in film, not venturing into the realm of reality, in Hollywood or beyond. But today, it’s hard not to. Not with Kristen Stewart, 22, ending her long silence about the nature of her relationship with her Twilight costar Robert Pattinson, 26, by announcing to the entire world that she cheated on him.

I mean, what straight celebrity comes out like this? Who finally acknowledges that she has indeed been involved with a costar for several years by issuing an official statement apologizing for cheating on him (in Stewart’s case, with Rupert Sanders, 41, the married director of her recent film Snow White & the Huntsman)? I would have put my money on a tryst with her Snow White costar Chris Hemsworth, as most of the tabloids previously had, which adds to the intrigue.

Was her intention to protect her public image while humiliating Pattinson even further? Or perhaps she felt she had no other choice since Us Weekly — a magazine for which I was a senior editor for two years — slapped her and Sanders on the cover and ran pictures of them engaging in something far more intimate than acceptable boss-employee rapport.

“I’m deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.”

So wrote Stewart in her statement, and she’s not the first famous woman to feel that way. Women in Hollywood have been not standing my their men for decades, as I pointed out two years ago in the post “Do Famous Women Cheat?”. In 1949, when Ingrid Bergman, then married to Petter Lindstrom, had an affair with director Roberto Rossellini (and got pregnant, too!), she became persona non grata in Hollywood and went into self-imposed exile for seven years. Upon her return, she won the second of three Oscars, Best Actress for 1956’s Anastasia, and was greeted like a homecoming queen.

When Elizabeth Taylor dumped Eddie Fischer for Richard Burton after an affair on the set of the 1963 film Cleopatra, she launched one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories ever told (onscreen or off), somehow managing to sidestep any major professional repercussions. Times had changed in Hollywood.

Meg Ryan’s career nosedived following her fling with Russell Crowe on the set of 2000’s Proof of Life, but that had more to do with poor professional choices on her part than bad choices in her marriage to Dennis Quaid. In 2002, Jennifer Lopez upgraded from hubby Cris Judd to Ben Affleck and became an even bigger superstar. More recently, Tori Spelling and LeAnn Rimes have found that there is indeed life after cheating on their husbands with married men. Spelling even got her own short-lived reality TV series, 2006’s So NoTORIous, out of it.

Though Rimes did receive some flack when Self magazine put her on the October 2010 cover (How dare they after Rimes left her husband for actor Eddie Cibrian, a married man?), prompting the editor-in-chief to apologize in an email to subscribers, none of these women had to/will have to spend the rest of their careers wearing a scarlet letter (A is for Adulteress). And as far as I know, none of them went into damage-control mode by issuing a public mea culpa as quickly as Stewart did.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but from where I’m sitting (and typing), Stewart actually isn’t looking so bad. Not that I’m condoning on-the-set affairs (though I must wonder, what do Hollywood couples expect when actors and actresses spend so much time on movie sets, away from significant others, in close quarters with temptation?), but for the first time ever, I actually find Stewart kind of interesting. Not only because she’s human like the rest of us, but because I’m not 100 percent convinced that her public apology was entirely well-intentioned. (Poor Rob!) She’s not so snow white, after all!

As I pondered my reaction, it hit me: Oh my God, I’m doing it, too! Would my reaction to this story be the same if Pattinson had been the one caught on camera with his hands in another woman’s goodies jar? I doubt that this will have much of a negative effect on Stewart’s career. She’ll get tons of coverage in the weekly tabloid magazines, and by extension her next films, On the Road and Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2, will get a huge profile boost. Not that the latter needed one.

I’m fairly certain that if Pattinson were walking in Stewart’s stilettos, he’d be in a far worse place professionally. Any actor would be. Perhaps it’s because when men cheat, they tend to do it so much more flagrantly and tastelessly (see Jude Law and the nanny, Sandra Bullock’s ex, Tiger Woods, John Edwards, and too many others to list). Women tend to go about their indiscretions less shamelessly, though I’m not sure why Stewart and Sanders didn’t just get a room — and stay in it! — and why attached Hollywood women almost always seem to go for married men.

But does Stewart deserve the pardon that fictional female cheaters always seem to get? From the coverage I’ve seen thus far (and from her carefully worded statement, if we are to take it at face value), there is nothing that would indicate that Stewart and Sanders’ “momentary indiscretion” — her words, not mine — was about much more than sex.

At least Bergman, Taylor, Spelling and Rimes married the guys with whom they cheated. If Stewart is not in love with Sanders, did she wreck her relationship with one of the most desirable guys in movies — and, presumably, Sanders’ marriage — just for sex? And will the public forgive her for cheating if it wasn’t all about love? Stay tuned. Hollywood’s battle of the sexes is about to get a lot more interesting.

“Can You Forgive Her?” Pet Shop Boys

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Are 'Twilight' stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart doing it? Who cares?!

Enough is enough. Since the first Twilight movie came out one and a half years ago, the tabloids have been bombarding us with tall tales about the state of the union of two of its three leads, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. For a few months, the speculation seemed to be pushed slightly to the back burner, and now, just in time for the publicity launch leading up to the June 30 debut of the third film in the series, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the rumor mill is once again churning overtime.

Robert and Kristen have a huge blow up on the set!

Kristen Stewart is pregnant!

OK, that last one was just a joke made by Pattinson when Oprah Winfrey recently inquired about their romantic status on her show. Aside from the fact that Winfrey, who keeps the details of her own private life a closely — and creepily — guarded secret, should know better than to broach subjects that the “couple” obviously would rather not discuss, I don’t understand why anyone cares at all.

Or do they?

After the first Twilight film became a pop-culture phenomenon, were its fans dying to know about the love lives of the movie’s stars, whether Pattinson and Stewart were indeed joined at the lips in real life, too, or was the “romance” a story created by the tabloid media to sell magazines, or a plot twist hatched by Twilight‘s studio, Summit Entertainment, to sell movie tickets? I wouldn’t put it past either one of them. You know, keep them in the news by keeping the rumor alive, make them seem like bigger stars than they really are. Maybe people who wouldn’t normally be interested in Twilight will buy the magazines with them on the cover and check out the film to see if they can spot the chemistry. Us Weekly and In Touch win. Summit Entertainment wins. Everyone wins but me.

In the end, I’m as bored by the stories as I am by Twilight itself. If the movie’s stars really are dating, and they are afraid to damage Pattinson’s heartthrob status, I say they seal it with a public kiss so we can all move on. Yes, having a serious girlfriend can work against certain celebrities — as might be the case with their teen costar Taylor Lautner, or Justin Bieber — but Pattinson just turned 24 years old. People are probably expecting him to get involved right about now, lest a less-desirable rumor start circulating. (Hint: It rhymes with “He’s fey.”)

Having a significant other never damaged the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt when they were younger. If Pattinson and Stewart are indeed together, admitting it doesn’t mean they have to start sharing intimate details or do joint at-home features in People magazine. There’s something cocky and off putting about all the caginess, like the actors — who without Twilight would be C-list at best — think they are important enough to play into the whole mystery-romance thing. Ultimately, it just makes everyone involved — Pattinson, Stewart, the tabloids, Oprah — seem stuck in high school, which given Twilight‘s target audience, is actually ironically appropriate.

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Why 'Days of Our Lives' is working my nerves and soap operas are testing my patience

Thanks for the addiction, Mom.

Like so many soap opera fanatics my age and younger, it began with my mother. As a kid, I watched daytime serials because she did. After a few years (probably sometime around third grade, when I actually missed the first day of school so I could see the Monday resolution of Friday’s All My Children cliffhanger), the characters became like real people for me, a part of my life, family. I more or less lost interest around the time I hit puberty, only to be pulled back in six years ago when I quit Us Weekly and took the summer off from full-time journalism.

I was quickly sucked back into the outrageous world of daytime melodrama, where people regularly come back from the dead, and women can discover they have a grown child, even though they don’t remember giving birth. Though this is the sort of stuff that qualifies soaps as the ultimate guilty pleasure, at its best, soap acting ranks among the best in the business. By the time I left New York City in 2006, I was up to five shows a day — One Life to Live, General Hospital, All My Children, Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless. I’ve since pretty much crossed AMC and Y&R off my list, but I still keep up with the other three semi-religiously on YouTube.

Lately I’ve been thinking that I might have to give them up, too. And not just because the recent cancellations of two of the longest-running daytime dramas — Guiding Light, which expired last year, and As the World Turns, due to depart in September — make the extinction of soaps a distinct possibility (if not probability). It’s because of the soaps themselves.

If I were to boycott them, It would be justifiable abandonment. On Days, we’ve got our heroine Hope Brady, who has lost her husband Bo to the recently returned Carly Manning and has begun popping pills in order to get to sleep. So far so good (if a tad undramatic).

But here’s the Days twist. Instead of sleeping soundly for eight hours, Hope is rising in the middle of the night, getting dolled up, hitting the streets of Salem and mugging every guy on the show. Then the morning after, she doesn’t remember a thing. Here’s what I want to know: A) What is the entire population of Salem doing roaming the streets in the middle of the night? B) How is sleepless and still-stunning Hope able to stand up long enough to investigate the case in which she’s the perpetrator with next to no sleep?

It’s not the mugging part that bothers me most — anyone who saw her on Melrose Place in the ’90s, knows that Kristian Alfonso, who plays Hope, makes an excellent baddie — but couldn’t the writers have had someone secretly poisoning her to make her do such out-of-character things? Or maybe Hope simply could have snapped after her marriage fell apart and decided to even the score with all men. Sleeping pills put you to sleep. They don’t cause you to run around town bonking people over the head.

I understand the need to give Alfonso, one of Days‘ top stars, a juicy story. Several years ago, she had one, when her and Bo’s young son, Zack, was killed in a hit and run accident by Chelsea, Bo’s daughter with Billie Reed who died in childbirth but was nonetheless discovered 18 soap years later, alive and well, and living in Salem. Alfonso’s performance during the hospital scene in which she said goodbye to Zack was better than a lot of what I see in prime time, or on the big screen, for that matter. But this current story arc is doing neither the actress nor the show any favors.

Or is it? Despite such unrealistic plot-driven stories, Days is on a roll. When I left the U.S., it was usually near the bottom of the ratings. Now it regularly comes in third, after Y&R and The Bold and the Beautiful, and although it scored fewer 2010 Daytime Emmy nominations (nine) than any other soap, five of those were acting nods, which is five more than a few years ago, when zero acting nominations for Days was a foregone conclusion year after year.

I suspect that one of the reasons for its resurgence has been the show’s recent focus on its history. In the last few years, we’ve seen the return of vintage characters such as Carly, Vivian Alamain, Justin and Adrienne Kiriakis, and Stefano DiMera, played by the actors who made them part of must-see daytime TV. And although those May 7 scenes between Anna DiMera and Calliope Jones, which were supposed to be taking place in a tropical resort, looked like they were set in Erica Kane’s closet, seeing them onscreen at all was a nice nod to the show’s history, and a welcome respite from the new characters and actors who over-populate so many of the other soaps.

It’s a page straight from the success booklet of Y&R, TV No. 1 daytime soap for 22 years running, which will soon welcome back ’70s and early ’80s stars David Hasselhoff and Wing Hauser as, respectively, Snapper and Greg Foster. In a way, watching Days today is like being magically transported back to 1985, or 1995. And in this retro era where all things ’80s and ’90s rule, that’s the perfect way to build interest. But while those sleeping pills seem to be doing everything but putting Hope to sleep, that’s exactly what this Salem mugger storyline is doing to me. Unfortunately, it’s only the latest in a string of unfortunate soap-opera stories and developments in recent years.

Here are my Top 3 offenders:

1. Eric Kane’s undone abortion In 1973, All My Children made history when it featured TV’s first legal abortion. Thirty odd years later, Erica Kane discovered that the baby hadn’t been aborted, after all. A Dr. Greg Madden had taken the fetus, inplanted it into his own wife, and they raised the son as their own. Never mind that such medical techniques didn’t exist in 1973! Not even killing off Josh Madden a few years later could right that egregious wrong. Score one for the anti-abortionists!

2. Dorian Lord’s gay marriage Last year, Dorian was running against her long-time rival Viki Banks for mayor. So what does she do to gain the edge with voters? She pretends to be a lesbian and stages a public mass gay wedding in which she was to marry her “lover.” In Llanview, Pennsylvania! First of all, how did they find so many gay couples willing to publicly get hitched in small town Pennsylvania? And in a country where openly supporting gay marriage can cost a politician an election, how does that boost you in the polls? In the end, Dorian lost by one vote, but ended up getting the job after Viki resigned. While I appreciate OLTL‘s attempt to inject a little gay into the proceedings, why not just give us a good old-fashioned love story featuring two characters who just happen to be guys without cheap, unrealistic gimmicks?

3. General Hospital, featuring Sonny “Soprano” Corinthos Once a show primarily about a a hospital that doubled as a passion pit, GH has been married to the mob for more than a decade now. There’s a reason why I have never watched an entire episode of The Sopranos, despite its acclaim and mulitple Emmys. For me, the purpose of television is entertainment. If I want to see people at risk of bodily harm, I’ll go down to Buenos Aires’s La Boca district — or hang out on the streets of Salem — in the middle of the night. Less guns and violence, more love in the afternoon and diva cat fights, please.

In spite of all this ridiculousness, I continue to watch my soaps. Daytime dramas have been testing the limits of my tolerance for the far fetched from day one. Babies and toddlers disappear upstairs one day and reappear a few years later as teenagers (known as “SORAS,” or Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). Marlena Evans was possessed by the devil on Days, and OLTL characters have gone back in time more than once.

All that I can take. At least stories about possession and time travel are not intended to push realism. But popping sleeping pills is mundane and everyday — everyone’s at it. If you’re going to have a major character eating them like candy and then spending the night committing crimes, at least have the decency to make her look like hell the next day.

Now I’m officially worked up. Excuse me while I take a Klonopin to calm myself down. But hold on to your valuables, and watch your backs — just in case I end up going on an after-midnight mugging spree.

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