Critical Diagnosis: Week of January 8, 2024 - January 12, 2024 by Jeff Giles

Howdy, folks! This is going to be a weird column to write — we had a full week with five whole episodes, but in a lot of ways, only two of them mattered. If you've been keeping track of General Hospital lately, you know last week was all about paying tribute to Bobbie Spencer, and that's where my focus will remain for this column. More importantly, I think it'd take some kind of monster to be genuinely critical of the Bobbie-centric episodes, so in spirit, this edition will probably just be a Diagnosis, with the Critical part of things taking a hiatus until next time.

Anytime, Champ

I'm really at a loss as to what I can say about GH's farewell to Bobbie. I've been watching this show off and on since at least the early '80s, so I do have some skin in the game, but when I started watching, Bobbie wasn't one of the characters I was most interested in. I think the first Bobbie storyline I can remember was D.L. Brock's murder, and at the time, I was just a kid; watching a woman be framed for the death of her abusive husband — and then gaslighted into believing she actually did it — wasn't something that really resonated with me. I was much more focused on the Frisco and Felicia stories, from the rise and fall of Riff Raff to the Aztec adventure to the Asian quarter and so on. It wasn't until much later that I was able to appreciate that Bobbie was the glue that held a bunch of characters together, in terms of her connections across the canvas as well as her ownership of the brownstone where so many of Port Charles' best and brightest lived.

Like a lot of characters who lived relatively realistic working-class existences, Bobbie suffered somewhat during the era when action and adventure started eating daytime, but she was still such an inherently vibrant central part of the GH canvas that I think it took longer than it might have for the writers to really start seeing her as a character who'd run out of gas. This is even more noteworthy because for much of the '80s and '90s, she was paired with guys who were just as relatable and essentially virtuous; in retrospect, the fact that the show was able to wring drama out of her marriages to Jake and Tony is genuinely impressive, even if it ended up dashing the latter on a pretty brutal (albeit story-rich) shoreline. 

I flitted in and out of GH during most of the '90s, and by the time I came back, Bobbie had been consigned to the long list of characters who'd been largely bumped to the margins in order to make more room for the Sonny Show. It was disappointing to me then and it's offensive to me now; say what you will about Ron Carlivati or any of the GH writers who've followed him, but they all seemed to have more affection for Barbara Jean Spencer than the teams that either turned their back on the history of the show or spit in its eye. Was Bobbie's last decade on GH packed with meaningful story? Well, no. But she mostly behaved in a way that made sense given her long history, and whenever the writers gave Bobbie a meaningful moment, Jacklyn Zeman worked the same magic that made her so beloved on either side of the screen.

That love is what I found myself thinking of throughout the week. If you read this column with any regularity, you probably know I have no loyalty to Van Etten and O'Connor; by and large, I find their decisions to be frustrating and fundamentally weak. But they really delivered with these episodes where it counted — and by "where it counted," I mean in terms of the number of opportunities they gave Zeman's longtime coworkers opportunities to express their grief and love in a way that felt genuine rather than cheap and exploitative.

This is part of the magic of long-running serial drama that I'm always blabbering about. There's stuff you can only get out of a show that's been on five days a week for decades, and moments like the ones we saw last week are wonderful — albeit very sad — examples. When we saw Laura, Scott, Felicia, Anna, Lucy, Tracy, Elizabeth, Carly, Sonny, and Kevin reminiscing about Bobbie and talking about how much they loved her, we were also watching Genie Francis, Kin Shriner, Kristina Wagner, Finola Hughes, Lynn Herring, Jane Elliot, Rebecca Herbst, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, and Jon Lindstrom mourning the loss of someone they'd worked with for many, many years. If your average old-school primetime series lasted for five seasons, it'd rack up a little over 100 episodes; a show like GH does that in less than one year, and by the time actors accrue as much tenure as the stars I just listed, they've spent a ton of time together. "We're like a family" is among the hoariest of clich├ęs, but if it can ever be considered even close to true, I'd like to think that happens on a show like this one, and as much as I thought Van Etten and O'Connor did a solid job of writing these episodes, I was just as moved — if not more so — by what appeared to be genuine emotion on the part of human beings who happen to be actors publicly sharing their sense of loss over the death of a dear friend.

So here's what I guess I'm going to say about last week: If you're a lapsed viewer who's tuned out because the General Hospital of today isn't the GH you remember, then you might owe it to yourself to watch those episodes. If you don't trust me enough to commit to all five days, then just watch Wednesday and Thursday. I'm not saying they were perfect — I thought some of the action happened absurdly fast and could have been doled out over weeks, if not months — but genuine quibbling is churlish in the face of something that seems so purely heartfelt. Given all the many constraints preventing 21st century daytime from doing all the stuff it needs to do, I think GH got about as close to perfect last week as any soap is likely to get right now.

That's it. I've decided while writing this that I don't want to recap what went down before, during, and after Bobbie's memorial, because none of it is likely to bleed over into future storylines and you really ought to watch it yourself. If you care about General Hospital, you'll more than likely shed tears, and they'll be good ones for a change. Just know that if you have no idea what "Anytime, Champ" means in the context of this story, you should make sure you have extra tissues handy.

(A Diagnosis Daytime podcast could be a fun way to talk more about the show in general and stuff like this in particular. I wonder how many of you would tune in for something like that?)

Anyway. On to the bullet points, and I promise you I have every intention of delivering a standard column next week:

  • Felicia told Cody she'd ordered a new DNA test after stealing strands of his hair from the brush at Home & Heart; it said he isn't Mac's son, but we learned that's because Sasha tampered with it. (I think Felicia knows something's fishy)

  • Tracy started her counteroffensive against Scott and Lucy by planting seeds of jealousy in Martin's head where Lucy's relationship with Scott is concerned

  • Ava decided to press charges against Esme for breaking into Wyndemere, and was unmoved by Laura's pleas for mercy

  • Gregory friend-zoned Alexis after their post-skydiving kiss, saying it was a sympathy kiss for her and he needs her to be his "constant"

  • Curtis underwent surgery

  • Marshall asked Stella if something sparked between them Christmas Eve; she insisted she had no idea what he was talking about, but he didn't seem to believe her

  • Ava told Nikolas that Esme was in jail; in response, he said he was leaving town again, which led to her tearfully saying "I'm really glad I didn't kill you" and him responding with "You say the sweetest things"

  • Esme goofed by calling Spencer "Spence," which instantly tipped him off to her faking her continued amnesia

  • Joss told an RA about Adam's drunken episode, which led to him shouting "You're a snitch!"

  • Robert missed a dinner date with Diane because he was working on the Sonny assault case; when he told her how excited he is about the thought of a Port Charles without Sonny (although he'll miss Corinthos coffee), Diane seemed to take it personally and left

  • Sonny ordered Dex to kill Cyrus

  • Nikolas showed up at Laura and Kevin's apartment to see Spencer