NBC's bizarre new soap conjures up a strange brew of daytime drama. 

"Passions" Runs Wild

Weekdays 2 p.m.

Sometimes, we suffer for our jobs. I have watched the first week of the new NBC daytime drama, "Passions."

I know from suffering.

It's not just that it's bad, it's that it is so bad, a veritable monument to badness. Millions of "Another World" fans, the 35-year-old soap the network dumped to make way for this drivel, would certainly concur.

"Passions" is set in the small, coastal New England town of Harmony. The action centers around the lives of four families: the white middle-class Bennetts, the black white-collar Russells, the Hispanic blue-collar Lopez-Fitzgeralds and the requisite lily-white and filthy-rich Cranes.

In this respect, "Passions" is not trying to reinvent the wheel: The lives of these characters intertwine in dramatic ways. But the writing is so bad as to be comical. The dialogue sounds like soap parody: "I love you, Ethan Crane." "You're crazy, Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald!" It is also stuffed with ludicrous amounts of exposition: "Besides your family's global business interests, the Cranes own most of the town and the local industry," socialite Gwen Hotchkiss says to her own fiancé, the spoiled and vapid Ethan Crane.

You could maybe forgive the bad writing, wooden acting and formulaic stories if it weren't for the witch. Yes, a witch. Wanna bet on her name? Try Tabitha. She talks to a wooden doll named Timmy and says things like "Toadstools and hemlock, moon on the wane ..."

Her nemesis is a little girl angel who keeps visiting a character named Grace Bennett (who levitates through her bedroom window) to repeatedly warn her of impending danger.

But Old Tabitha, played pathetically by Juliet Mills (Remember "Nanny and the Professor"?), has an extra trick up her sleeve. You see, she can bring the doll Timmy to life. I have seen a lot of wacko stories on soaps in my life (weather-changing machines and the like), but this is a new low.

Not to be outdone, however, is the storyline of Sheridan Crane (of the filthy rich Cranes) who lives in Paris and resembles a certain "sad princess." It turns out she was a very close friend of Princess Diana's and walks around Paris all day mourning her lost friend. But she is also obsessed by the notion that she too will die a horrible death like Diana because, as she says nearly 8,000 times, "Our lives were so similar." By the end of the first week, Sheridan is being chased by paparazzi on motorcycles speeding through the same tunnel in which Diana was killed. Does she crash? What do you think?

NBC ought to be ashamed of itself not only for making fictional fodder of such a death but for taking soaps in this wretched direction. Already much maligned, mostly unfairly, soaps have become the red-headed stepchildren of TV. At their best, (think "All My Children," "General Hospital") they take viewers away from their own realities and squarely into another. At their worst, though, (think "Days of Our Lives" and the demonic possession storyline) they perpetuate every stereotypical notion about daytime drama. It's the former head-writer of that soap-turned-schlock James E. Reilly who is the creator of "Passions." He has described "Passions" as 'Peyton Place' meets 'Dark Shadows' or the 'X-Files.'" More like "Peyton Place" meets "Scooby-Doo." Except if I remember correctly, "Scooby Doo" had better writing and more believable


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