Kristen Baldwin
July 12, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The debut of ”Passions” isn’t promising

Now that NBC’s new soap, ”Passions,” has been on the air for a week, I have a few words of advice for the network’s daytime execs: Lock your doors, hide under your beds, and watch out for ticking mail, because any minute now some rabid ”Another World” fans are going to hunt you down. The fact that NBC canceled the respected — albeit low-rated — ”World” for ”Passions,” a theater of the absurd with a cast who could be outacted by the animatronic Abe Lincoln at Disney’s Hall of Presidents is simply mind-boggling.

While the show is only five days old, it’s already made a number of notable missteps. To begin with, its foremost young hunk, Miguel Lopez-Fitzgerald, is played by an adorable but vacant actor (Jesse Metcalfe) who seems to be reading his lines off a cue card that’s just out of his sight range. Then there’s Galen Gering (as Miguel’s brother, Luis) who so far has been unable to make eye contact with any of his cast mates. And did patriarch Sam Bennett (portrayed by thirtysomething actor James Hyde) father his two teenage daughters during his freshman year in high school?

By far the most dizzying and ill-conceived character on ”Passions” is that of wealthy Sheridan Crane, a.k.a. the ”American princess” living in Paris, who, as we have been reminded endlessly in the last week, was best friends with Princess Diana. Established primarily with one repetitive lament about Diana — ”Our lives were so similar!” — Sheridan has yet to get over the tragic death of her dear friend. She’s haunted by memories of her phone conversation with Diana the night she died, just before she and Dodi left the Ritz (a conversation viewers saw in a jaw-droppingly crass flashback). Now, poor Sheridan feels destined to suffer Diana’s same horrible fate, and sure enough, by Thursday the writers had her being chased by paparazzi into the same tunnel where Diana’s car crashed. Taken to the same hospital where Diana died, Sheridan finds herself walking toward the white light, until the voice of Diana commands her to ”go back, Sheridan. Go back.”

Let’s review: Not only has ”Passions” creator James E. Reilly appropriated the memory of a dead royal to create a sensational story line, he’s also put words in her mouth. Classy, eh? I guess NBC execs decided that exploiting Diana, a person revered by millions of women worldwide, under the auspices of ”creative license” was worth the risk of alienating the soap’s intended female audience.

To be fair, five days is not nearly enough time to make a final judgment on what’s intended to be a long-running serial. For all its faults, ”Passions” is trying some inventive, risky stories. Tabitha the town witch (and her talking doll Timmy) provide tacky fun outside of the back-from-the-dead switched-at-birth disrupted-wedding norm. The multi-ethnic cast is also refreshing given the whitewashed soap landscape, although the scene where the Latino family danced the samba in their kitchen to the strains of ”La Vida Loca” was a little much. Who knows? With a much-needed infusion of good taste, ”Passions” might just outlast NBC’s other so-bad-it’s-good soap, ”Sunset Beach.”

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