A hearty thanks once again to Jeff Krueger for the Soap care package he sent me. In addition to the wonderful contemporary clippings about the show, he also sent some video goodies, including the “best of,” or compilation, episodes for each season.
I must admit I’d never before seen these, though I’d seen the VHS copies floating around. Now having seen the ones that ran before Seasons 2, 3 and 4 thanks to Jeff’s generosity, I must say they are strangely puzzling.
What They Are
The idea, of course, was to offer a 1-hour-and-15-minute or so “best of” episode that would easily catch viewers up on what happened the previous season. For example, the best known of the compilations — “Jessica’s Wonderful Life” — originally ran before the start of Season 4 to cover everything that happened in Season 3. (This may also explain why Sony chose not to release the compilations on DVD, the rationale being that if people have access to reasonably priced boxed sets, they have no need to be “caught up.”)
A typical compilation episode will begin with a wraparound story, such as Jessica finding herself at the entrance to heaven in the Season 3 compilation that preceded Season 4 (henceforth known as episode 4.0 to avoid further confusion). The characters in the newly-shot wraparound story will then mention things about the Tates and the Campbells that set up the airing of several clips in a row. If Jessica mentions the problems Burt has had in the last season, for example, we are then treated to various over-the-top scenes of Burt doing crazy things.
Why So Puzzling?
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge the compilations by their wraparound stories alone, but that is what I found myself doing when watching them for the first time. Granted, these episodes had to be written and produced extremely quickly, but it’s hard not to feel a little let down by their contents.
2.0 (Season 1 Wrapup). Burt visits Jessica in jail to let her know that he’s still hunting for Peter’s real killer. Together they go through all the Tates and Campbells, eliminating them from the suspect list one by one. More than anything, this episode reveals that as phenomenal actors as Mulligan and Helmond are, they still need decent material to work with, something utterly lacking here. The least interesting of the three compilation episodes.
3.0 (Season 2 Wrapup). Normally the problem with these compilation episodes is a lack of interesting new material and unimpressive writing for the wraparound story. This time around, we actually have the opposite problem, with our being told here that Benson is going to work at the governor’s mansion. Jessica, putting off the inevitable parting with Benson, asks him to help her rearrange the furniture in the Tate living room. While they’re doing this, they run through what’s been going on during Season 2. To those who missed this episode, and the Benson pilot, it would appear that Benson simply leaves the Tates after the devil baby fiasco with no explanation. The final scene should’ve definitely been included in the regular run of the series. The last few moments between Jessica and Benson and the bittersweet way he comes up with to avoid a long, drawn out goodbye are utterly heartbreaking.
4.0 (Season 3 Wrapup). This, the compilation that had the greatest chance to succeed, utterly fails to deliver. While the first few minutes of seeing Jessica in heaven’s waiting room are worth watching for the fascinatingly simple set and image of various dead souls walking around, you can’t help but spend the 1 hour and 15 minutes mourning what might have been. Whether it’s the weakness of the writing or the possibility that Bea Arthur was miscast as the angel Rosemary, it’s hard to say. The irony is that Soap wrings more laughs out of one line Jessica delivers in episode 4.1 about her heavenly experiences than are present in all of this episode. (“Anyway Mary, when I was in heaven, I saw mother and she told me to tell you you’re wearing too much eyeliner.”)
Thanks again to Jeff for allowing me to see these for myself 🙂