Originally published on So So Gay on 6 February 2013.
Soap operas are great, aren’t they? We’ve all watched one at some point or another, whether in secret shame or proudly using them as a springboard for nattering with all and sundry. UK soaps tend to be variations on a theme. You’ve got doom and gloom with a Cockney accent, doom and gloom with a Northern accent, or doom and gloom in a doctor’s surgery. Of course, if you want to mix it up there’s always vacuous teenagers bitching and humping each other in interchangeable pairs (with occasional doom and gloom, and a Northern accent).
I myself was always partial to soaps filmed in sunnier climes. I’m sure the fact that ripped and shirtless hunks would invariably appear in scenes reciting irrelevant words with their perfect teeth, hair and abs, had no sway in the matter. Definitely not.
In my humble and entirely correct opinion, the soap to end all soaps was the glorious Sunset Beach. Its star may not have burned for very long, but it burned oh so brightly. Running from January 1997 until December 1999, and produced by Aaron Spelling – creator of hit shows Charlie’s Angels and Beverley Hills: 90210 – it was everything a soap should be: pure unadulterated and slightly bonkers escapism. Not to mention hunks on beaches and an amazing theme tune driven by a sultry saxophone.
Of course, being a Spelling production, there was the mandatory use of one of his spawn in the cast. On Sunset Beach it was the turn of Tori’s brother, the unbelievably more wooden Randy Spelling. Aside from this observation occasionally making me wonder if Aaron Spelling wasn’t in fact an Ent pretending to be human, somehow the occasional ropey acting skills of some of the cast merely added to the soap’s charm. It also never took itself too seriously. Seeming self-aware and revelling in its sporadically demented plot twists only served to increase its appeal.
Sunset Beach started in a fairly standard fashion. On their wedding day, small town girl Meg Cummings walked in on her fiancé cheating on her. She used this as an impetus to leave Kansas and seek out the mysterious SB with whom she’d been chatting – just chatting – on the Internet. Hey, it was 1997. Cue lots of drawn-out scenes where Meg meets SB, in the form of Ben Evans, but doesn’t realise he’s SB. Meg and Ben’s love story became one of the main, over-arching stories of the soap.
However, one of the jewels in the Sunset Beach crown was, without doubt, Annie Douglas. A scheming, soliloquy-loving, serial daydreamer, Annie was often the meddlesome element to many of the show’s story lines, including getting between her BFF Ben and Meg. Her daydreams became one of the show’s many reasons for watching. Hysterical and off the wall, they would see Annie occasionally imagining her schemes coming to fruition, but would frequently reference or parody popular shows of the time, such as Jerry Springer. The legendary talk-show host even made a handful of guest appearances on the show, taking part in these daydream skits as an alternate version of himself.
The show managed to cram a lot into its glorious three year run. There were the usual love triangle scenarios, except in the Sunset Beach universe these involved a priest, a back-from-the-dead wife, black magic and a turkey-baster pregnancy. Not all in one triangle, obviously, because that would have been wholly ridiculous.
In addition to the more pedestrian soap plots, Sunset Beach wasn’t afraid of playing out more extreme and deranged storylines. Undoubtedly cashing in on the popularity of the slasher horror movies of the late 90s, the soap had a masked killer roaming an island that several of the cast became stranded on. Said killer turned out to be the ‘evil twin’ of one of the show’s main characters. No, seriously. Actual evil twin serial killer.
In the latter part of its run, there were even supernatural elements introduced in the form of dark magic expert Mrs Moreau and the cursed Rosario jewels plot line. Yes, you read that correctly: cursed jewels. If these stolen jewels were not returned to the local Madonna statue by midnight on Christmas Eve, then everyone who had come into contact with them would die. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think they’ve ever found any life-threatening cursed jewels in the basement of either the Queen Vic or Rover’s Return.
Best. Soap. Ever.
Some dedicated and kindly soul is in the process of uploading the entirety of Sunset Beach to YouTube. If you want to educate yourself or relive the fun, then you can start watching it from the very beginning.