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Turning point for Asian actors on soap operas

Last week on General Hospital, Lucas and Brad’s post-coital Knot’s Landing binge-watch was interrupted by news of Maxie and Lulu’s kidnapping (as such things in soaps are wont to be). For some viewers, the big news might have been the sight of two men in bed together. Gay couples are still a rarity in daytime, and this one is, arguably, the most interesting and fun yet (feel free to disagree in the comments; I know As the World Turns’ Luke and Noah (or Luke and Reid); Days of Our Lives‘ Will and Sonny; One Life to Live‘s Kyle and Fish; All My Children‘s Bianca and Marissa; and Guiding Light‘s Olivia and Natalia have their die-hard fans).

But, for me, the even bigger news is that Brad is played by the Asian actor Parry Shen—and his storyline is, shockingly, not just about him being Asian! Brad being Asian and, for that matter, gay, are only parts of who he is, not his defining traits.

When the character was first introduced in February 2013, his sole purpose was to help schemer Britt fake a medical condition to snare a man (as such things are also wont to be in soaps). His being Asian or gay wasn’t relevant. He was merely a plot point, which, in the long run, turned out to be a good thing.

After scheming with Britt, Brad goes on to blackmail Michael and spills the beans about baby Connie’s (aka Georgie’s) true parentage. As a plot point who existed solely to move other people’s stories along, Brad managed to acquire a less-than-pristine personality before being given a story of his own, which, in turn, made him—and it—infinitely more interesting (though the show did end up ultimately connecting Brad to an “Asian quarter” storyline they’d attempted in 1985).

Soaps have never done a particularly good job of creating stories for non-white, non-Christian, non-straight characters that were about much more than their being non-white, non-Christian and non-straight. But, they’ve done particularly poorly by Asians, who hardly ever appear at all.

When, in 1994, almost a decade after the aforementioned GH debacle (whose characters included an evil mob boss who was Brad’s great-grandfather, as well as a savior called “The Ancient One” and a jive-talking granny) and hot on the heels of The Joy Luck Club’s feature film success,  The Young & the Restless attempted to integrate an Asian family into their canvas. It began with Jack, a rich, white, spoiled playboy (i.e. the epitome of someone who would have pulled strings to keep from serving in Vietnam), suddenly staring off into space and hearing helicopter blades whirring. Lo and behold, it turned out that not only had he served, but he’d left the (heretofore unmentioned) love of his life behind. Meanwhile, who should be working at a local Chinese restaurant (Chinese? Vietnamese? Eh, close enough), but Luan, who was once in love with an American GI and bore him a son he never knew about!

Luan was tragically forced to leave her son behind in Vietnam. Cut to a location shoot of a strapping young Asian man running through a marketplace after stealing some fruit, Aladdin street-rat style. His name is Keemo, and he’s played by Phillip Moon, who’d had a small role in The Joy Luck Club. Soon, the family is reunited. Jack marries Luan, but she dies of one of those unnamed tropical diseases that kill “exotic” women quickly without marring their looks. Keemo, after a stint as a chemist (because, apparently, while living in the jungle as an ostracized half-breed, he also managed to pick up an advanced science degree, as all Asians do), left town. Since then, even as he obsesses over children born to him of other women, Jack hardly ever mentions Keemo.

As the World Turns’ Tom Hughes (who, at least, served in Vietnam on-screen—so props for using character history rather than just making something up) also met his heretofore unknown daughter as a teenager in 1988. Played first by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s Ming-Na (Chinese; close enough) and later by Lea Salonga (Filipina but she was in Miss Saigon, so give it a pass), Lien grew up in refugee camps with her mother, fighting for survival on a daily basis. Yet, somehow, when she arrived in the states, she was more innocent than the rich, all-American boys she befriended. As if her limited English and childish vocabulary meant she also had the mind and life experience of a child.

Interestingly enough, Ming Na and Lea Salonga’s paths would cross again. In 1998, Na was the voice of Disney’s Mulan. Salonga performed the songs. It speaks to the dearth of good parts for Asian-American actresses in Hollywood that a pair of such powerhouse performers would end up sharing not one, but two roles.

Other Asian-American actors who’ve appeared on daytime include Lindsay Price on The Bold & the Beautiful and All My Children (where she played a maid’s daughter who married for a green card), Ivan Shaw, also on AMC (his mother owned a Chinese restaurant and pressured him to go to medical school), Kelly Hu on Sunset Beach (done with medical school, already a doctor), Eric Steinberg on Y&R (double-crossing businessman), and Carlotta Chang on The City (transsexual fashion model—OK, that’s different).

Who’s your favorite?

 

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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