"This is the story of two sisters: Jessica Tate, and Mary Campbell. Jessica lives in a neighborhood known as Rich. Jessica likes life. The only thing she would change about life, if she could, is that she would set it all to music. The Tates have more secrets than they do money. Mary, too, likes life. Unfortunately, life doesn't seem too crazy about her. As you can see, the Campbells don't have nearly as much money as the Tates. They do, however, have as many secrets..."
Created by Susan Harris (who wrote most of the episodes and later created The Golden Girls), Soap was a late 1970s sitcom on ABC that both parodied and emulated the serial storytelling style of the Soap Opera. It was perhaps the first Sitcom to include a Story Arc of any significance, and as such is still a rarity even today.Soap followed the misadventures of the wealthy Tate family, and the equally bizarre misadventures of their relatives, the far less wealthy Campbells. Over the course of a few years, they face adultery, a murder trial, abduction by aliens, demonic possession, cultists and mental illness (several times). The cast consisted of a large ensemble, including Richard Mulligan, Katherine Helmond, Robert Urich, Billy Crystal, and Robert Guillaume as Benson, the cynical housekeeper to the Tates, who would eventually be spun off into his own show (in which he would eventually become lieutenant governor of his state.)It is also notable for being one of the first major series to feature a homosexual major character. Also notable in that said character managed to surviverelatively unscathed throughout the entire series.
This series provides examples of:
Adolf Hitler: Now apparently making a living as a waiter in South America.
Adoring the Pests: When Chester is being held captive in his own basement by a fellow prison escapee, he befriends a rat and calls it Harold. He "teaches" it to scurry away when the lights go on.
When Burt is replaced by an alien who has sex with Mary multiple times, while she believes it's him.
Eunice has sex with a burglar, mistaking him as Dutch trying out some sexual roleplay. Though the burglar didn't intend to sleep with Eunice when he was robbing the house, he did take advantage of the misunderstanding. Eunice, upon realising it wasn't Dutch, waves some jewellery outside the window and shouts for the burglar to come back.
Billy Needs An Organ: Danny gets shot through both his kidneys when he's in the police. Mary can't give one of hers because it could severely weaken her. Jodie offers up his as he's healthy and Danny's full-blood brother, then it turns out he isn't and Mary reveals that Danny's real father is Chester, who is convinced to give up one of his kidneys to save Danny.
Black Comedy: Murder, suicide, racism, homophobia, and mental illness (among other things) are all fair game for jokes. That said, racists and homophobes were nearly always played as fools, if not the butt of the joke.
Bolivian Army Ending: The last episode sees Burt, Jessica, Danny and Annie two seconds from being executed, all in separate events.
A later Benson episode has Jessica appear in "ghost" form. However, she tells Benson that she's not dead, just in a coma in a South American hospital.
Susan Harris has indicated that had the show gone to a fifth season, the rifles that shot Jessica would have had blanks in them.
Chester's Played for Laughs suicide attempt at the end of Season One when Jessica is getting arrested for Peter's death and realises that his life is ruined by multiple other things, but Burt keeps interrupting him, like taking the knives away to be sharpened. Eventually Chester's about to drop a heavy pot on his head but Burt comes in and proves how sharp the knives are by cutting the rope. Of course, he survives.
Benson's "You want me to get that?" in response to the doorbell.
And Jessica's "If you don't mind" in response to Benson's catchphrase.
Benson's "My my my..."
Jessica's reaction to anything someone says that she doesn't understand. "I see..."
Characterization Marches On: In regards to Benson's character. He's known for disliking his job and his catch phrase was "You want me to get that?" whenever the doorbell rang. In the first few episodes of the show, he was very adament that being the butler was his job and he wouldn't let anybody else do what he's supposed to (e.g. in one episode he trips Burt up before he can answer the door because that's his (Benson's) job).
Chick Magnet: Inverted with Jessica, who attracts a good collection of the men around her.
Cliff Hanger: Many, but arguably the voiceover at the end of the last episode of the first season was the most memorable. Just after Jessica is found guilty images of Chester, Burt, Corinne, Jodie and Benson appear on screen.
Voiceover: Jessica Tate did NOT kill Peter Campbell. One of these five people...DID. Who killed Peter Campbell?
Clock Discrepancy: In an episode, Mary sets the alarm clock forward a half hour so she and Burt can have time to talk before he goes to work. When she tells him about it he tries to go back to bed for another half hour of sleep.
Before the show had even aired, Newsweek reported that Soap was a sex farce which contained a scene of a priest being seduced inside a confessional. While the "sex farce" descriptor wasn't entirely off base, that specific scene never happened. A boycott of the show by religious groups ensued, advertisers and affiliates got nervous, and some of the show's producers believe the show never fully recovered.
Gordon Jump (Chief of Police Tinkler) originally refused to take the part because he'd heard the rumors that the show was lewd and immoral, only to realize he was wrong when the producers actually showed him some episodes.
Creator Cameo: Susan Harris appears as a prostitute in episode # 15.
Cut Short: Susan Harris had written out a five-season arc for the show, but the network pulled it after season 4, resulting in a final episode that ended in several unresolved cliffhangers.
Easy Amnesia: Chester spends much of the second season with amnesia after botched brain surgery. He gets his memory back, then immediately loses it again to a bonk on the head.
Escalating Brawl: One of the several openings shows a brawl that starts with Burt trying to get in front of Chester for the family photo, but ends up involving all except the Major (who is too out of it to notice), Billy (who considers himself the Only Sane Man in his family, and sits watching amused by it all) and Benson who steps back and shakes his head disapprovingly as they fight.
Soap itself was the prime-time answer to the previous season's hit Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a daytime soap opera parody from Harris's former boss Norman Lear.
Food Fight: Fairly common in the first season, almost always involving Burt (although he rarely seemed to start them).
Four Lines, All Waiting: averted. There were multiple plot lines in every episode, but every one advanced each time we saw it - and if even if they hadn't, they were funny enough that no one would have minded.
Genre Shift: On occasion, the show would switch from goofy, over-the-top parody to genuinely poignant drama that put actual soaps to shame. Then, next scene, more wacky antics!
Good Bye Cruel World: Chester attempt to write a suicide note at the end of series one, which he decides to write on kitchen roll as there's no paper in the kitchen. After he failings to remember the correct spelling of "suicide" he realises that it doesn't matter what it says as everybody will understand what happens when they find him dead over a note.
Gratuitous Italian: Danny's pathetic attempts at speaking Italian in season one when he's under the impression he's Italian.
Jodie. Though in all fairness, this was probably necessary, as he was seen with women just as often as he was seen with other men. This was lampshaded in series four when he talks to a psychiatrist who doesn't believe he's gay after Jodie informs him that he's had a child with one woman and is currently in love with another.
Averted with the Child Protective Services worker who interview him, and becomes instantly hostile on learning Jodie is gay.
Worker: Are you a practicing homosexual?
Jodie: I don't need to practice, I'm very good at it.
Heroic BSOD: After Burt runs away from the mental institution (to buy a newspaper) Mary demands he tell her what's the problem that he's keeping from her. They've been through a lot and they can deal with it, she says. He tells her he killed her first husband. Burt tries to speak to her after this but she's effectively frozen on the spot.
Hot for Preacher: Corinne, towards Father Tim Flotsky. Tim's reciprocation of these feelings eventually becomes too much for him and he leaves the priesthood.
Injury Bookend: Played With. Chester has amnesia due to brain surgery gone somewhat wrong. He gets a bonk on the head and remembers his life, but then very quickly gets another bonk and forgets everything again.
Played for Drama: Jodie's, after he takes a lot of pills after his boyfriend breaks up with him.
Played for Laughs: Chester's, after Jessica is getting arrested for Peter's murder and his business is failing. He fails to write a note (not knowing how to spell "suicide" and presumes people would get the idea) Burt keeps interrupting him, not realising what's happening, and takes away the knives he was about to use to sharpen. He comes back and accidentally sets off one of the later attempts which ultimately fails.
In series two, Jodie is about to jump of a Golden Gate Bridge expy and talks to himself about how it all went wrong. Alice walks over to him and tells him to shut up because he's interrupting her suicide attempt and now her suicide letter is muddled up. They decide to become friends.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: An odd variation. Alice chooses to leave Jodie when Carol's mother says she isn't comfortable with a lesbian being with her baby granddaughter. Alice refuses to let Jodie pick between his Platonic Life Partners and his daughter so she makes it simpler.
Jail Bait Wait: Billy and his teacher, Leslie, may date while he is still a minor, but don't actually sleep together until his 18th birthday.
Jerkass: Bob (who is, after all, basically Chuck's id).
The Kindnapper: Jodie's daughter Wendy is kidnapped by her mother Carol. Whether for Rule of Drama or Hollywood Law, apparently the authorities can't do anything about it "because she's her mother" DESPITE the fact that Carol sued for custody and lost prior to the kidnapping.
To be fair, some jurisdictions have had loopholes where a parent can be denied custody but for it to not be fully binding until they are officially informed of the fact, allowing them an opportunity to grab the kid and run without it legally being kidnapping.
Corinne's real parents are her uncle Rudolf and the ex-maid, Ingrid.
In Season Four, Mary reveals that Danny's real father is Chester.
May-December Romance: Chester gets together with (and eventually marries) Eunice's school friend, Annie.
My Beloved Smother: Timothy's mother, who he does stand up to in the end while she's dying. She curses Corinne and Tim's wedding as she dispises Corinne for causing him to leave the priesthood.
Noodle Incident: After Jodie tries to commit suicide his friend and mother tell him that everybody has five stupid things that they do in their life that they can never tell anybody else, his suicide being his first. Mary tries to think of stupid things she's done but each time ends up laughing and saying she can't possibly tell him that.
The Mafia: Mary's first husband was secretly part of the mafia and, after his death, Danny joins. Burt spends the first part of the show convincing him to leave because it's dangerous. After Danny refuses to kill Burt at the mafia's order he "goes into hiding" (aka. he wears unusual clothes around the house). He's told he'll be forgiven for not obeying them if he marries The Don's daughter, Mafia Princess Elaine.
Marathon Running: Beginning at Midnight, 1/1/93 Comedy Central kicked off a run of the show with the marathon All the Soap in the World which aired every episode in order non-stop over a three day period. When it then entered the regular line-up, episodes aired at 7:30 Mon-Sat, with a mini-marathon of all 6 episodes repeating Sunday afternoons under the title Soap Block.
After episode 7 or so, Jessica occasionally does this in the most heartwrenching ways.
This also happened with Jodie's suicide attempt when the family get told the next episode they're also being robbed and every other line flips between comedy with the robber and rushing to get to the hospital.
Parental Incest: At the end of season four, Danny has a relationship with Annie, the new wife of Chester, who turns out actually to be his father. This, of course, is not actually incest, just adultery, since they are not genetically related. Annie points that out to Danny, and also corrects him when he thinks they've committed "inquest."
Penultimate Outburst: This happens in the first season during Jessica's murder trial, since her entire family disturbs the court.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: When Dutch, an escaped convict, is looking around the Tate house he comes across Eunice, who threatens him and says she can defend herself against a rapist. He's disgusted and says he's a murderer and talks about how everybody in prison looks down on rapists.
Rooftop Confrontation: Mary's first husband decides to kill Burt on top of a skyscraper he was then building.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In one episode, when Burt is feeling down, he talks to his priest about how worried he is and tells him the story of a man who worked extremely hard in his life and survived a lot of health issues (multiple heart attacks, etc.) who is eventually killed by a mugger in a park over a Schwinn (a type of bike). Burt says he's worried that his life will go the same way: loads of work and with no pay-off. The priest died while listening to his story.
Story Arc: Perhaps the first Sitcom to have story arcs spanning multiple episodes or even whole seasons.
Straight Gay: The impression Jodie made on many people in the later seasons, when his camp mannerisms had been downplayed. This was especially the case during the period when he was known to have a child with one woman and to be living with another.
Surprise Incest: Learning that Peter is Burt's son means that Jessica has been sleeping with her nephew and Corinne has been sleeping with her cousin.
Mary's English Professor was extremely interested in her and eventually attacked her on the sofa. Burt was always worried she would leave him for somebody smarter and happened to walk in when the professor was all over his wife. It was not what it looked like: Mary was not interested in the professor and managed to fight him off after Burt had left.
When the mob is trying to kill Danny, because he refused to kill Burt, his plan is to change his outfit every day (e.g. a rabbi, a female nurse) but still live with his family (he is seen moving out, but he never does). This works.
Actually, none of the characters (except Benson) is exactly on the bright side.
Originally, Chuck was to be a much darker character and would have been revealed to be the actual murderer of Peter Campbell. This storyline was scrapped when Chuck (and Bob) proved to be popular with viewers, resulting in Chester being revealed as the murderer.
Creator Susan Harris had created a five-season story arc for the show prior to it even airing. The show was canceled after four seasons, leaving the fates of several main characters undetermined and many plot threads never to be resolved.
Father Timothy Flotsky was originally intended to be a less traditional priest; one planned joke involved replacing the traditional communion wafers with Oreos. ABC was not amused.
What Happened to the Mouse?: In one season Jodie confronts Chuck about Bob (that is Chuck) sending him hatemail. This is never mentioned again.
This is most likely a leftover from the original plan of Chuck (and/or Bob) being Peter's murderer and showing a darker side.
In Season One, Eunice was having an affair with a married Senator. He chose his wife when she threatened to ruin his career.
Peter had affairs with every single one of his female tennis students (some of them being married as well).
Chester was known for having multiple affairs with various women while still being married to Jessica and was getting blackmailed about it in Season One.
Jessica (at the same time) was having an affair with Peter.
Burt is framed into having an affair which he ends up thinking he did (he was very drunk at the time) because he walked in on what he thought was Mary and her English Professor having an affair.
In the fourth series, Annie (who is with Chester and married to him) has a relationship with Danny because she feels Chester is now ignoring her. Chester finds them together and goes to shoot them. Then the show ends.