There are very few conditions under which the combination of rich people, poor people, dwarves, witches, Satanic possession, poison quiches, and Princess Diana make for a TV hit. Actually, nevermind. There’s only one, and it’s Passions, the NBC soap that was on the air for nearly 10 years — (1999-2008, RIP).
Passions, like most soap operas, was not good — it was over-acted, cast in soft lighting, and featured lines like, “I love your father and he loves me! I will never divorce him! Never!” All together, it was quite possibly one of the worst TV shows ever (although if you’ve ever seen Cop Rock, you might think otherwise). But there was something comic and intriguing about its tragic quality. Which is why when you mention Passions, even occasional watchers of a certain age will still go, “OMG! Timmy!” (More on him in a bit.)
For a show that spanned 2,231 episodes, we owe it to ourselves to revisit its weird greatness.
Passions combined the salacious doings of the residents of an idyllic town called “Harmony” with kooky supernatural conflicts — you know, your basic good against evil stuff except most of the players had chiseled features and “natural good looks” whatever that means. You probably remember the first season the most. That’s when the show’s more iconic plotlines took root. There was the rich Crane clan, ruled by a soulless father. You also had a number of diverse, middle-class families whose members were usually busy chasing tail, plotting a peer’s demise, or battling the Cranes. Or trying to win their affection as in the case of Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald, a teen in love with the rich and handsome Crane son, Ethan. She was obsessed with him in a stalker-y way and hatched a plot to be around him in a convincing disguise. Her disguise was glasses. Somehow it kind of worked.
And then there was Tabitha, a 300-year old witch who became threatened by a pretty blonde teen named Charity who had mysterious powers and premonitions. She also went through a phase as “Zombie Charity.”
But the show-stealers were really Tabitha and her sidekick Timmy, a former doll Tabitha brought to life. (Timmy, by the way, had a thing for martinis and spoke only in the third person.)
So, somehow, we managed to accept all of this. Even though it sounds as if the writers threw plot lines and/or random words and/or Magic The Game trading cards into a hat and drew randomly to create a script.
Reality and pop culture tie-ins.
From the first episode, it becomes clear just how much Passions is fueled by the pop culture that surrounded it. In an early scene, we witness a flashback featuring the beautiful and rich Sheridan Crane on the phone with BFF Princess Diana, “Oh Diana, you sound so happy…yes, love will do that…sometimes I think it will never happen, but then I think of you and how similar our lives have been…promise me that we’ll always be friends!” Cut to the present: a tortured Sheridan places flowers at a memorial for Princess Di, exclaiming, “Oh, Diana! Why did you have to die?”
There were constant parodies and references to major pop culture moments: Titanic, Brokeback Mountain, Bollywood, The DaVinci Code. And then there’d be a completely unexpected moment dropped in there, like in 2007 when a character with magical powers summons the Scissor Sisters into her bedroom for a performance. WTF was that about?
A weird combo of supernatural shit and religion.
Piggybacking onto the success of shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Passions capitalized on our growing fascination with supernatural stories. In one episode, Tabitha transformed herself into a vicious dog in an attempt to murder Charity. In season two, Tabitha managed to possess Charity, trying to force her into killing off another character with a poison quiche. This all becomes part of normal life in Harmony. One day you’re seeing a child angel who’s a dead ringer for the Pepsi Girl. Another day, you’re getting stuck in Hell or being held hostage by basement demons.
This is the mere tip of the Passions iceberg. (You devout fans out there know that this is a basic primer. The complexities of the Whitney-Chad-lovers-but-they’re-siblings plot line alone would have us here for days!)
But hopefully, we can remember Passions as a time capsule that attempted to fit in literally everything and anything. Albeit one with for real? plots and dialogue that was downright stupes, but a time capsule nevertheless..