I remember the day Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) came out to her mother on All My Children. I remember the way, she looked — like a clone of her famous supermodel mother, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) — and how she slowly stripped herself of that resemblance. Her gaudy earrings came off first, then her shoes followed by the shimmering dress she wore. Standing in her camisole, Bianca begged her mother to see her, to know that she was still her daughter, to love her as she always had, before saying, “I’m gay.”
I remember that day not just because of what was being said (or not said), but because of who Bianca and Erica were. These weren’t characters who I checked in with once a week; Bianca Montgomery and Erica Kane were daily fixtures in my life. I spent my school breaks sitting at my mother’s feet, watching Erica Kane’s latest travails in Pine Valley. I’d seen Bianca mourn the deaths of her grandmother and her father, survive a kidnapping and recover from a life threatening battle with anorexia. They weren’t just television characters to me, I knew them.
That’s the power daytime television has that primetime, no matter how potent the storylines, can’t replicate: the familiarity that comes from spending days, weeks, months and years with characters. For much of All My Children‘s audience, Bianca Montgomery became the first gay person they knew on that December afternoon and, invariably, she became the first gay person they cheered for.
“They always say that once you meet somebody, once you know somebody, who is gay or lesbian or transgender or any number of things, then you go, ‘Oh, I get this now. It’s not this scary other thing that I have be afraid of,'” Riegel told the audience at the BAM Reunion at ClexaCon. “But Middle America, who were, at the time, very opposed to gay marriage and gays adopting children, were all for Bianca getting her baby back. It was a window to open it up to people who otherwise might not have experienced that.”
That familiarity, along with the demographics of the audience — which skews older and more conservative — has always made daytime television a fertile ground for telling stories that can genuinely change hearts and minds. Unfortunately, though, daytime television tends to be risk averse, overly concerned about offending their shrinking viewership, and opts against telling stories that might challenge their fan-base to embrace differences.
The Young and the Restless tried to tell a love story between two female characters once before — in 1977, a recently widowed Katherine Chancellor started to have feelings for her friend/roommate, Joanne Curtis. The backlash was so ferocious after just one touch between the two characters CBS immediately scrapped the storyline, and the subsequent ratings free-fall doomed LGBT storytelling in daytime for almost a generation.
But, back in March, Y&R decided to try again and began to lay the groundwork for the first true same-sex romance in the show’s 44 year history. Pitched by then-head writer, Sally Sussman, it was billed as a slow-burn.
“This is a love story; it’s not a gay story. It’s about falling in love with a person, not a gender,” Sussman told Daytime Confidential‘s Jamey Giddens. “People fall in love unexpectedly for all sorts of reasons. Some they understand; some they don’t.”
But while Y&R‘s storytelling might be stepping into the modern era, their strategy for capturing the attention of new audiences has not. CBS continues to clamp down on users who post clips of the couple online, while also not posting any of the clips on their own YouTube account. It’s a perplexing decision that’s shortchanged the reach of this new pairing.
But, if you’re looking for a way to catch up on Y&R‘s newest love story, I’ve got you covered: meet Teriah.
Mariah Copeland (Camryn Grimes) first meets Tessa Porter (Cait Fairbanks) at the local nightclub, the Underground. Tessa’s there with Reed (Tristan Leabu), her new music student, and Mariah’s there on her first date with her new billionaire boyfriend, Devon (Bryton James). The two strike a quick and easy rapport. Tessa’s new in town, but she recognizes Mariah from her work on a local television show, GC Buzz, and is impressed. After Reed coaxes Tessa on-stage to perform at open mic night, Mariah’s equally impressed and films video of her performance for the GC Buzz website.
Things quickly pick up for Tessa: she becomes the personal assistant to Nikki Newman (Melody Thomas Scott), Reed’s grandmother and the matriarch of the richest family in Genoa City, and is invited to move into their sprawling ranch. She continues to do performances at the Underground’s open mic nights and, eventually, her talent earns her a deal with Devon’s music label/streaming service.
On the personal front, she starts a relationship with the Underground manager/Reed’s cousin/Mariah’s brother, Noah (Robert Adamson). She’s reticent to commit, though, and even mentions leaving town when she runs into a guy she thought she’d left behind in Chicago. But each and every time Tessa’s reluctant, Mariah’s there to talk her into staying and giving her perpetually unlucky-in-love brother a chance.
Mariah and Tessa quickly become each other’s closest friend. They spend a lot of time together, sipping wine, sharing popcorn and watching bad romantic comedies. Mariah’s a constant source of reassurance for Tessa and Tessa is finally able to repay the favor when Mariah starts to realize that her new boyfriend isn’t over his ex-wife, Hilary (Mishael Morgan).
“I know Devon likes me, I just see the way he looks at Hilary,” Mariah admits. “Devon has been working very hard to try to convince himself that he is over Hilary. He had me convinced too. It’s not that I think that we’re soulmates or anything like that — or even that I believe in that sort of thing — I just know that when he’s with me, he’s not really with me.”
Tessa doesn’t try to talk Mariah out of what she sees — it’s been obvious to everyone for a long time — and, instead, wraps Mariah up in a tight hug, holding her while she cries. The next morning, Tessa encourages Mariah to share her feelings with Devon but Mariah’s reluctant. She’s never been that girl; she doesn’t want to come off as insecure or pathetic, even if that’s who she’s turning into.
“No,” Tessa asserts. “You are smart and funny. And you hide behind those walls of yours but you have a huge heart. No one should make you feel like you’re their second choice because you are incredible. Completely incredible.”
Tessa reaches up and brushes Mariah’s hair back, lowering her gaze from Mariah’s eyes to her lips. There’s a brief flash of recognition in Mariah’s of what’s coming and what everything leading up to this moment has really meant…and she doesn’t shy away from any of it. Mariah and Tessa are alone on her mother’s gaudy couch, seconds away from sharing a kiss — when their boyfriends come knocking at the door.
Mariah patches things up with Devon but the way she looks at Tessa has changed. It’s like someone’s turned on the lights in a dimly lit room and Mariah’s forced to acquaint herself with Tessa anew. She thinks back to the near kiss, she focuses on Tessa’s words and the moments when Tessa’s hands touch her own. And when the pair ends up alone in a hotel room in San Francisco, and Tessa touches her again, promising to do whatever she can to help Mariah, the result of all of that processing comes to the fore: Mariah pulls Tessa into a sweet, but impulsive, kiss.
Mariah pulls away first. Shocked by her own impulsiveness, Mariah apologizes repeatedly but Tessa — who, by the way, didn’t pull back from the kiss and seemed pretty into it — assuages her guilt. They both agree that they got caught up in a moment and decide to leave the memory of their kiss in the past. Their boyfriends return to the room and both girls stare wistfully at each other, while welcoming them with a hug. Mariah tries to recommit to her relationship with Devon, even saying, “I love you” for the first time, just after her kiss with Tessa.
It sounds like gay panic — and, maybe on some level, it is (and, ultimately, the outcome is the same) — but this feels different. This doesn’t feel like Maggie running to hook up with Jamie Martin after she impulsively kisses Bianca or Natalia taking comfort in Frank as her feelings for Olivia start to rise to the surface. Mariah is not afraid of loving a woman, she’s afraid of taking a risk.
“This is the best relationship that I have been in in my entire life, with someone intelligent and sensitive who likes everything about me. We have so much fun together and our personalities mesh,” Mariah later confesses to her best friend, Kevin, before sarcastically adding, “And so it’s only reasonable that I would consider throwing it all away after one kiss with Tessa.”
Kevin pushes Mariah to tell Tessa how she feels and she tries to but before she can, Tessa pushes her firmly into the “you’re more than a friend, you’re family” camp and Mariah loses her nerve. She accepts her position in Tessa’s life and tries to settle for good, instead of continuing to hope for great.
Mariah convinces herself that what she has with Tessa is enough. It’s enough to be the person Tessa trusts and leans on the most. It’s enough for Tessa’s bedroom to be right down the hall and to know that they’ll wake up to each other. But, when Mariah hears Tessa talk about what a great guy Noah is or when she catches the couple kissing, her heart breaks a little. And then, when her brother pushes to usurp Mariah’s place in Tessa’s life, she realizes that nothing, short of what Tessa and Noah have, will ever be enough.
The next time the pair cross paths, they’re back at the Underground, with their boyfriends, celebrating the release of Tessa’s first EP and a set of regional tour dates. When she’s with Devon and Noah, Mariah’s able to feign enthusiasm for Tessa’s successes — both personal and professional — but when they’re alone, her mask slips. She takes uncharacteristic jabs at Tessa and finally calls her out on the mixed signals she’s been sending.
“Please believe me, I didn’t mean to send any mixed signals,” Tessa says. “Sometimes, you can have real feelings for someone but the timing’s just off.”
Tessa reaffirms her commitment to Noah and tells Mariah that he’s what she dreamed of when she was a kid. Her abusive upbringing had her convinced that all men would treat her like garbage and Noah’s upended all that. Tessa doesn’t want to mess up her relationship and encourages Mariah to focus on her relationship with Devon.
“Just be happy and forget everything else,” Tessa says as she hugs Mariah good-bye.
And, to her credit, Mariah tries. She spends the weekend with Devon in Chicago and dons a matching costume on Halloween. When she invites Tessa to spend some “girl time” together, it sounds like a genuine effort to make their friendship work. But then, Tessa tells her about the romantic weekend Noah’s planned, and Mariah sees the life she so desperately wants and she can’t take it anymore. She abruptly exits and goes home to fill her empty heart with empty calories.
When Sharon returns home, she notices her daughter clinging to the Halloween candy like it’s a life preserver, a telltale sign of heartbreak. Mariah’s instinct, one honed by years of heartache and tragedy, is to avoid conversations about her feelings but she can’t anymore.
What follows is an amazing conversation between mother and daughter, one steeped in a history dating back to 1994. Sharon describes the electricity of falling of falling in love for the first time and Mariah recognizes everything her mother describes. The racing heart, the long conversations that are never, ever long enough, the regret of any day spent apart. Mariah feels all of that, she just doesn’t feel it for Devon. It is not a small thing for Y&R to cast Mariah’s love for Tessa in the same mold as one of the show’s great supercouples, Nick and Sharon. It’s a normalizing force for a conservative audience that might not view a same-sex story that way.
When Mariah confesses that fact to her mother, Sharon assures her that she’ll find that special someone one day. Mariah explains that she already has.
“Well, who is he?”
“Who is she?”
Sharon pivots from being surprised to being supportive with ease and looks forward to meeting the woman that has captured her daughter’s heart.
“What’s her name?”
Mariah anticipates her mother’s reaction; everything Sharon says, she’s asked herself a thousand times before. Why her brother’s girlfriend of all people? Mariah never wanted this, but when love found her, she was powerless to stop it. She can’t tell Tessa how she really feels, not at the expense of Noah’s happiness, so she’s stuck, pretending that the life she’s living is the one she wants. Sharon urges Mariah to be her true to herself and to go to Tessa and tell her how she feels.
When Mariah finds Tessa at the coffee house and asks her for the complete truth, Tessa knows what’s coming. She’s seen this conversation coming for months now and, despite her attempts to delay it, it was always inevitable. Knowing the heartbreak she has to dish out, Tessa’s uncharacteristically detached — the warmth that’s characterized their friendship, the warmth that’s fueled their intimacy, is missing. Tessa sits straight in her seat, completely stoic, as Mariah’s feelings pour out.
Mariah starts by asking about the kiss in San Francisco. She pleads with Tessa to tell her that everything she felt then, everything she’s been replaying in her head since, wasn’t a lie. Something happened, Mariah says, and, finally, Tessa confirms the truth.
“The kiss wasn’t about San Francisco or being at a music festival. It wasn’t about anything except for you and me,” Tessa admits. “And it was wonderful. But it’s too complicated. That moment was perfect, but it’s passed.”
Mariah doesn’t understand. How can something be perfect and, yet, not worth recreating again and again? Tessa leaves open the possibility that one day, she and Mariah could be something more, but, for now, all they can be is best friends. Mariah cannot abide that, she can’t go back to pretending that they’re just friends.
“Tessa,” an exasperated Mariah says, before walking away, “I want you in my life too, I do, but not like this.”
It’s a heartbreaking outcome — made that much more poignant by Grimes’ incredible performance — but, hopefully, it’s just the start of this new ‘ship. Hopefully. Even after eight months of build-up, rumors persist that CBS Daytime will succumb to pressure from the show’s conservative fanbase — many of whom have swarmed social media to express their displeasure — and drop the storyline. And, if they do, it’ll be an especially sad moment…in part because it will have squandered the Emmy-worthy talent of Camryn Grimes, but also because it’ll mean that in the 40 years since Katherine Chancellor and Joanne Curtis, nothing will have changed at CBS or in Genoa City.