Saturday Matinee #145: "The Introduction of Lucky Spencer" (October 29, 1993)
Published October 12, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
Soap operas don't always get their fair share of positive attention. Many assume them to be talentless hours of television in which everyone bed-hops and cheats on each other. In my experience, soap operas allow viewers a much more committed form of escapism. Through longterm storytelling, viewers end up regarding the shows, their characters, and their stories as something in which they could both escape and relate. Michael Intintoli's Taking Soaps Seriously examined the effect of soap operas from both cultural and societal perspectives through what he called "mediated expressive culture." It's an intriguing genre, one which elicits a variety of reactions depending on a viewer, but one that also remains a vital part of our culture.
This week's Saturday Matinee returns to the wonderful world of daytime drama, much like Saturday Matinee #103, in which we saw how Disney music was used on the CBS soap "As the World Turns." However, being a Disney column, we naturally must turn towards Disney's own soap operas, namely their one, remaining soap opera on ABC: "General Hospital." Earlier this year, the venerable series celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in April, hosting a return of fan favorites, bringing the show back to its roots, and generally improving upon the mess that had plagued the series for the latter half of the "aughts" decade and its more recent years. But today, we're not going to focus on those now-six-month-old celebrations. Instead, we'll turn the dial back twenty years, and see the introduction of one of the show's most cherished characters: Lucas Lorenzo "Lucky" Spencer Jr.
Note: All screen caps courtesy of "Luke & Laura's 1993 Return," uploaded by AddieCate007 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvRAuvj4-5k)
Amidst the tranquility of British Columbia, Laura Spencer serves up pie to a local customer, fondly reminiscing her youth in northern New York, quite a long way away. But she's settled quietly into a somewhat normal life running the Triple L Diner. But quiet life has always plagued her. She and husband Luke have been on the run from Frank Smith and his mob for years. And, at last, they'd finally been discovered. As Laura bids goodbye to a local customer, two masked figures creep upon her. Frank Smith? No. Just husband Luke... and their ten-year-old son, Lucky. "Happy Halloween, darling!" the curly-haired anti-hero proclaims as he hugs his wife, while their son watches on in admiration.
When Lucky remarks that they almost didn't get to scare Laura, she realizes that Luke's picked the lock to let themselves in, a skill he's yet to teach his own son. The apple certainly didn't fall far from the tree. Although he idolizes his father and everything he teaches, Lucky still adheres to what Laura wants. After all, she still desires the normal life that's eluded her for years. With a son, she offers what little she can of it. The "maternally-approved" way of doing things is to study hard, so Lucky heads home ahead of his parents, taking his bike so as to see the various jack-o-lanterns along the way. Little does Lucky know that shortly after he left, a bomb goes off on the Spencer truck right outside the Triple L, Frank Smith's attempt to kill the Spencers. They've been found.
You may be wondering why I'm writing about the introduction of a television character from a very... non-Disney source. Actually, until Disney bought Capital Cities in 1996, they had no real ownership of any soap opera. But that purchase resulted in the ownership of ABC and all their in-house productions, which included the soap operas in production at the time: "The City" (1995 to 1997), "All My Children" (1970 to 2011), "One Life to Live" (1968 to 2012), and "General Hospital" (1963 to Present). Fortunately for viewers, the Mouse House didn't shy away from the red-headed stepchild of television. Instead, they took advantage of this property, creating the "ABC Super Soap Weekend" fan event, held at the Walt Disney World resort yearly from 1996 to 2008. Disney's California Adventure opened with "Soap Opera Bistro" in 2001, a sitdown eatery based on settings from the soaps, and servers acted as broad, stereotypical soap characters. In addition, Disney created the cable network SoapNet, which allowed viewers to catch primetime rebroadcasts of the daily episodes, along with vintage programming of other soaps (both daytime and primetime). As of this writing, the channel has largely run on auto-pilot, having experienced a steep decline and a loss of carriers due to the launch of Disney Junior, a channel that's in the process of replacing SoapNet on various cable providers.
But let's take a few steps away from the history lesson and return to "General Hospital," more importantly, to Lucky Spencer. He stands out as one of the most cherished characters on the series, not just because of his own heritage and legacy, but the popularity of his portrayers, and his wide range of stories over the years. When we first met ten-year-old Lucky Spencer, he was played by eleven-year-old Jonathan Jackson. Throughout the 1990s, both the character and portrayer would grow up in front of audiences, as the rascally scamp emerged into a teen hero, before Jackson's decision to leave the show in 1999. Yet here, in his first scene, we can already see the direction that Jackson wanted to take the character. He was initially unaware of the huge legacy behind the super couple juggernaut that was "Luke & Laura," it was only later on that he learned of his own character's importance.
Indeed, a character like Lucky had to be handled properly. Legacy characters can be hit-or-miss with an audience, especially in daytime drama. Children, especially, can be terribly written on a show. Fortunately, Lucky emerged during the Claire Labine era of the series. Labine, who had created "Ryan's Hope" (1975 to 1979) for ABC, was well-known for character-driven stories, as well as her use of multi-layered, complex characters overall. Lucky wouldn't just be some perfunctory "Luke and Laura had a son" character that only appeared during holidays and parties. He'd become his own person, have his own stories, and still be a reflection of his parents. Perhaps that's why they were so fortunate to cast Jonathan Jackson in the role. He could handle it, and he could do it. Of course, I'm speaking mainly in hindsight, having watched much of "Early Lucky" material online and not during its actual broadcast (I was eight and more interested in "The Young and the Restless" at the time).
Still, we should remember that Lucky Spencer could have very well been a terribly annoying character. But Jackson brought an earnest and appealing performance, one that allowed audiences to immediately recognize his potential, his charm, and his immediate rapport with Tony Geary and Genie Francis, who played Luke and Laura. And over the next twenty years, Lucky would continue to grow, continue to change, continue to develop beyond the characterization we first see. Some of it was good (when he learned about Luke's rape of Laura), some intriguing if poorly conceived (his back-from-the-dead brainwashing), and others, completely heartbreaking (the death of Jake). For eighteen years, Lucky remained an active part of the "General Hospital" canvas, where Jackson held the signature role in two runs: 1993 to 1999, and again from 2009 to 2011. In between, we saw a rebellious Lucky played by Jacob Young (2000 to 2003), and a more reserved, adult Lucky as portrayed by Greg Vaughan (2003 to 2009). But for many, Jackson remains the definitive Lucky. He's always been one of my favorite characters on the show, perhaps in television in general as well.
Unfortunately, the only DVD release for "General Hospital" has been clips in a Daytime's Greatest Weddings compilation, as well as the first season of the primetime spin-off "General Hospital: Night Shift." Aside from occasional marathons on SoapNet, the only way to actually access vintage soap opera material is through the tape-trading circuit (which has been going on for over thirty years) or online in venues such as YouTube. Personally, I'd rather Disney and ABC not just sit on these vintage episodes, but do something with them. Create themed DVD sets devoted to characters or storylines, similar to what SoapClassics did for "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light" last year.