After a lengthy Tyler Perry monopoly, OWN has ordered its second non-Perry-helmed drama, an Oprah project called Greenleaf . And in a tweet earlier today, Buzzfeed's Jarett Wiesel revealed that Oprah herself would be starring in the series. She'll play Mavis McCready, a woman with close ties to the Greenleaf family, including her sister Lady Mae (Lynne Whitfield) and Grace (Merle Danridge). Greenleaf sounds like standard soap opera fare — The Hollywood Reporter promises "greed, adultery, sibling rivalry and conflicting values" — but with a twist. It takes place at a Memphis megachurch called Greenleaf that's owned by a family of the same name. So take all the drama of Empire or Grey's Anatomy and multiply it by Days of Our Lives, and you might have an idea of what Greenleaf has in store.
There's a term for this kind of formula in television. It's called the CSI Formula , for obvious reasons, and it produces episodes that, week after week and plot line after serial killer after gruesome murder, somehow feel all too similar. Greenleaf's spiritual leanings might save it from really falling into the genre traps. It will examine the usual family tensions through the lens of faith and conscience, making a community not often portrayed on television more accessible to the masses. The head writer Craig Wright, who also proved his ability to subtly fold in spirituality and religion in Six Feet Under and Lost, is a seminary graduate and former minister.
Still, television series often make use of the same character tropes, intentionally or not. At their best, these can be a sort of self-referential jab at screen conventions. A lot of them are pretty politically incorrect, and writers are quite aware of that. So, just for fun, we've envisioned what the Greenleaf family might look like, if they adhere to soap-y genre cliches.
The Grandmother-Benefactor You Love To Hate
She's rich. She's glamorous. She's maybe a little bit evil. Arrested Development's Lucille is a sort of parody of this archetype — but where Lucille is funny, the archetypical soap grandma is anything but. She means business. The series description for Greenleaf promises a multi-generational approach to family drama, so the grandmother is sure to make an appearance.
He's a classically good-looking, womanizing, yet misunderstood man — he's the prototypical playboy. It'll be intriguing to see how Greenleaf tackles the playboy character. A faith-based perspective on the classic womanizer will certainly be a fresh take.
The Secret Pregnancy
Unplanned pregnancy is something that religion has wrestled with for many years, and like the playboy archetype, it's also a common occurrence in soap operas. We've all seen it — young woman wonders why she's so hungry or spontaneously gaining weight, and, oh right, isn't she also a little bit late?
The Person Who's Not Quite Who You Think He (Or She) Is
Sometimes it's the baby daddy, or, in the case of Mad Men's Don Draper (in a story arc that prompted the Atlantic to dub the AMC series a soap opera), it's the very cornerstone of the series. The one thing that's certain in soap operas is that nothing is really as it appears — and this seems especially fitting for a superficially devout, churchgoing family whose place of worship is also described as a secret "den of iniquity."
The Femme Fatale
A classical Hollywood archetype as well as a soap cliche, the femme fatale is scheming and dangerous, but in a seductive kind of way. She's sort of like the evil grandmother's younger, more enticing alter-ego. Perhaps the most iconic is Erica Kane of All My Children, who TV Guide called "unequivocally the most famous soap-opera character in the history of daytime TV," according to the New York Times. Like any self-respecting soapy drama, a show like Greenleaf has got to have a femme fatale.
The Endearing Geek
This one might be more of a crime procedural archetype than a common presence in soaps, but the TV formula is strong here. Matthew Gray Gubler's Criminal Minds is one — soft-spoken, brilliant, and more than a little awkward — as is Zack Addy of Bones, before he turned all sidekick-to-a-serial-killer.
Not much is known about Greenleaf yet — even the precise nature of Oprah's character is under wraps. But she'll have a recurring role, so we'll have to wait to see if she's the femme fatale or the grandmother or the secretly pregnant or something else entirely.
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