Donna Mills Returns to the Screen in Pure Flix Soap
Published: May 13, 2022
Donna Mills Returns to the Screen in Pure Flix Soap
By Movieguide® Contributor
Planning on turning the soap opera genre up a notch to a self-described “hope opera”, the Pure Flix original series HILTONHEADISLAND: SEASON 1 brings together: acting veterans of soaps with name recognition; the picturesque and exclusive island life of HiltonHead, South Carolina; a plot line involving the personalities in a national television newsroom; the drama of running a large, family-owned business; and the production experience of a proven Christian film making company.
The opening entry of this 22-episode debut season witnesses the distinguished anchor of the nightly newscast collapse on camera after the first few sentences. We quickly learn that anchor Daniel Trisk (Michael Swan of AS THE WORLD TURNS and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) is not just the newscaster, but the founder, owner, and CEO of the ISLE News Network.
Further, the ISLE is a family dominated corporation, with son Christian in the slot of Chief Operating Officer (Carey Scott), son Jude as Chief Financial Officer (Antonio Sabato of GENERAL HOSPITAL), and daughter Trinity as Chief of Network Programming (Christina Collard of NEIGHBOURS, Australia’s longest running soap opera). Note all the Biblical names; even the one adult child not involved with the family business is named Elisha, the “i” pronounced as a long “e” (Crystal Hunt of ONE LIFE TO LIVE). Wife Victoria (Donna Mills of KNOTS LANDING) readily admits, though, that it is her husband Daniel that has always been the one with the strong faith.
With Daniel Trisk’s subsequent comatose state and precarious future comes family power struggles for control of the company and its programming. Along with spouse Victoria and the Trisk siblings, throw in the latter’s spouses, and in addition, various network employees, and the result is ambition on steroids; hence the classic set of subplots of this genre. The clash of two worldviews consequently ensues over the course of the series; it is battle between an “anything goes” paganism pursuing sexual pleasure, fame, wealth, and power versus a Biblical, Christian perspective that promotes faith, truth, prayer, marriage fidelity, sexual purity, and a servant’s heart.
It is family matriarch Victoria that leads the pack of worldly values as, early on, she quickly grabs the reins of CEO and then secretly recruits Chance Montgomery, a young reporter (Jeremy John Wells) from another network to replace her husband as the nightly news anchor; a young reporter with whom she had a secret affair years earlier, and with whom she hopes to rekindle the flame. Further, Victoria hints that she will deny treatment to husband Daniel, even if it would mean his death; insisting Daniel be sent home against the hospital’s wishes starts that ball rolling. Victoria then learns that, though in a coma, he could have mentally registered her lustful recruiting conversations with Montgomery made in Daniel’s immobile presence, which all the more drives her to resist Daniel’s recovery progress.
Victoria’s lust interest Montgomery pursues the same value system, though: during a recruitment phone call, he doesn’t tell Victoria about the woman present in his bathrobe in his New York apartment; and once brought to the ISLE as the news anchor, Chance is connecting with the “weather girl” rather than Victoria.
The two brothers that have executive positions, Jude and Christian, though less libido driven than their mother, spend the series story arc more concerned about television ratings, advertiser revenues, and the bottom line than about their father’s legacy and journalistic integrity. Their choice for at least an interim anchor is driven by the higher hemline and lower neckline of the female meteorologist Suzanne Carrera (Erika Elyse). When ratings maintain, then even rise, the brothers find themselves in a power struggle with their mother when she unilaterally hires Montgomery. Not to be left high and dry, Carrera gives into Montgomery’s advances only after making deals for him to give her more facetime in other newscast features.
Kudos must go to the scriptwriter for depicting these family and workplace trials and tribulations without foul language or nudity. Even poolside and beach scenes display modest coverings and clothing, though studio scenes do show their share of mini-skirts, tight jeans, and spaghetti straps. The only violence is implied in a later episode when a granddaughter (Mandalynn Carlson) hints at being the victim of a gang-rape by a rock band she traveled alone to see one weekend, then disappeared. With that serious subject, along with the already mentioned trysts, sexual content is only implied and never shown or described. Smoking and drug use is nonexistent, and alcohol consumption, if depicted at all, is shown as one glass of wine with a meal.
The Christian hope in this “hope soap” mainly comes from inside the Trisk mansion, though outside of the devious pressure of Victoria. First, decades long Household Manager Jolene Ferguson (Palma Lawrence Reed) is a prayerful and Bible savvy administrator with a servant’s heart. Everyone trusts her and confides in her, and she uses this to ensure right decisions for Daniel and the Trisk family.
Think hard about how many a TV series you have watched with a family’s pastor playing a regular role in the characters’ lives; can you think of any?! HILTONHEADISLAND: SEASON 1 makes a tremendous contribution to this long overlooked concept as Pastor Simon Matthews (Wink Martindale) makes regular pastoral calls to the Trisk household.
Most active in Daniel’s day-to-day life, though, is neurosurgeon daughter Elisha Trisk, who takes a leave of absence from her hospital job in California in order to draw on her professional expertise and research to oversee her father’s diagnosis and prognosis. As loving daughter, thorough medical professional, tireless bedside caregiver, and woman of quiet faith, she works hard to capitalize upon any hopes for her father to lead a meaningful life after his debilitating stroke.
So what’s not to love about HILTONHEADISLAND: SEASON 1? The actors, instead of looking at the other characters they are talking to in a given scene, are so often obviously reading their lines on a teleprompter off to the side of their co-stars that the audience is distracted by this poor quality, amateurish production element. About a third of the way into the series, the problem seems to improve, but is not eliminated. The solution is very basic film school knowledge of camera locations and angles, as well as actor placement. The buck stops with the directorial crew not blocking scenes properly, nor reviewing scenes shot for potential retakes. Such consistently reckless filming makes the ambitious project of HILTONHEADISLAND: SEASON 1 merely hang its head in embarrassment.
Competing worldviews with portrayals of minor to moderately questionable elements require discretion for children. Poor quality production values make it difficult to recommend to the adults. Movieguide® recommends strong caution for teeangers and adults.
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