The resurrection of a beloved soap opera brings on the next round in the bonkers battle between Riff Raff and James Franco. How did it come to this?
Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
Stamford, Connecticut is an hour’s train ride from New York’s Grand Central Terminal on the Metro North. If your schedule allows, you can travel round-trip during off-peak hours for $20.50 on a weekday. Catch an express train, and there’s only one stop out of GCT before you disembark at Stamford, home of the Connecticut Film Center Studios, the closest sound stage in the state to the Big Apple. But Riff Raff, the rapper and self-described Grammy Award-winning gynecologist, arrived by private jet.
In the lobby of CFC Stamford, there’s a sign tacked to the wall, printed on regular white 8.5 x 11 printer paper. It reads: “Welcome home to One Life to Live.” Modest signage for a soap opera with 44 seasons and over 11,000 episodes to its name. “The soap’s always attracted an urban audience,” says Angelica Cob-Baehler, a former music exec who now works for Prospect Park, the company producing the recently relaunched series. Ted Chung, manager for Riff Raff and Snoop Lion, among other artists, says the soap’s hipper than other daytime programs. “Snoop’s always excited to appear on the program because his mom loves it,” Chung explains. He made guest appearances in 2008 and 2010. Mary J. Blige has appeared on the soap multiple times, too. Now it’s Riff Raff’s turn.
Riff will play a character named Jamie Franko, a shady Miami art dealer. Or loan shark. Or something.
Without the Internet, none of this would be possible. Without the Internet, Riff Raff wouldn’t be a recognizable name, and without the Internet, One Life to Live wouldn’t have a home. ABC cancelled the soap in April 2011, citing low ratings. It’s much cheaper to produce more reality television than a scripted show. Long-time viewers were sad, but in swooped Prospect Park to save the day. The resuscitation mission has been plagued by setbacks, but now it’s finally happening: One Life to Live, along with another cancelled soap, All My Children, returns to viewers on Hulu and iTunes via The OnLine Network (owned by Prospect Park) on April 29. Riff Raff will make his guest appearance on an episode available May 7.
Of course, there’s one more person to credit for the miraculous collision of the exquisitely braided rapper with the Texas drawl and the long-running soap, and that person is James Franco. Last month, James Franco stole the show in Harmony Korine’s pop art house movie Spring Breakers playing Alien, a drug-dealing rapper with braids, a drawl, and a swagger that’s eerily reminiscent of Riff Raff’s cartoonish steez. Korine and Riff Raff exchanged emails about involving Riff in the movie, but it never came to pass—the email exchange didn’t go smoothly, and Korine moved on—and in recent months, Korine and Franco have been vocal about a Florida rapper named Dangeruss being the primary inspiration for the Alien character. You can find Dangeruss’ dense dreads swinging next to Franco’s braids in Spring Breakers. You’ll find no Riff Raff.
Except now Riff Raff is calling himself the Rap Game James Franco —one of the best things Riff’s done for the Internet is spawn the Rap Game [Insert person, place, or thing here] meme—and if you watch the movie, it’s pretty damn clear that Franco’s Alien owes as much, if not more, to Riff as he does to Dangeruss. (As Amos Barshad points out in this piece for Grantland, the “look at my shit” scene in Spring Breakers bears a striking resemblance to this YouTube video, where Riff Raff offers to pour the viewer a cup of coffee.)
The producers and writers of One Life to Live know what time it is, and will happily egg on this playful Internet pissing contest. “That’s definitely the direction we were embracing,” says Jennifer Pepperman, OLTL’s executive producer. “Riff Raff was into it, and we think it’s fun, too.”
On an upcoming episode, Riff will play a character named Jamie Franko, a shady Miami art dealer. Or loan shark. Or something. It’s hard to keep your bearings walking in a hall of mirrors. Which is exactly what this situation has become.