One of the annoying things about the hobby of digitizing VHS tapes is that sometimes what's written on the label doesn't match what's on the tape. This can be especially aggravating when the promised taping would have been much better than what was taped over it.

On the flipside, I've acquired tapes that promised blase material and then been blindsided by something actually interesting. In the case we're discussing today, I found a tape that said a basketball game was on it. This time the label wasn't a liar, but the recording started with a soap opera, which then led to an hour of Oprah, then an hour of local news, and THEN the basketball game. It looked like the person responsible just jammed a tape into the VCR instead of setting the timer, and left it running until he got what he wanted (and it WAS a he -- his name was Harold and he lived in Oregon City. He was one of those kooks who attached a mailing label sticker to all his tapes.)

I didn't plan to give the soap opera much attention beyond digitzing it and mining it for local ads, but my mouse landed on this one scene by pure chance:

There was only one soap opera capable of generating clips like that. Only one, friends, ONLY ONE.

Whether intentionally or not, Harold wound up taping a Passions episode. I have heard....STORIES....about this show.

The project started in 1999 when NBC noticed an uptick in ratings for Days Of Our Lives after they ran a supernatural plotline, and decided to make an Oops All Berries version that was nothing BUT those scenes. In a period when the genre was already starting to decline, Passions broke out and became the very last daytime network soap opera to resonate with the mainstream public. Young Millennials who dismissed all soaps as Boomer trash got hooked on the series. It was the first soap in years to land the cover of TV Guide. It went on for nine years and over 2,200 episodes. What was its secret?

Passions succeeded by pushing the format further than anyone had ever gone; by taking the well-worn conventions of soap operas and cranking them up to satirical levels. It was the first fantasy-based soap since Dark Shadows, and it arguably took better advantage of that fact. Anything the writers could think of went onscreen, whether it was doable with the microscopic budget or not. It is one of the most bizarre, cheesy, embarrassing, peculiar TV shows ever broadcast, and it is a TV legend for that reason.

The episode aired on January 10, 2001, which makes it precisely twenty years old as of the day I'm publishing this. Keep in mind, all the things you're about to see today were pulled from just ONE episode. There are hundreds of scenes like these out there.

The tape blorped to life seven minutes into the episode and on the face of Tabitha, a 300-year-old witch and the main reason people were tuning in. For a time there, you could put a witch in anything and it would become an instant hit, no matter how good or bad it was. Of the 37,859 witches we got in the late 90s, I would place Tabitha in the upper tier. Maybe one episode isn't enough to properly judge her, but she strikes a good balance of wicked and charming, and is easy to love. It was her on the TV Guide cover, and no one else. Juliet Mills was the Lucci of Passions, to be sure.

Tabitha is arguing with a small boy, only it's not really a boy, it's a doll she brought to life (if you think this is weird, we're just getting started). It's not a boy in reality either; it's Josh Ryan Evans, who was stricken with the Gary Coleman Disease and would die very young from complications of it.

Because I was dropped into the middle of the argument I'm not sure what it's about, but it ends with Tabitha saying "I'll throw you in the basement!" and then waving her arm, which makes a lion roar sound effect happen out of nowhere. Timmy, who talks in third person, says "Don't just stand there, give Timmy a boost!" They're in the backyard of the house of Charity, another central character in the series, and they're currently attempting to spy on a situation growing in that house.

That situation is...well, it's interesting. The main plot here is that a different witch is currently attempting to banish Charity into hell by opening a portal in her bedroom closet and floating her in there while she's sleeping. I'm told finding a Passions episode without a portal to hell is like trying to bite into a Chips Ahoy without a's just not gonna happen.

Her name is inaudible....something like "Hecuba," which is probably wrong but the best my ears can do. As she watches from her magic mirror, Hecuba chews out her glowing, faceless, Putty-like minions. "FASTER, YOO HOO! FASTERRRR! GIVE BLONDIE THE HEAVE-HO INTO HELL! DESTROY HER!"

Despitre my very basic knowledge of Passions lore, I actually know why she's doing this: Charity is a witch herself, only she isn't aware of that. It's prophecied that if Charity ever gets clued into her full powers, it could mean doom for every other witch standing around, as she's a GOOD witch and they aren't. So Hecuba is making one of many, many attempts to get rid of her before that happens. She continues to yell "DESTROY HERRRRRRR" as a still JPEG of a sleeping Charity slowly drifts across the room at the pace of a glacier. I'll just tell you right now, it's going to take the entire episode for Charity to get from one end of that room to the other.

In the meantime, we can watch some woman argue with an arm. There are ways Passions is atypical, like what the heck we just saw, and there are ways it sticks to convention, like scattering each episode among eleven different plots going on simultaneously. The woman's name is Eve, and she's pleading with the arm to not meddle in someone else's love life.

"BRA-VO, EVE," says the deep-voiced arm as it claps another arm. "VERY LOVELY ARGUMENT. BUT THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. I WILL DESTROY SHERIDAN AND LUIS'S LOVE. HA HA HA." He touches framed photos of them that he keeps on his desk, for whenever he needs to crow about destroying love and needs visual aids.

Who is this guy supposed to be anyway? Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget? Since this is Passions, I think the only thing keeping that from actually being the case is the fact that DiC would respond with a lawsuit (and maybe not even then...Tabitha has implied several times that she is the daughter of Samantha Stephens). No, the man's name is Alistair Crane and he's the evil head of a powerful family that's involved with most of the events on this show, as well as several events from real life. The series began two years removed from the death of Princess Di, and Sheridan was involved in a car crash in the same tunnel the princess died in, and would have perished herself if Di's ghost hadn't appeared and convinced her best friend to hang on.

Anyway, Alistair Crane is SO nasty, SO vile, SO evil, that they can't even show his face. His face was hidden throughout the series. An arm is usually all you'd get.

These two are named Kay and Miguel, and they don't do anything interesting, but they are a pretty good example of something weird I noticed about this episode: everyone's dialogue is unusually exposition-heavy.
"I know Charity's visions upset you, and you need someone to talk to since that thing happened with Julian."
"You don't know how hard this has been."
"Yes, I do. We both still remember what happened down there in the mine, and that strange mirror in the cave, and everything else the toxic gas made us see."

It feels like this was the first episode after Christmas break and they needed to refresh everyone's mind on where they were plotwise. Or maybe everyone on Passions just talks like this all the time. I dunno.

Then there's this pair, a daugher and mother in the back of a limo who are hatching the Soap Opera Scheme to end all Soap Opera Schemes. Their dialogue is more exposition, but the plan is so whacked it makes my head spin, and I assume they have to keep describing it to themselves because it's the only way they can keep track of it all:

"I can't wait to read Ivy's letter to Sam, where she tells him that Ethan is HIS son, and not Julian's."
"Once the screaming and the hair-pulling are through, Julian will divorce Ivy, and I will divorce Jonathan. And then Julian and I will wed, and then I will convince Julian to adopt Ethan after he disowns him."
"And then I will marry Ethan, who will legally be a Crane."
"And you and I will be in clover, and Ivy and Teresa will be out on the street! Oh, maybe that is a little too cruel. I know, they can work in the stables."

I did not embellish any of that; it is all verbatim.

Finally, back to the adventures of Charity and the Portal. At this point, Hecuba's Putties have finished slowly levitating the Charity JPEG to the closet door, and are now in the process of slowly turning Charity from a horizontal to a vertical incline. I guess this is kind of important to do before they shove her in there.

Timmy is clinging to the ivy scaffolding outside, watching the whole mess from the window. "TIMMY, REPORT!" Tabitha shouts from down below.
"Oh, it's awful!" he informs her. "Timmy sees Charity going down in flames!"
Tabitha doesn't have any reason to be on Charity's side here; Charity would wind up destroying her as well if she were to power up. She simply hates Hecuba more. Timmy sure seems to be Team Charity, though. He tries calling to her, attempting to wake her up.

Hecuba spies Timmy in the window and growls, "WHAT is Tabitha's DOLL doing here? Probably acting as a SPY, no doubt! SCRAM, KID."
She whirls her hand and shoots lightning through the mirror and into the room, knocking Timmy down from the window and creating the scene you saw above.

Timmy has succeeded in waking Charity up, but that doesn't look like it'll do her much good. She opens her eyes, looks at hell, blinks twice, and starts shrieking loudly.

But then Charity changes. She starts glowing with a white aura and thinks to herself, "Something's happening to I'm growing stronger."
Hecuba is horrified at this development. "OH NO. CHARITY'S BECOMING AWARE OF HER POWERS!!"
What, now? Is this THE episode Charity figures out she's a witch? Either it's an incredible stroke of luck that this significant episode happened to be saved, or Charity is actually going to forget about this entire encounter after it ends. My bet is on the latter.

Hecuba fumes that as powerful as she is, she's no match for a fully operational Charity. So she rubs her hands together, remarks "When push comes to shove...." and shoots a magic blast at Charity's face through the mirror. Instantly, Charity stops glowing and starts screaming again.

What just happened? You just said Charity was more powerful than you, and then you do this. Is it true or not? Make up your mind!

Outside, Tabitha notes that Charity is sure screaming a lot, and that can't be good. But then she hears a voice from another direction, and quickly runs to hide behind some garbage cans. It's...Miguel and Kay, out of nowhere! They came, they say, because they believe Charity is in trouble. How would they know that -- are they magic too? Did they put on winter coats that have magical properties? Have they developed head lice but it's magical head lice that gives you prophetic senses? I could probably go on forever and each theory would be equally plausible. I love / hate Passions.

After Miguel and Kay leave, Tabitha points out that they're running right into a room that has an active portal to hell in it. "They're gonna be TOAST," she chuckles to herself, before shrugging. They hang the story here, to be picked up the following day on an episode we may never see. But I can't end this without showing you at least ONE clip of Hecuba in all her scene-chewing glory:

Now you probably want another one, don't you? I'd be happy to oblige...if I could. Episodes of Passions are shockingly hard to find. I'm a member of a private torrent site that stocks every TV show ever made -- but they don't have one single Passions. A search on a more public torrent site turns up individual episodes from the final two years -- all with seeds long dead. I heard that someone dumped a massive number of them onto YouTube, but that was years ago and I can't seem to find them now (there are a few here, but it's the best I can do). This baffles me. With the cult fanbase this series had, you can't tell me at least ONE nut didn't try to preserve the whole thing.

They HAVE to be out there. Or do I really have the only copy of the January 10, 2001 episode of Passions in existence?