Anyone thinking General Hospital was going to hold James Franco’s debut on the soap opera to a final-seconds tease today was wrong. Dressed as a shabby graffiti artist, Franco — playing a “world-famous photographer and artist” cleverly named “Franco” — put in a monosyllabic appearance in the first two minutes of Friday’s edition, and skulked around during the entire hour. In between, there were scenes of Hospital regulars arguing and emoting lines like, “Neither one of them gets out of here alive!”

Franco was initially seen witnessing an awkwardly staged gangland shoot-out (I had forgotten the way everything on a soap set, right down to the stairs people run down, looks like flimsy cardboard). I’m not going to pretend I’m a regular GH-watcher — you’d figure that out fast, if I tried to pass — but I’m also the sort of person the producers want to attract: that is, a new viewer, to boost the generally sagging ratings of the soap opera genre.

So, as a Franco fan dating back to his Freaks & Geeks days, I was psyched for his role as “an artist whose canvas is murder,” as the promos hyped it. We saw a bit of artist-Franco’s art installation today. The floor had the chalk outline of an absent corpse; there was graffiti on the walls and lots of random metal sculpture. This Franco is a rip-off artist: part-Jean-Michel Basquiat, part-Keith Haring, all-hack.

Oh, and all-evil. He approaches the bleeding body after the shoot-out. The guy asks for help, but Franco steps on his throat, finishing the fellow off. Then Franco the artiste rearranges the corpse’s limbs in a special way, leaving a message for the cops to figure out.

Back in his studio, Franco phones a woman, saying he needs her. She murmurs, “Should I wear anything special, or nothing at all?” Oooh, those rebel artists-of-death — they attract all the babes, don’t they?

The show kept cutting back to some endless argument involving a woman name Olivia, who babbled ceaselessly about her son Dante. She seemed sullen, defensive, and either terribly rattled or else trapped in a terrible storyline.

(GH fans, care to weigh in on Olivia’s story? Thanks.) (Oh, and pardon a newbie’s question, but: Does General Hospital ever have any scenes in a hospital?)

Meanwhile, I’ll be hanging in to watch how James Franco’s storyline plays out next week. What did you think of it so far?