God knows, I love the Archers. I listen to it religiously (in that I pray a lot during it, mainly in the hope that Shula and Helen will be absent and Kate will have contracted a fatal disease). I’ve listened to it for years. Hot damn, I just worked out how many years, then hastily calculated the percentage of my life given over to this dementedly b-movie soap, and had a little cry. Hang on, though, I’ve just remembered that I’m always doing something else while TA is on – loading the dishwasher, for instance, or ironing, eating supper, or having sex – so in fact it’s not been time wasted at all. Phew. I’ll wipe my tears and get on with it.
So yes, I adore TA. But there is one teensy little thing that makes me cross, yes, only one, or at least, only one that I am going to focus on right now. And that is the pitiful attempts of the script-writers to try and force us to have particular opinions about characters, when clearly we are grown-up enough to make up our own minds. The most recent and egregious example of this concerns bloody Jess, Rob’s slightly-estranged wife, who’s finally been cast, I mean, finally turned up in Ambridge.
Sidebar: Blimey, that Rob can’t half pick ‘em! I mean, Helen AND Jess? And yet he apparently has enough physical va-va-voom to be cast as sexy Robin Hood, so could surely bag someone decent.
Anyway, Jess shows up and is unremittingly awful: arch, crass and boring, with a voice like nails on a blackboard. Worse, she can clearly be heard rolling her eyeballs round to the back of her head and out the other side whenever Rob says anything. Eg she shows utter contempt for her husband, which, as we all know, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell telling us about the work of John Gottman, is the surest sign there is, of a marriage in trouble. In short, Jess is awful. Even when she tries to fit in/be a good wife/say something pleasant to someone (very rare, score ten points if you hear her do this), she is basically utterly annoying.
And yet, for some reason, Jess being nice is the take-home message the script writers are insisting on. But I’m not taking it home, no way, not nohow. The way I see it, if you want a character to seem nice, you have two options. One option works, the other doesn’t. The one that works is to make the character nice. Not that difficult, surely? TA abounds with nice characters. Neil, and… Er, I’ve started this list and only seem to have Neil on it. There must be more. Oh yes! Clarrie, Kenton, Jolene, Lilian, Fallon, Adam. They are all nice. Basically, and here is my script-writing primer, free to you love, make a donation as you leave, you just give the character nice characteristics and we will probably think they’re nice. Especially if we’re tired and not thinking too deeply, or maybe having sex at the same time.
The option that doesn’t work is to just to get all the other characters to say how nice the person is, hoping we are so distracted we’ll just accept your implausible version of reality. And this is the option the Archers script-writers have chosen, in the hope that they will bludgeon us into accepting that Jess is nice. These are the conversations about Jess that have taken place so far in Ambridge:
‘I’ve met Jess, she’s really nice.’
‘Have you met Rob’s wife, Jess, yet? She’s really nice.’
‘I hope Jess does move here, she’s really nice.’
‘Helen, you must meet Jess, she’s really nice.’
All the poor regular characters, made to lie about how nice Jess, is are surely not deaf to the cries of ten thousand listeners yelling, ‘She’s NOT nice! Give me an example of ONE NICE THING she has done or said.’ Etc. Even Helen, who has every reason to find Jess not nice, and also is a well-known bee-atch, said reluctantly to Kirsty that she thought Jess was ‘really nice.’ FFS!
The twitter account Archers Predictions (@AmbridgePlots) has been skewering this mismatch between listener and storyline quite brilliantly, with tweets such as: ‘ARCHERS LISTENERS claim JESS is implicated in the death of NIGEL’ and ‘JESS makes a donation to the British Legion. This is instantly condemned by ARCHERS LISTENERS as “cynical opportunism”.’
The same account has an amusing hashtag of #realambridgeloversloveJess, which, they report sorrowfully, ‘still isn’t trending.’ Some of the tweets with that tag are a pleasing satire on Jess’s alleged wonderfulness, such as ‘CAROLINE steps down to Grey Gables Deputy Manager job as she begs JESS to take over as Manager,’ ‘Tonight: DULL TONY meets JESS and rediscovers the power of speech. JESS sorts his MG’ and ‘KENTON meets JESS and realises he has made a terrible mistake.’
This all got me thinking. Jess being shoved down our throats as nice is only one example of the pitiful attempts at manipulation we Archers listeners are subjected to every day (except Saturdays). Here, then, are a few other instances of the gulf between what they want us to think about characters, and what we really do think:
Ruth: They say: ‘interesting and deserving of many storylines.’ We say: not.
Eddie. They say: ‘loveable rogue.’ We say: he is loveable, actually, but when was the last time Eddie actually did anything remotely rogue-like? Unless you count trying to sell knocked-off meat, which he then totally regretted, we probably have to go back to around 1983. What happened to rehabilitation, eh? He is now, and has been for ages, an upstanding member of the community, who loves his wife and family, treats his elderly father with tenderness and respect, works several jobs to earn a crust, and basically is NICE in the way that Jess will never be.
Helen: They say: ‘complex, fascinating, tragic back-story.’ We say: if only Greg could have talked her into a suicide pact.
Lilian: They say: ‘Chain-smoking tart with a heart.’ We say: Properly-rounded character who’s more tolerant of her tedious family than they deserve.
Will: They say: ‘Slightly obsessive but essentially decent game-keeper.’ We say: Surely no-one should allow this psychopath anywhere near a gun cabinet?
Nic: They say, ‘Nice steady lass who’s trying to bring the Grundy boys together.’ We say: she just cannot stop herself winding Emma up, and don’t pretend she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Possible borderline personality disorder.
Darrell: They say: ‘Worth spending lots of time on.’ We say: Not. Also, we miss Elona saying “Piggy” instead of Peggy. Can’t we swap Darrell for Elona please?
I’d better stop here, as it would clearly be considerably quicker to compile a list where there is no mismatch between how they’re portrayed and how we see them. Lynda, Jolene and Vicki are the only ones who spring to mind. But what do you think? Which characters do you think are different from how they’re presented to us? Which ones the same? And is Jess nice? (No, she isn’t.)
Posted by Qwerty