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Our Man’s Soap Roundup 3: What I’ve loved and loathed

Well, here we are again, time to cast a beady eye over the lathered remains of the most recent goings on. Out of the debris of crashed minibuses, Ronnie Mitchell’s coma and numerous attempts at coital endeavours from Jimmy and Nicola in Emmerdale, I’ve passed my judgements. Being that my opinions count for everything, here is the official (not really) lowdown of what’s set soapland on fire and what’s left it in the January cold…

What I’ve LOVED

Emmerdale Surprises!

67631We all love a good spoiler or two and I was sitting at a recent Coronation Street press event rubbing my hands together with glee as the episode previews rolled but as you watch the drama unfold live, you end up feeling pretty empty when everything that has been promised will happen comes to pass. On one hand, you’re pleased that the soap producers haven’t lied to you. That’s always nice. On the other, though, you’re hoping to be caught off guard with a curveball that you weren’t expecting. So thank heavens for recent Emmerdale (and to a large extent, EastEnders too) for throwing in viewer surprises into their episodes and keeping the buzz of live soap viewing alive. Rachel Breckle rocking up to the trial of Charity and getting her sent down was a stroke of genius, especially as Emma Atkins had gone to the effort of concealing her pregnancy so no one knew she’d be going on maternity leave. Now there’s dedication to the secret. Then came the revelation that baby Archie is in fact a fake (he would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those pesky Spencers) and Megan’s subsequent snatching of the fraud baby. Next week, the surprises keep coming in the form of an exploding caravan, a shock exit and some really delicious stuff that I’m sworn to secrecy over. Keep it up Emmerdale!

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EastEnders: So many secrets…

EastEnders-WK43What has been the most awkward party that you have ever been to? In my yoof (not very many years ago, I may add) I went to a house party, given that I was such a cool kid. Apparently my friend’s parents had not been informed of this impromptu shindig and, when we started pouring ourselves refreshments (lemonade, of course) they came downstairs to investigate in full bondage gear.

Oh how we all laughed. A few years on, I’m not laughing anymore as I have learned just how uncomfortable those leather straps and shackles can be so I have nothing but sympathy for Mr and Mrs (CENSORED) but my point is, no matter how awkward a party you think you have attended, nothing could quite top the sheer cringe factor of the Carter get together in last night’s EastEnders.

Well meaning but sadly clueless Mick decided that the stunning Stacey needed some help in securing a bloke as it’s not like she has other things on her mind at the moment. Thinking that she and Dean are destined to be (again), Mick planned a drinks party upstairs and brought them together, a situation which poor Linda was shoehorned into. I could barely watch as the weasel like Dean plonked himself comfortably beside Linda on the sofa, causing her to understandably recoil in horror.

Stealing looks at her and warning Linda that they have to be careful, Dean really does seem to have deluded himself that Linda was a willing participant in their recent vile encounter. Things couldn’t be further from the truth, and the fact of the matter was that Linda faced the agony of being left alone in a room with her rapist for a prolonged period of time.

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Being Human 3.01: I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid you’ve just died

Regular readers will know of my love for Being Human, primarily as being one of the only half-decent things on BBC3. And, as our dear friends at Smash Hits were wont to say, it’s back Back BACK!

We pick up from the end of the last series. Annie the Ghost (Leonora Critchlow) is trapped in purgatory and frantically appealing to her friends and housemates Mitchell the Vampire (Aidan Turner) and George the Werewolf (Russell Tovey) through a series of TV screens and radios. As charity appeals go, it’s not exactly Band Aid/Live Aid/Lemon Aid (oh come on, citrus fruits have rights too!) but it’s moving enough.

The Fantastical Four

Meanwhile, the chaps and George’s girlfriend Nina (for readers new to all this, is also a werewolf, have been bitten by George in the first series) have fled Bristol and are being shown round an abandoned B and B in Barry Island. Well, if it worked for Gavin and Stacey. The singular charms of Barry Island are colourfully outlined by a heroically lugubrious Estate Agent (“I bet heaven doesn’t have chemical toilets”). George and Nina (Sinead Keenan) are particularly taken with the basement, as it provides the prefect space for them both to transform into werewolves in the comfort their own home. Stick that in your Sales Particulars and smoke it, Heroically Lugubrious Estate Agent Lady! Proceedings are nearly derailed by Mitchell frantically walloping a tv set in order to reach Annie. “She’s our friend! We don’t have much time!”. Fortunately, George is on hand to calm the situation by hurriedly supplementing “it’s our friend, she’s, erm, appearing on Midsomer Murders later…”

Indeed, following a somewhat dour second series, Being Human has brought the funny back in a big way. And it’s brilliant. Despite its attempts and indeed some level of success at being a British Buffy the Vampire Slayer equivalent, it puts its own peculiarly British slant on the whipsmart one-liners.

We take a break from the B and B to be introduced to what turns out to be two new werewolves having a conversation in a transport caff. So far, so bonkers. But even better still, one of them is a Jake Gyllenhaal lookalike and the other one is ROBSON GREEN! We follow Robson as he uses a pair of bolt cutters to break into a locked up fairground to pinch scrap metal. Insert your own tenuous Robson and Jerome/Unchained Melody joke here, dear reader (note that I have not been arrogant/unrealistic enough to pluralise this). Unfortunately, he is rudely interrupted by a transit van full of thugs and DENNIS PENNIS! I am loving all these cameos. Also nice to see the producers nicely fitting in with my “British Buffy” hypothesis (take that, Popper and your black swans) by making Paul Kaye look even more like a mangy Billy Idol lookalike than Spike From Buffy (yes I know he’s got a real name, but this is my lunch break here).

We switch back to the main action, which largely involves George and attempting to, erm, y’know but suffering a number of difficulties including that old glasses-tangled-in-hair chestnut and then Mitchell bursting in and stealing the radio. As well as being very funny, Being Human is also very sweet. Cleverly, for a programme allegedly about the supernatural it says a great deal about the human condition. This is best encapsulated by a scene where George and Mitchell sit at the bed of a hospital patient about to die so that Mitchell can follow him into the afterlife to go after Annie. They bicker about Jewish Prayers and attempt to do the crossword, but switch to touching tenderness when the poor bloke actually carks it and his puzzled spirit self enquires what is going on. “I’m so sorry” says George gently “but I’m afraid you’ve just died”. It’s a fine line to tread between black humour and compassion. Being Human may not be viewed as a serious programme in some quarters, but it does a better job of this than most dramas. Continue reading

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Eastenders: Let it Buuuuuurn

I’m going to be a tad controversial here and also go against the blog’s own Twitter posting and say that the only thing that resembled disaster in last night’s episode of Eastenders was the script and the acting.

It was the hyped to death Queen Vic fire. For months we’ve been teased that something spectacular was to hit our screen…the disaster to end all soap disasters. In this case, I hope it does…if I have to sit through a similar shambolic half hour of ‘drama’ again, I’ll scream louder than Peggy Mitchell…and that’s saying something!

It could have been so good. So where did it all go wrong? Well any massive piece of drama that centres around Peggy Mitchell is always going to be a risk. Sure, Barbara Windsor can slap people, do funny giggles and order people out of her pub in a pantomime fashion but when it comes to the nitty gritty of powerful acting, she just can’t do it. The episode summed up just why it’s a good thing that we’re seeing the back of Peggy. The gurning, the hammy shrieks, the unfathomable lines that I still can’t work out…she was embarassingly OTT from start to finish. But she was not alone. Joining the ‘I can scream and shout as loud as possible so I’m a good actor’ brigade was pretty much the entire cast, with the sole exception of Lacey Turner who was the only one who convinced me she was genuinely terrified of her predicament.

But then, we can’t just blame the actors. The scripting was TERRIBLE. Point one…the fire would not have spread as fast as it did. I don’t care how much alcohol was lying around, the whole place was up within a minute. Secondly, any legal pub would have a SMOKE DETECTOR…most would have sprinklers so why no one became aware of imminent danger sooner is beyond me. Thirdly, there are three exits from the Vic so all this running round in circles just should not have happened. Fourthly, why was everyone standing right outside a pub that was about to explode? Fifthly, where was that fire brigade that was called pretty much at the start of the episode? Is there only one fire engine to cater for the whole of London?

It was a shambles. Half the time, it was unclear what was going on. The explosions may well have been good but we heard them more than we saw them so it’s hard to judge.  The cameraman appeared to either be drunk or recently sacked and deliberately screwing up on his last day. I couldn’t work out what most people were saying. And with the mass cast clearout they have just had, they didn’t even have the courage to kill anybody off! The contrived way that Peggy is being written out is pretty anticlimatic. You’ll know what I mean if you bother to tune in tonight, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

And finally, whoever wrote the script is obviously a Stephen King fan. From Phil smashing his way through a door in a blatant rip off of the Shining to Peggy growling ‘Let it Burn, Let it Buuuurn!’ at the end a la Carrie, the writing was horrific.

You can usually rely on Eastenders to provide stunning special episodes but if this is all the new producer can muster, then the signs don’t look good for the show’s imminent future. And if you can get through the latest trailer promoting a certain couple’s return without cringing yourself to death, I think you might just agree…

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Eastenders: The bunny nuker

I’m loving Eastenders at the moment. It’s so funny. Yes, I know Bradley recently spectacularly died, and Stacey is wandering around with bags under her dazed eyes, looking like she hasn’t slept in decades.

Even more recently Jack has been shot in the ‘ed, and it’s touch and go whether he’ll ever swagger around the Square in his black overcoat again. Assorted Jacksons, Brannings, Butchers and other distant relatives have been keeping vigil in the hospital corridor and shouting at each other. Or praying. Dot Cotton is big on praying.

But what other people term “misery,” Janine Butcher sees as an opportunity. She needs a job, Jack is unlikely to be breathing unaided in the foreseeable, and there’s a club that needs running in the meantime. Janine is currently in love with Ryan, who is in love with her, despite her being the most horrible human being he’s ever met. These are his words, so at least we can be sure he’s going into this with his eyes open. What he doesn’t know yet is that the baby Stacey is carrying is his – and heaven help him when Janine finds out.

It’s doubtful whether Janine will need any hints or tips about how to wreak spectacular revenge, but if she did she could do worse than consulting young Ben Mitchell. His half sister Louise has just moved into the family home, and young Ben is not best pleased. He looks like a child version of Corrie’s Norris Cole but he’s far less butch than Norris.

You had to feel sorry for him yesterday when he (reluctantly) baked a cake to welcome Louise, only to be upstaged by his idiot father who’d brought a professionally iced job from the local baker. Then someone (was it Billy Mitchell?) gave Louise a big, chocolate Easter bunny, while all Ben got was a miserable little hollow egg. Ben’s response was beautifully creepy. While Peggy wept tears of grandmotherly joy that her unwieldy family had acquired a new member, the chocolate bunny was revolving slowly in the microwave, bubbling a bit and subsiding into a gooey puddle. Ben’s resentment could perhaps be a bit premature – Louise’s reaction to Peggy’s blubbing was none too impressed. Ben may just have found himself with an ally after all, as long as she maintains a sense of humour about melted chocolate.

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Emmerdale/Eastenders: Two’s Company

Some dramatic scenes were promised in soapland during the latter half of last week, with two very special episodes driven almost solely by two central characters.

In Emmerdale, we had the wonderfully heartbreaking and unique storyline of Aaron Livesy’s inner torment as he struggled to accept the fact that he was gay while over in Eastenders, we had the much anticipated return of killer Stacey Slater.

Emmerdale handled their episode beautifully. A few minutes of separate scenes aside, the drama was devoted to the dialogue between Aaron and his surrogate father Paddy Kirk.

Aaron is a loathsome teenage boy in many ways… a thug, a brute, a menace and, ironically, a homophobe. Yet even the hardest of hearts surely went out to him on Thursday night as he finally admitted to Paddy, and more importantly himself, that he is gay. Since before Christmas, any viewer could have told him this already. But the route this storyline has taken has smashed all expectations. There are no cliches here (hide your faces in shame Corrie’s Sean Tully and Eastenders’ Christian Clarke), no effeminate wrist flapping or snide gossiping about others’ business. No cliche affair storyline leading up to a predictable reveal in the pub. The storyline isn’t so much focused on the homosexuality aspect, but on the effect that this has on a character like Aaron.

Yes, effeminate homosexuals do exist, otherwise the stereotypes wouldn’t have come about in the first place. But for too long, mainstream drama has insisted on portraying all gay characters as softly feminine men with tight fitting vest tops and a catty tongue to go with it. Emmerdale is just as guilty as all the rest… its last gay character was actually a cross dresser.

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Eastenders: You look at the script, look at the weather, and think “Bollocks”

If ever we needed a clue that they film soaps well in advance, you only have to look at Eastenders at the moment. Albert Square is currently swathed in a thick coating of snow, the likes of which we haven’t seen round here (my moated dwelling is a mere stone’s throw from Elstree) since… ooh… a couple of months ago.

Normally it would just be a minor, chilly inconvenience for the cast and crew. Chuck on a scarf and don’t forget your thermals, and you’ll be fine. Unfortunately, the storyline demanded a lot of outdoor action and – of all things – gardening.

It’s supposed to be spring in Albert Square, and the Square itself is in dire need of sprucing up. Plus, Lucas has got a body buried out there, so the plot demands that every opportunity is taken to freak him out by almost digging it up. This means that, snow or no snow, Big Mo and her gang of helpers were out digging (“This ground’s a bit ‘ard!”) and filling up the borders with bedding plants.

Well, you don’t need to be Alan Titchmarsh to know that putting baby plants out when the temperature is five below is not a great idea, but the show must go on. Everybody pretended it was perfectly reasonable behaviour. But, by Eastenders standards, it probably is.

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Eastenders & Coronation Street: Good grief

In Walford and Weatherfield the watchword last night was anguish.

The denizens of Albert Square were dealing with the aftermath of Bradley’s death. Stacey and Max were hardest hit. Stacey wouldn’t come out of her room, not even when enticed by the tempting offer of seeing Big Mo (who had been on her ‘olidays and missed all the drama).

Max, meanwhile, obsessively cleaned Bradley’s shoes. Bradley would need clean shoes for his funeral, Max told Carol through his tears, and shoe-cleaning was always Max’s job.

They all went to view Bradley’s body, and it was quite heartbreaking. “He looks so beautiful,” Stacey whispered. Perhaps a slight stretch, but we knew what she meant. Stacey teetered the whole time between total fragile collapse and inner strength.

Over in Weatherfield similar scenes were playing out, as Gail and then Tina got the news that Joe’s body had been found in Windermere. They went to identify the body and were warned that, as he’d been in the water a while, Joe “won’t look like you remember him.” Judging by the shrieks that came from the viewing room, he looked even worse than they remembered him.

Being Corrie, there was plenty of light relief in the form of Dev and Sunita pretending they’re still married so as not to upset Sunita’s mad Indian aunties. Janice’s hunky lodger (who currently thinks Carla is a cleaner at the factory) bringing home two adorable kittens, and Janice trying to pretend she isn’t allergic to them. And, last but not least, the arrival of Tyrone’s pink-haired, Scouse cartoon of a mother, the always glorious Margi Clarke.

Talking of mothers and zooming back south to Walford again, Zainab argued with Syed when she found him in a man-hug with Christian and wouldn’t believe they were only consoling each other about Bradley. Syed flew off the handle, the handle flew off the door when he slammed it, and Zainab was locked in the office. Isn’t it always the way that when these things happen, the phone isn’t working because you’re waiting for the repair man to visit, you haven’t got your mobile with you – and you go into labour.

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Eastenders live: Edge of the seat stuff

Great big pats on the back to everyone involved with the live Eastenders episode last night. Apart from the occasional verbal fluff, and a couple of focusing issues with the cameras, it all went off absolutely smoothly, and the climax was a total shocker, as promised.

They hadn’t taken the easy route, either. As well as large ensemble scenes in the pub, there was a violent rampage by Phil Mitchell (does anyone cringe as effectively as Ian Beale?), rooftop stunt work, and some intense acting. I’d like to single out Samantha Womack for particular praise – her character Ronnie had to tell her sister that she’d been raped by their father. Not an easy scene to play in ordinary times, but with the added pressure of doing it live it must have been incredibly difficult, and she was excellent.

The final scenes, with Bradley falling from the roof and Stacey, Max and Jack desperately trying to get to him, must have been technically so hard to pull off, but it was all done seamlessly. And I don’t think many people had worked out that Stacey was the killer (my money was on Peggy).

In a neat touch, Ian and Dot watched a video that Ian had found in the time capsule he dug up, ensuring that Den and Ange, Kathy, Nasty Nick, Pete, Pauline, Arthur, Frank etc etc all made their appearance in this landmark episode.

Over on BBC3, the inept George Lamb was live on the set to present the “aftermath.” Charlie Clements was obviously emotional – it was his last episode, and what a way to bow out of a programme. There were lots of people in headphones high-fiving each other and hugging in the background, as well they might.

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Eastenders: Way to celebrate a jubilee

Last night’s hour-long Eastenders episode was brilliant stuff. Two weddings simultaneously (Ricky and Bianca in all their chav finery, and Bradley and Stacey quietly in a registry office with only a parent each in attendance) and there was a  constant thud of plot bombs being dropped every few minutes.

There was so much going on that it was hard to keep pace with it all. I loved Billy Mitchell frantically gesturing at the wedding car to take another turn around the block while everyone figured out what to do about the sudden presence of Bianca’s (severely estranged) mother, and Bianca refusing to wait. “I’m nervous! I want to go in!” she said, hutching up her wedding gown and stomping towards the church. Scenes between Lindsay Coulson and Patsy Palmer were always brilliant – there’s some actorly chemistry between the two that makes them totally believable as a mother and daughter – and they were just as good last night.

Elsewhere, Janine was released from police custody due to lack of serious evidence, and turned up in the Square like an avenging angel to disrupt the wedding celebrations and point accusing fingers at assorted Brannings and Mitchells.

Becca let slip to Ronnie that Archie had raped Stacey, who was now pregnant with his child, not Bradley’s. Except, Ronnie told her, Archie wasn’t able to have more children following chemotherapy several years ago. So whose baby is it?

Shirley, who really had made an effort to look fluffy and femine for the wedding (still all in black, but throw on a few sequins and a trilby and she could pass for female on a dark night), had almost forgiven Phil for the other day when she found Sonia in his bed, but when she saw him give Sonia a peck on the cheek as he popped her into a cab back to Martin Fowler, she was having none of his (genuine) protestations of innocence. She’s going to tell the police that the alibi she gave for Phil was all made up.

Ronnie finally flipped, rather understandably, at the sight of her late father staring in her front room window every time she opens the curtains, and went out and threw a can of red paint all over the offending image.

So the stage is set for an absolute cracker of a live episode tonight. I can’t wait.

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