A week of enforced soap opera watching
- Credit: BBC / Jack Barnes
Our writer was set a task: to watch every episode of the biggest three British soap operas for a week and report back from a position of little or no knowledge of what would be going on in each whatsoever. Did the soaps stand up as dramas to the un-addicted Cory?
Imagine this: you've just been dropped slap bang in the middle of somewhere you've never been, surrounded by people you've never met and you've been tasked with learning their names, their stories and getting to grips with a whole new way of life as fast as you possibly can.
It doesn't sound easy, right? As it so happens, I've had to do that exactly three times – all over the course of the last week. I've been to Weatherfield, I've touched down in Albert Square and I paid a visit to Emmerdale. Yes: I have been immersed in the unknown (to me) world of the soap opera, checking out the biggest three which these shores have to offer.
So, what did I make of them? Am I a convert? Do I know my Dingles from my Slaters? Allow me to answer all…
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Emmerdale: First up on the schedule was Emmerdale, airing at a sensible time of 7pm each night – with a double-bill thrown in on Thursdays.
- 1 Jets heard roaring over Norwich for training exercise
- 2 Man dies after medical emergency on beach
- 3 Appeal to identify man, around 75, who died in medical episode
- 4 Norwich mum and daughter duo shed 12st
- 5 Work started on four new homes without permission
- 6 Woman has heart attack and dies in ambulance waiting for a hospital bed
- 7 Former factory site to become a new church
- 8 Man arrested on suspicion of drink and drug driving after fatal crash
- 9 Christmas craft, food and gift fair returning to Norfolk estate
- 10 Crews tackle huge Fens blaze
What happened? In the opening moments of my first episode, I was greeted by Paddy, sizing up his reflection with his forehead on hand to helpfully tell me his name was in fact 'PADDY' – it was scrawled across sit in black marker or something difficult to scrub off.
Paddy was the focus during the early part of the week, with the show dabbling in a spot of baby drama. Chas – Paddy's significant other – has a bun in the oven. She's not keen to keep it but Paddy is. Elsewhere, we had a chap named Joe who had a knack for always looking squinty and evil who, as far as I could work out, nobody liked and was up to no good.
Having said that, bar a chip on his shoulder when it came to Robert, one half of Robron – the term for the Robert-Aaron relationship (I'm down with the Twitter speak) – and making a man named Jimmy his own personal slave, I couldn't really decipher what Joe's evil plans were – bar evil, obviously.
In the second-half of the week, things got a little saucy between Bob and Laurel. The stickler was that Bob, with his exceptionally outlandish shirt (must be seen to be believed) is engaged and not to Laurel - obviously. Textbook soap opera, right there.
There was also a lovely little dog called Tip.
What did I think? So. Emmerdale. While technically the second oldest of the big three, it felt as if it were the innocent younger sibling. It was pure cup of tea television. What the Dingle do I mean by that, you ask? After I'd got a few episodes under my belt and was up to speed with the world – bar whatever the hell it was Joe was up to – I found it easily to sit back, relax, sip a cuppa after a long, snowy day and take it all in. It was smooth, easy viewing with humour, lighter moments and characters easy to take to.
However, I am reliably informed it was a quiet week and that was indeed the case. All in all, it felt as if it was stretching itself a little thin in parts. As a result, it never really got going. The week was lacking in standout moments, with only the standard soap fare of the adultery and the baby drama keeping things ticking along. Still, I had a preconceived idea in my head that soaps were nothing but misery so Emmerdale's humour and lighter moments were most certainly welcome.
Coronation Street: Next up was Corrie, confusing me somewhat with it airing as a double-bill every other day: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 7:30pm and 8:30pm.
What happened? If Emmerdale was the innocent, younger sibling with its lighter material, Corrie was akin to a grumpier teenager, angry at the world, heavy in content. We had drug addiction. We had repressed sexuality. We had unhappy marriages. We had a love triangle between Rana, Sophie and Kate. In truth, it was more a love square when throwing Rana's husband, Zidan, into the mix.
Then, towards the end of the week we had a murderer trying to cover his tracks – or, at the very least fretting about doing so. The infamous Pat Phelan – who I had heard of through Radio Times articles – had claimed three victims, booting him up to serial killer status, and hidden his bodies in a lake. Pat learns that the aforementioned lake is set to be drained (I can't remember why, I'll be honest) in the closing moments of Friday's episode, capping a week which was more set-up than pay-off.
What happened? With its scheduling, I'd have expected a few more cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more. Yet, I can't honestly say that Corrie ever really had me on the edge of my seat, desperate to see what happens next – though, again, I am reliably informed it was a quieter week.
I purposefully left it out of the 'What happened?' so I will delve into it now. Where Corrie deserves credit is through its portayals of post-traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) especially – both of which are brought to screen by Bethany (Lucy Fallon) and Craig (Colson Smith). Bethany was groomed by a grim specimen named Nathan who, while behind bars continues to loom over her. Bethany bins off her current job and winds up working in a seedy lapdancing club under the stewardship of a stereotypical slimeball. She ends up glassing – attacking with a bottle – a punter after hallucinating and thinking him to be Nathan.
The police are called, a court date is set and all charges are dropped. It's a lazy way to end things but up until then, the show had handled things well.
Corrie does deserve a lot of credit for its take on OCD, however. It's a sensitive portrayal – both from a writing and acting standpoint. Colson Smith especially deserves all the plaudits for delvering a good performance. Overall, Corrie was heavier viewing and the scheduling made it a little difficult to keep up with. Arguably, there were more stand-out moments than that of Emmerdale this week, but the grimmer tone combined with the lack of familiarity to the world and the characters did not make for the best of combinations.
EastEnders: Confession time. I used to watch Eastenders. And on that bombshell, we could quite easily lead into that iconic Eastenders sting.
What happened? I got off the 'Enders train quite some time ago, but it has kept quite the reputation in my mind – mostly misery and a lot of shouting. On making my return to Albert Square, I was not to be disappointed. We had a lot of gruff, aggressive cockneys shouting. We had people being thrown out of pubs. Patrick Truman is still around. And, nowadays, Danny Dyer is running about.
And it was indeed Mr Dyer, playing Mick Carter, who was front and centre throughout the week. Mick was taking on an Irish gangster, a deliciously evil chap named Aidan with his hat, scarf, cane and insistence on calling Mick, 'Michael' – truly chilling stuff – who wanted him to allow drugs to be sold out of the Queen Vic. Mick went through the motions, from going along with it, facing fears and finally deciding to stand up to Aidan – only for the latter to threaten his life in the closing moments of Friday's episode.
Elsewhere, Billy Mitchell remains and is essentially comic relief, while there was a lighter tale as Denise and Kim learn whether or not they're sisters. We also had some kid custody drama between Stacey Slater and a new iteration of Martin Fowler – who knew the citizens of Walford had the power to regenerate?
What did I think? Truth be told, Eastenders was probably the strongest of the three in terms of content this week. There was plenty going on. The central story stretching through the week – the Mick-Aidan conflict – allowed Eastenders to feel less of an ensemble piece (as soaps are) and more something with a main plot and a few subplots strung off of it. For someone who is a novice in the soap-watching world, and used to character-driven series, this made things easier to follow.
As a whole, Eastenders was a good blend of soapy material, heavier content and humour. Plus, the dooby of a cliffhanger earns brownie points and actually had me mildly curious to see what comes next…
So, there you have it. I have watched eight hours of soaps this week and survived to tell the tale.
I have to confess, it was not anywhere near as bad or taxing as I'd built it up to be. Soaps aren't exemplary television but they offer a platform to explore a myriad of different things. They stick to a formula – lots of characters, good number of stories spread out through the week, changing up who's featured and who's not. There's often some gems among the cast who will go on and graduate to do some impressive things – I saw a few throughout my week. While I'm not a convert after my week, I can see the appeal and I can appreciate what soaps set out to do. I'm going to say it, and I never thought I would - and it may be the result of having watched so many of them in such a short space of time (I binged Eastenders in one whole day) - but… soaps are all right.