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Saturday, 20 February 2010

Shout It From The Rooftops

Eastenders 25th Anniversary LIVE episode 19/02/10, 8pm, BBC One

Desiree and Rooster enjoyed a night in front of the box, watching this historic televisual event. Long-term lovers of soap, they offer their reactions to this exciting episode.

Rooster: So tell me, Desiree, as we sit in the wake of last night’s live episode of Eastenders, how are you feeling?

Desiree: I'm still reeling from the excitement, me; I was semi-hysterical last night, and found myself lying awake mulling it all over. Why, why, WHY? Why did they feel the need to shoehorn in a story about incestuous rape? Wasn't Archie's rejection/ manipulation of Danielle, ultimately leading to her death, ENOUGH of a motive for Ronnie to have killed him? Oh no, they had to go all Take-a-Break-chic with their issue-based narrative. It jarred on me that, really it did. It was a good old-fashioned murder mystery before that was mentioned: a riotous party, enigmatic shared looks, a femme fatale stalking the streets clutching a set of ill-functioning keys, a young couple click-clacking through the shadows in brogues and heels... There were televisual thrills aplenty, all being played out with booming aplomb.

Rooster: Yes, I was a little surprised – I actually gasped – at Ronnie’s revelation. Perhaps one of the scriptwriters had been reading one of those dodgy books from WHSmith’s “Damaged Lives” section. I'm not really sure where they'll go with that now. Perhaps it will be like Ivy's ghost in Coronation Street, i.e. dropped very quickly and never mentioned again, which I daresay is for the best. After all, this is not Home and Away. Overall though,I was really rather thrilled with last night's episode: there was a genuine sense of excitement about the storyline and the fact that the episode was going out live merely added to the sense of expectation. My mind fairly boggled at the logistical nightmare that must have been going on behind the scenes. Just think, an impromptu power cut could have knocked the whole thing bandy!

Desiree: Quite right.

Rooster: So tell me, Desiree, what were your highlights from last night's episode?

Desiree: Well, it would really be hard to pick just a few things; it was really the whole feel of the show – over-rehearsed hysteria– which did it for me.

Rooster: Did any particular character make an impact last night?

Desiree: Janine. She's amazing and I adore her, especially the way her voice goes husky when she's emoting. She undertook a complex key-based investigation of her own, having sworn –uninvited– to DCI Marsden that she'd find out who had stolen her own keys and framed her. This investigation seemed to involve a lot of close ups of her hands trying keys in doors – I'd now recognise her finely-shaped thumbnail anywhere– and culminated in a showdown with Peggy in the cellar of the Vic.

Rooster: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. Peggy and Janine fighting in the cellar of the Vic to the distant strains of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" was a definite highlight for me. I can only assume Babs must have been humming along in her head to that one as she fluffed a couple of her lines shortly after. And I thought that Good old Lacey Turner put in a sterling performance as Stacey, as usual. Indeed her hoarse voice, which had the producers panicking wildly just days before, lent itself rather well to her addled state, I thought. Note to self: if required to act in a dramatic fashion, contract bronchitis.

Desiree: The time-capsule/ videotape scene with Ian and Dot was another gem. The hotch-potch of short clips, expertly edited to look like something from ITV's The Chart Show 'Video Vault' was an interesting nod to EastEnders' anniversary, and rewarded long-term fans with brief glimpses of Arthur, Michelle, and of course the young Ian.

Rooster: Oh I enjoyed that too, though I always find it rather amusing when any show tries to mock up previous TV quality footage as home movies. I doubt even Ian Beale had a studio quality camera back in the 80s.

Desiree: No doubt, although his line about selling on the video camera for a profit was again a trip down memory lane for the devoted viewer, harking back to the ever-presence of his entrepreneurial nature. I'm sure at one point Phil referred to Lucy as "your skank of a daughter", and Ian said nothing in her defence. She is slightly skanky –they're trying to Hollyoaks her up a bit, with about as much success as the cringeworthy E20 online spin-off–, but Ian's eternal fear of/ deference to Phil is simultaneously annoying and boring. I'm sure I wasn't the only long-term viewer to wish we had Michelle, Lofty and Sharon back, instead of being lumbered with Ian and his humourless, tedious ways. But I digress: the scene between Ian and Dot was great last night, largely due to June Brown's slightly hysterical over-enunciation.

Rooster: Did you see June Brown on “Eastenders Live - The Aftermath” on BBC Three? There she was being interviewed, knocking back a glass of sherry. It’s a miracle she managed to enunciate at all; she looked and sounded genuinely crazed. Perhaps her over-enunciation was due to the fact that, as she herself admitted, she had been gloriously ropey in rehearsals. Good old BBC Three, assessing, reassessing and repeating clips of an episode we had finished watching minutes earlier. The wonders of modern television! How things have changed since Eastenders was born!

Desiree: Exactly. I mean just think of Ian holding aloft of that mangled videotape. A symbol, perhaps, not only of the massive technological revolution which has happened over the last 25 years, but of the fact that "old" EastEnders is gone, and its style and structure continue to evolve. There has been much innovation in the EastEnders camp of late, with very mixed results.

Rooster: Indeed. And what about the finale? Thoughts?

Desiree: The rooftop chase, of course! Now, I'm no expert on policing policy, but would the PC have simply scrambled across the slates after Bradley? Are there no rules on this kind of thing? Oughtn't they to have stayed well back and unfurled an impromtu safety net, possibly one of June Brown's wig-guards? I liked the way it was reminiscent of the old BBC1 indents with the people free-running across the London landscape to get home in time for EastEnders; somebody worked really hard on getting all these references into the episode, and, on the whole, they worked. Also, I'm interested in learning when the live footage stops and the other –presumably pre-recorded for reasons of safety– footage begins... perhaps I'll re-watch and try to spot the join.

Rooster: Darling, don’t waste your time. I can answer this for you. Alongside the many clips from previous episodes and from last night’s extravaganza on “EastEnders Live - The Aftermath”, they actually manged to squeeze in some genuine insights into the process behind the live episode. I can confirm that EVERYTHING you saw was live, including the fall from the rooftop – why would Bradley try to run away along the roof of the Vic, by the way? He was a sensible chap and there was only one way that was going to end – anyway, I digress, yes there were two sets: one of some mocked up roofs with Bradley running along them and the normal set, with a stuntman dressed as Bradley on the roof of the Vic. The two were intercut, of course, but it was all done live.

Desiree: Goodness! Technically, the episode was very well-managed, though of course there were far fewer in-scene edits than usual, which I found rather a blessing; my astigmatism doesn't refocus quickly enough nowadays. I suppose the over-rehearsed delivery was a necessary by-product of getting everything running like clockwork. Imagine! Coronation Street did this on a daily basis in the early days! Though, granted, without such sensational acrobatics and gloriously sticky fake blood.

Rooster: Too true! So overall a success, then.Well done EastEnders! That said, there were also a few lowlights, not least of which was the greatest missed opportunity in the history of television when Pat asked Peggy to join her on the dance floor and Peggy turned her down. Clearly, the risk of a simultaneous broken hip/slipped disc fiasco on live television had led to any such dance-off being shelved. A disappointment.

Desiree: Of course, and can we please just make an honourable mention for Max Branning's emoting at the end. Priceless.

Rooster: Fully agree! His crazed wailing brought the whole thing dangerously close to mild farce; luckily Stacey was there to save the day, coughing up a husky confession to close the episode.

Desiree: So that’s that then. Assessment complete.

Rooster: Damn right. I say, Desiree, we’re rather good at this lark. Perhaps one of us should place a call to whoever it is who runs BBC Three and offer our services.

Desiree: I was thinking the same thing but being a potato, I find it rather difficult to dial. Tell you what, lock me in a darkened room for a week and I’ll see if I get any sprouts, that should make me a bit more dextrous.

Rooster: Deal.



Please note that I will be unavailable for further correspondence until Saturday 27th February

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