Corrie and Eastenders seem to have put their main storylines on the back-burner for the moment, presumably to give the viewer - and the writers - a break from the drama and intensity of recent weeks. Both storylines have actually been handled pretty well (Tina balloon release notwithstanding) but both soaps now seem to be struggling to know what to do with the remaining narratives, which range from the sublime (Sonia’s life-imitating-art Fatbusters club) via the ridiculous (Gail and Les Dennis - more on that later) to the downright dull (Roxie’s two-timing Latvian).
One of my current favourites is the EastEnders gay storyline which has been handled with a good mix of sensitivity and humour. Johnny has been struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and the doting attentions of his overbearing mother, played quite wonderfully by the girl from The Upper Hand. After quite a bit of soul searching on both sides they seem to have made their peace with the situation. Of course, this being EastEnders, Johnny can’t just be allowed to get on with his life; oh no, he has to be ceremoniously dropped off by his mum and sister at a rainbow flag-festooned pub in Soho in the middle of Pride whilst people throw glitter from an upstairs window. Within seconds he has met what we presume will be his first boyfriend, a slightly wonky-toothed chap by the name of Gianluca.
So now, instead of being hunched over his iPhone exchanging boudoir pics with the other boys on Grindr like any normal gay person, he’s tapping nervously away at some museum piece Nokia waiting for this mysterious foreign chap to call.
This is why soaps are such a guilty pleasure for me: as much as they try to comment on the big topics of the day - sometimes in a genuinely touching and though-provoking way - they tend to come unstuck when trying to play out the minutiae of real life.
In real world, people get jobs in shops or offices which are not usually located on their own doorstep. In Corrie, practically everyone lives a 30-second walk from work; no wonder you never see anyone on the Weatherfield Wayfarer. How that line continues to turn a profit is beyond me. Likewise, EastEnders has a rich history of highly unrealistic and madcap get-rich-quick schemes, the latest of which being Alfie Moon’s accidental venture into the world of gourmet ice cream (with flavours including bacon and egg, duck, and stout). In true Walford style, after a shaky start and a bit of banter, the non-speaking extras were queuing up, grinning and nodding their approval and thrusting crumpled fivers into Alfie´s meaty palms.
Soap’s recent portrayals of alcoholism haven’t rung true either. Actual alcoholics don’t usually roam the streets gurning, brandishing bottles of generic spirit and passing out on car lots. Nonetheless, Shirley and Peter are both frequently to be found sneering and slinking around like a pair of Victorian villains before falling asleep clutching their beloved bottles of ”VODKA” and “GIN”.
More recently, soaps have developed quite a penchant for referring to real-world events, so it was interesting to see EastEnders and Corrie having a crack at working Ramadan into the scripts. I think the aim was to for it to be nonchalantly dropped in, which in the case of Eastenders worked fairly well. Corrie was a different story: it was like a sledgehammer going through a wedding cake. The toe-curling “What? Not even water?” line was Corrie at its most dire: slapstick meets clunking attempt at inclusivity. Not good.
To be fair neither soap really reflects the geographical areas they are supposed to be set in. The dialogue in Corrie is more ‘eckky thump than Shameless and can it really be that we only just got our first glimpse of Walford’s Polski Sklep ten years after Poland’s accession to the EU?
Australian soaps always excelled at unbelievable overnight transformations. Put a bad boy under Helen Daniels’ or Pippa Ross’ roof and they’d wake up the next day a shining paragon of virtue. UK soaps have been less keen on such miracle redemptions but Corrie seems to have strayed into those murky waters with the whole Les Dennis storyline - I refuse to use his character’s name for two simple reasons: firstly because I’ve had too much generic spirit and can’t remember it and secondly because the character is Les Dennis, in full Big Brother meltdown mode, a quivering, stuttering wreck of a man. Les Dennis was at his best when doing impressions of Mavis Riley on the Russ Abbott show; he should not be appearing on Corrie doing impressions of himself. I can only hope his stint in Weatherfield will be merciful in its brevity.
One recent transformation I did enjoy was when EastEnders’ Mick went from being scared to put his head under water to olympic swimmer in just one lesson with Ian Beale. Personally, I think they could have put in a Footloose-style time-lapse sequence there. That would have been truly excellent backed with a bit of pacy music. A missed opportunity.
In any case, I’m enjoying the soaps meander down a few false paths at the moment; after all, nothing can be consistently excellent but Corrie and EastEnders are certainly proving consistently entertaining, if not always for the right reasons.