Saturday, 21 February 2015

TV Soap: Eastenders (30th Anniversary Part 4)

I didn't intend to write any more about the Eastenders anniversary after yesterday's post, but after seeing the Friday episode I thought it would be fair to add a few comments. It was broadcast the day after the actual anniversary, but all the episodes this week (with the exception of the flashback episode) take place on the same virtual day. After Thursday's bloated episode and the disappointing flashback cop-out, I have to say that Friday's episode was the best of the week. It presented a satisfying resolution to the whole Who-Killed-Lucy-Beale storyline.

The Friday episode continued directly from the cliffhanger on Thursday. We, the viewers, already knew who the killer was. But there were twists to come. First of all, Jane confesses to having killed Lucy. At first Ian believes her, but then he asks for details about how she did it, and Jane's story is so unconvincing that he realises she's covering up for somebody. So Jane tells the truth about the events of the evening. Bobby didn't realise that Lucy was dead, he just thought she was unconscious. Jane recognised she was dead straight away, but didn't want to tell Bobby what he had done. So she said she was taking Lucy to hospital, but she actually loaded her body in the back of the car, then dumped her in the park, where she wasn't found until the next morning.

At the end of the conversation, Ian and Jane swear that they will never tell Bobby what he's done, because it would ruin his life. But there's one thing that is 100% certain in soap operas: secrets never stay hidden. One day it will come out. One day a scriptwriter will need an interesting story, whether it's five, ten or twenty years from now.

But for now, it's back to business as usual in Walford. There might be brief mentions of Lucy's death next week, but the subject will soon be forgotten. There are more important murders to talk about. Dot Branning has finally confessed to murdering her son, while Mick Carter has accidentally killed Dean Wicks in self-defence, but has decided to hide the body because he doesn't expect the police to believe him.

I have a few final thoughts about what a "soap" or "soap opera" is. I realise my definition may exclude some popular programs that people consider to be soaps, but I'll stick to my definition.

A soap opera is a radio or television drama that runs non-stop, i.e. for 52 weeks a year. In most cases there is more than one episode a week. Several plot-lines run in parallel, and there is never a "season finale" in which all the loose ends are tied up. One plot-line might come to an end, but others are still running.

The above paragraph is what is quintessential to soaps, but there are other typical characteristics. A television soap opera usually takes place within a small environment, with the same set used every week. Relationships are in a constant state of flux, i.e. people who dislike each other this year might be best friends next year. The regular cast of a soap opera is large in comparison with conventional dramas, but it's unusual to see them all in one episode. Someone who's a minor character this month might have a big story next month, then fade into the background again.

Usually soap operas are very down to Earth, they're stories that the viewers can relate to. Exceptions are supernatural soaps (like "Dark Shadows") and sci-fi soaps (like "The Tribe"). But even soaps like these focus on familiar things like family strife and extra-marital affairs. In fact, people in soaps are rarely happy. Whenever something good happens we know that a disaster is waiting round the corner.

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