Wednesday, 18 February 2015

TV Soap: Eastenders

This week is the 30th anniversary of this British soap opera, which has been broadcast since February 19th 1985. To commemorate the occasion there will be three live episodes shown from the 17th till the 19th, and the anniversary episode will finally answer the question, "Who killed Lucy Beale?" Does that sound familiar to long time soap watchers? In this case it's been dragged on for a long time, because her body was found in April last year. The only clues are the fake clues that the soap has been throwing at us for the last 10 months to keep us guessing.

The 50th anniversary episode of "Coronation Street" was also a live episode. I don't understand the reason for live episodes. Considering the fact that the production quality of the episodes is usually flawless, the danger is great that there will be a slip up on the night. After all, very few of the cast have experience as stage actors, so there's a great danger that they will fluff their lines. Or the cameraman might cough off screen. By this time next week there will probably be websites publishing lists of bloopers, or what people consider to be bloopers. Apart from this, there's a more practical problem. Eastenders episodes are filmed three to four weeks in advance, so these three episodes are being made out of sequence. What I mean is, last week they were filming March episodes, this week they're performing February episodes, and next week they'll be filming March episodes again. For the last few weeks they've been filming episodes that take place after the big revelations of this week, even though the answer is so secret that very few of the cast have been informed. That must be a big logistics problem for the soap's producers. Maybe this is explained in one of the documentaries that's running all week. I haven't watched them, and I don't intend to watch them, so if you're an Eastenders fan and know the answer, please leave me a comment.

The pub where the locals drink.

For those who don't know much about "Eastenders", mostly people who don't live in Britain, it's Britain's most popular soap opera. It began in 1985 as BBC's answer to "Coronation Street", shown on the rival television channel ITV. It takes place in the fictional London borough of Walford. Originally it was shown twice a week, but this crept up to three times (1994) and finally four times (2001). There is frequently a fifth episode on special occasions. Unlike "Coronation Street", which portrays a drab northern culture, "Eastenders" gained attention from the beginning by including plot lines with organised crime. After all, the East End of London is known for its gangsters.

Although I first heard about "Eastenders" much earlier, I don't believe that I watched any episodes until the late 1990's. Just a few sporadic episodes out of nostalgia for England, because I lived in America at the time. In 2000 I returned to England, and I spent 17 months in hospital. During this time I had little to do but watch television, and I probably watched every episode of "Eastenders". I watched the other soaps as well ("Coronation Street", "Emmerdale", "Brookside", "Home and Away" and "Hollyoaks"), but I enjoyed "Eastenders" most, because of the better acting and production qualities than in the other soaps. It amused me that although the soaps were shown on different channels the broadcast times were synchronised so as not to clash with one another, and it was possible to watch two hours of soaps non-stop every weekday evening. That was too much for me. After checking them all out I stuck with "Eastenders" on a regular basis and only watched the others sporadically.

After returning home I continued to watch "Eastenders". I probably saw almost all the episodes until 2005. After that it finally grew boring, so I only watched the wedding episodes. It's a well-known fact that all Eastenders weddings go badly, so I watched them just to see what the next tragedy would be. Sometimes a fight broke out in church. Sometimes it was revealed five minutes before the wedding that the priest had slept with the bride the night before. On one occasion there was an argument and the bride fell to her death 15 minutes after the wedding. Something bad always happens. I'm surprised that the residents of Walford haven't yet learnt that it's better to remain single.

For me it's difficult to find the energy to watch a soap like "Eastenders" on a long time basis. There are too many dramas and real life tragedies going on. What happens is realistic, in my opinion. The problem is the frequency of the dramas. What I mean is, if you were to chronicle your life you'd see that most of the year is boring, and maybe once a year there's a big occurrence like a car accident or a new love affair. Or much less often. Sometimes five years pass without anything noteworthy happening. But in "Eastenders" (and all the other soaps) there are big life crises happening every week. It has to be like that to keep the viewers interested, but if all those things were happening in my own life I'd be stressed out.

Melissa Suffield as Lucy Beale.

So who killed Lucy Beale? My money is on Max Branning, one of her ex-lovers. I say that for no other reason than he's a creepy character who deserves to be kicked off the show. But anything is possible. You'll have to watch the show to find out.

It's a shame that Lucy is gone now. She was a pretty girl. She was played by four different actresses after her birth in 1993. From 1993 to 1996 (as a baby) by Eva Brittin-Snell, from 1996 to 2004 (as a young child) by Casey Rothery, from 2004 to 2010 (as a teenager) by Melissa Suffield, from 2012 to 2015 (as a young woman) by Hetti Bywater.

Hetti Bywater as Lucy Beale.

Who knows, maybe I'll be so fascinated by watching the episodes this week that I'll become a regular viewer again. Maybe. Let's see.

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