EastEnders: Why the soap is back to its best

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Is it cool to like EastEnders? It’s an argument I often find myself debating with friends. Soap operas on the whole aren’t exactly sexy.

Is it cool to like EastEnders? It’s an argument I often find myself debating with friends. Soap operas on the whole aren’t exactly sexy. There comes an age, usually when you hit puberty, when saying you watch Hollyoaks every evening at 6.30pm just isn’t acceptable as a conversation starter. 

If you’re not a farmer or over 85, then you’re not going to watch Emmerdale. As for Neighbours and Home & Away, well, are they even on anymore?

Which leaves the two juggernauts—the two divas of the soap world. In the red corner we have Coronation Street, a show which for fifty years has consisted of Gail Platt failing miserably to hold down a marriage for more than five minutes without her husband trying to kill her, and a few more fluffy story lines. Dwindling cast numbers – half of them appear to be in court currently – and the departure of fan favourite’s (we will always love you Hayley!) will no doubt leave viewers angry and unhappy—the less to be said about Corrie, the better.

Which leaves EastEnders sitting smugly in the blue corner—the BBC’s only “working class” programme (to my knowledge), Enders has provided us with a gritty, realistic portrayal of a poverty-stricken area of London for nearly 30 years. Or in reality, EastEnders screens four episodes a week, where the characters are predominantly white, the men drive a Mercedes and the majority of the residents in this luxury square are made up by four main families, living in houses which would sell for £700,000+ if put on the market.

Ridiculous story lines a turn off

I used to watch EastEnders religiously until about two years ago, when they killed off Fat Pat and wrote that ridiculous baby-swap storyline which made the front page of most of the nationals. EastEnders was the laughing-stock of the serial drama world. Two executive producers tried and failed to turn around its fortunes.

The cast was looking weak – there’s only so many generations of the Branning family you can introduce before you’re defying genetics – and the story lines were dire. Things needed changing at Elstree Studios.

Its thanks really to the current executive producer, Dominic Treadwell-Collins, that I’ve started watching again. He’s made a fantastic, almost immediate impact, changing the fortunes of the soap overnight. He’s introduced a fantastic new family – the Carter’s – led by the surprisingly charismatic Danny Dyer – aired poignant story lines on topics such as breast cancer and ‘coming out’, and axed a whole lot of dead wood. Yes Kirsty, take your little pride and botched lips somewhere else please.

So what does the future hold for EastEnders now? Well, it’s looking quite rosy. On stage, fans can look forward to the return of Stacey Slater this spring. This is a fantastic coup for Dominic—Lacey Turner is by far one of the best soap actresses to grace our screens this century. 

Off stage, a new set cements the future of the soap for decades to come. The new set will be 20 per cent bigger than the current one, and will allow for new locations and more complex filming. Sounds fancy.

They are just getting started 

I think there’s still a lot to be done though. As Dominic said in a recent interview with BBC News, EastEnders must “reflect the modern world” in order to remain relevant to society.

Soaps aren’t supposed to be realistic. I mean, come on, you’re a fool to think otherwise, but they’re supposed to be believable to some extent.

If EastEnders is to become more relevant, it needs to make a few changes. Introducing more ethnic minorities to the cast – half of London is made up of non British-born residents – would be a start. Get rid of the white man. A man of Phil Mitchell’s wealth and power should be overseeing the mafia in Chigwell, not still fixing motors in some dodgy east end street.

I would also like to see story lines focusing more on real-life issues. Yeah, teenage pregnancy and gang crime are an issue, but it’s been done to death and they feature the same stereotypical chav every time. I’d like to see Bianca queuing up at the job centre, or Lauren taking on an apprenticeship. Heaven forbid, let’s see Fatboy and Tamwar discussing politics over a cuppa in the Cafe.

Is the BBC worried that portraying real-life issues would somehow make them subjective and biased politically? Soaps shouldn’t ignore what’s happening in the outside world—if they want to be considered serious programmes, they need to take their audiences more seriously. I have faith that EastEnders will succeed, and look forward to tuning in to see how the new changes will play out.

EastEnders is cool. There, I said it. Now get outta my pub before I change my mind!

What do you think about the future of EastEnders? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Wikipedia