A soap that remembers

Thanks to the super-informative We Love Soaps blog, I get to read updates from time to time on the British soap Eastenders.

I was a huge fan of Eastenders when it first launched. I loved its realistic settings and working-class characters, and the storylines were fabulous. One of the first stories involved Michelle, a teenaged girl who got pregnant. The show brilliantly played the father as a mystery, until it was revealed that town scoundrel “Dirty” Den – the father of Michelle’s best friend Sharon – was the dad.

When my local PBS station stopped carrying the show, I lost the plot and am ashamed to say I’ve never picked it back up, though I’ve always kept tabs on what’s happened. This show is one of the reasons that I think I really “get” what Guiding Light was trying to do with its new filming method and location shooting. (Unfortunately, GL’s story wasn’t as strong as the visuals when the new method launched.)

Anyway, I mention Eastenders because they always seem to be really smart about not focusing solely on new characters but bringing back old ones. As We Love Soaps noted, the show is bringing back Nick Cotton, a bad boy if there ever was one.

This is awesome on many levels.

(1) Nick did bad things and, like, actually PAID for his deeds ‘n stuff.  

Who knew this was possible? Had Nick done what he did in Walford Square in Port Charles instead, he would have been elected mayor, have a juicy twentysomething love interest, and be shown onscreen with small children and fluffy kitties.

(2) The show has been skillful about knowing when to feature the character, and when he needs to take a break.

(3) Two words: Dot Cotton. Any excuse to put Dot front and center is fine by me. Dot is THE template for the kind of character I’ve been talking about….the kind that adds color and texture to the canvas. The kind that acts as comic relief and, sometimes, the voice of the audience.

I once had an acquaintence who walked into a friend’s apartment and gave my friend a series of backhanded compliments. “Those curtains are so nice! Too bad they’re not longer.” “That’s a nice cat! There’s too much litter in his cat litter box, though.” That’s the kind of irritating character Dot can be. She’s everyone’s grumpy aunt or grandmother, with a perpetually lit cigarette and a complaint at the ready.

(4) The show actually respects AND draws from its history, rather than considering it some sort of vile albatross to be at best dismissed and at worst violated completely.

We don’t have many of these quirky, colorful characters on American soaps. Many of our veteran actors have been put out to pasture. We have several sixtysomething actresses (Susan Lucci and Deidre Hall among them) who are still written for as if they are thirty. Most of our villians are so extreme that they either die or go through the most unrealistic reformations to stay on canvas.

I love that Eastenders is playing a story with two characters who are so totally, completely imperfect. Here’s hoping Nick’s return to the Square is an eventful one.

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5 thoughts on “A soap that remembers

  1. I am so excited that Nick is coming back-okay, I won’t be able to see the whole episodes until 2015 (thanks, slow PBS station!) but this is still exciting.

    I adore Dot. What makes it more exciting is that Nick is bringing his little girl with him. Her name? Dotty. Another Dot!!

  2. Have I told you lately that I love you?? I’ve just recently started watching Eastenders (online) and LOVE IT! I watch 5 US soaps, but Eastenders is my favorite soap right now.

    Not only do I love the characters on Eastenders, but there’s actually balance to this show, they do a great job at rotating stories/characters. There’s brilliant plot twists, believable teen characters that are relevant and connected to the adults, good acting all around, great mix of drama and comedy, it’s realistic (at least compared to US soaps, lol), and as you pointed out there are consequences (EE’s Jase is an example, unlike GH’s “mob hero” Jason, enforcer Jase was killed because of his involvement with the mob.)

    Sorry to go on, but I haven’t been this excited about a show in a long time 🙂 I’m not familiar with Nick Cotton, but I look forward to watching him when he returns!

    Thanks for another great blog!!

  3. I became a Eastenders fan over the summer, and I have to agree this is one of the best shows on, period, I enjoy the writing, the acting everything about it and I do agree that this is the way Guiding Light ‘should have gone’, the problem is Guiding Light didn’t have a strong ‘team’ behind the scenes, the team just kinda has a job where they write for a show while secretly penning primetime pilots and hoping they will be picked up.

    With a little work Springfield could be the US Version of Walford, but unfortunately the light might be turned off before someone who cares is able to come in and save it.

    I don’t know if i am allowed to link to it, but Eastenders is online for viewing, and its how i watch the show. I would try and pick it up again if I was you, because you won’t be disappointed.

  4. Like Jennifer, I too follow EastEnders via the two episodes doled out each week by my PBS station. (Four on EastEnders night during the Spring beg-a-thon–I mean Festival. I actually worked an Eastenders night once–you would not believe the spread they have. It was incredible. I don’t care what they say, half of every dollar you pledge goes directly to feeding the people answering the phones.)

    Anyway, I continue to enjoy my episodes from 2002, and wonder: Will Janine ever turn from her life of prostitution? How long will Trevor continue to menace Walford? And will we ever see Grant again?

    P.S. I’ve figured out your big reveal–there is no Patrick Erwin. He’s just another alias for Alina Adams.

    What gave it away, Snark – my ice skates?

    Joking. I’m not Alina. (My goatee is much bigger!)

    For any readers who are unfamiliar with that name, Alina’s worked with P&G/Telenext for several years. She wrote or co-wrote many of the books you’ve seen related to ATWT and GL, like “Oakdale Confidential,” “Jonathan’s Story” and the upcoming ATWT book about Henry.

    If memory serves me right, she also has some connection to the official PGP Classic Soaps website and/or the PGP/Telenext comment board.

  5. I loved Eastenders! So girtty, so real, so addictive.

    Got hooked on it back in the mid 80s while living in London. Was delighted when PBS picked it up for American broadcasts. But somewhere fell out of the habit of watching — so many things on tape, so little tiime!

    Dirty Den and Anita were my favorites. Leslie Granahan was so good as as the nefarious, self-loathign Den.

    And Dot Cotton was always such a hoot. Sort of like the British version on Aunt Liz with all her opinions and backhanded comments. June Brown managed to play her so effortlessly, I often forgot that I was watching a scripted drama.

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