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.