Thursday, 29 November 2007

What I don't watch part 1: Soaps

I've talked a lot in this blog about tv I love, like, loathe and l..l.. er, sorry the alliteration can end there as it's hard to find an L-word that fits tv that I feel nothing about. As Lisa Simpson would say, meh.

I feel meh about soaps. I simply do not watch any of them. They seem to consist entirely of ugly people in nasty houses shouting at each other. In close-up. Apart from Hollyoaks - replace 'ugly' with 'shiny, young, plastic'. And Neighbours / Home and Away - 'ugly' becomes Australian.

I love visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Liverpool. We eat, drink and have a fab old time. But my lovely, lovely sis-in-law will switch on C4 at 6.30pm for Hollyoaks. And then over to ITV1 for Emmerdale. Next it's Corrie and/or Eastenders, followed by Holby some days, The Bill others and those extra Corries they shove on to get extra viewers for 9pm shows on ITV1.

She's not unusual in doing this - the soaps get much bigger audience shares than other shows, usually 40% plus for the big two of Corrie and 'Enders. But that night of viewing... no, sorry, that daily pattern of viewing is something I can't get my head around.

It's not as if the soaps are badly made - they're expertly-crafted pieces of television, satisfying big, mainstream audiences day in, day out. The sheer volume of drama being produced is astonishing, and unlike the olden days it all looks quite nice and proper. The first ep of Brookside was on the other week as part of C4's anniversary celebrations, and boy did it look crap. One scene, with a fixed camera, lasted ten minutes. You couldn't see or hear anyone at the back of shot, and everything was badly-lit and/or beige. The pace was funereal but the writing crackled and there was a wit and an edge that made it totally unique at the time.

Soap acting is an art, they say. Hmmm. I'd say it's more a case of people playing a part similar to their own character. When they're doing it twelve hours a day six days a week, with no rehearsal and reams of lines, proper "what's my motivation in this scene?" acting isn't practical. The exceptions are the older character actors I suppose - Dot Cotton is frightfully well-spoken in real life. Or maybe her real-life voice is an act and the Dot one is real. I dunno.

People witter on that Dickens would be writing on a soap if he lived now, but I don't think so. I know from soap-writing friends it's a minefield working within the huge story and character arcs, the massive structures and strictures of soapdom, to create something good. Not to mention the "oh no you can't have Ian Beale in this episode, he's doing panto"-type availability of the sprawling cast.

But.. but.. but..

I've said all that and then I have to say the only time I see any of these shows is when visiting family. It's not 'cos I'm posh or snobbish or too busy with my faaaaaaaabulous meeeja life - I wish - it's because I simply couldn't give a monkey's arsecheek what happens to anyone in a soap.

Try and read a potted history of Ian Beale. It's hilarious. How many times has he gone mad/got married/divorced/gone bust/been held hostage? That's just stupid. And then there are the actors moving around from one to the other. I just think my Tivo has hopped channel halfway through a scene. "Didn't he die of Aids?", I said, pointing at Mark Fowler off of 'Enders (and Grange Hill) who was now in The Bill. Or was it Emmerdale? He was, of course, the second Mark Fowler. The original one died of drugs I think. In real life. Or Grange Hill? I dunno.

The only soap I've ever seen much of was Eastenders, which I watched when it first started. I remember the Den and Angie Xmas Miserathon that I watched alongside 30 million other Brits, and the occasional Dot/Ethel two-hander... if little else. It does these things occasionally now, but the pressure for ratings means it's not that often. And, to be frank, would you want to see any two of the younger muppet actors for 28 minutes straight. No thank you. I'd pay them to go away and not sit in the corner of my flat shouting at each other.

Dont get me wrong - I feel no superiority over anyone who chooses to watch the shouting-in-close-up shows. Hey, I watch things other people think are crap ( But at least the crap I kill my braincells with isn't on for five hours a day. Every day.*


*It is you know - Doctors, Neighbours, Home and Away, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale every day, Corrie, 'Enders, The Bill, Holby City, Casualty some days. Omnibuses. Repeats on other channels (The 'Enders rerun at 10pm is usually BBC Three's highest-rated show). New episodes of Hollyoaks and Home and Away on E4 or Five Life straight after the main channel ones.

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