6 March 2002
Friendships. A universal subject. Something everyone can relate to. We've all had friends, right? So why is it the current crop of writers on EastEnders can't seem to depict a realistic one?
This subject came to mind last week as I was watching the episodes from late 1997 that were being shown on PBS. It's Christmas in that storyline, & Grant beat Tiffany for the first time on Christmas night. Tiffany responded, as always, by taking refuge at Bianca's. Watching the relationship between Tiffany & Bianca brought home vividly to me how badly the "friendship" between Lisa Shaw & Melanie Healy has been depicted since the start of their run on the show.
Up until recently, friendships & "best mates" on EE were written as realistically as other aspects of the show. When I think back to Michelle & Sharon, sometimes jealous or bitchy to each other, but always there when the chips were down or Sanjay's dismay over discovering Mark had hid the fact he was HIV positive from him, yet standing staunchly at his side while Peggy hurled abuse, then I see the sort of friendships that I am familiar with from "real life". People may not always approve of what their mates do, sometimes you get angry with each other, but when you come right down to it, you are still friends & there for each other. That's what a friendship is.
Over the past two years or so that isn't true anymore, as far as EE is concerned. Lisa & Mel are supposed to be "best mates". That's what they tell themselves, each other & the world. But as the old cliché would have it, "actions speak louder than words", and Lisa & Mel's actions deny any sort of friendship between them. For instance, there appears to be no trust between them. Why should there be? Mel slept with Lisa's bloke, while Lisa repeatedly betrays & endangers Mel by her big mouth. Neither tells the other the truth except when pushed into it. When they spend time together, it is usually to criticize the other's choice of men. They don't appear to have anything in common, whether it is background, education, ambitions or values. Except as a plot device for the writers, there is simply no reason to consider these two characters friends.
There seems to be a general lack of friendship on the Square these days. We are told Beppe & Steve are friends. Really? They seem more like friendly acquaintances to me. Mark used to have a very close ally in Steve Elliott, & Sanjay Kapoor was a mate to him as well. These days the best he can do is the lukewarm companionship of Gary Hobbs. Pat & Kathy used to almost inseparable. The closest thing to female bonding Pat has these days is Peggy, & there are too many bad feelings between them to allow true closeness there. If the best the writers can come up with is the teen running buddies Asif & Martin, then the relationships in Walford really seem to be suffering from neglect.
The strength of EastEnders (in my eyes) was its depiction of real people, living real, unremarkable lives. Having a pint, paying the rent, worrying about losing their job, that sort of thing. The loss of true friendships is simply a symptom of a larger problem on the show these days: it is losing its focus on the common man. Until the storylines return to daily life it will continue floundering. Maybe a return to only 3 episodes a week will do the trick; what do you think?