29 June 2002
If you have read any of the previous Postcard's archived here on the Walford Web, you may have noticed a prevalent theme that runs thru them; to whit, "current EastEnders episodes are inferior to those in the past".
This isn't an "everything looks better in hindsight" opinion. Luckily I happen to live in a city whose PBS station chooses to televise EastEnders weekly, & because they only show 2 episodes per week, they are a little behind what you in the UK see. 4 years behind in fact. So, every week that I sit down to write these Postcards, I have episodes from both 1998 & 2002 in my recent memory. It is the constant comparisons between what is going on in Walford circa 1998 (Phil & Kathy's divorce, Tiff & Grant's turbulent marriage, Terry Raymond & the diMarco's recent arrival, Ian running for a council seat) & the current stories that led me to a startling revelation:
It all went pear-shaped the moment Ross Kemp (Grant Mitchell) walked away from the Square.
Obviously, I'm aware Grant was not an original EastEnder, but from the moment he & Phil arrived in town, there was a sense of excitement to the show. The very first episodes I ever watched were during the early days of the Sharon/Grant romance & I can clearly remember the conflicting feelings stirred up whenever Grant was onscreen. Of course I hated the way he treated Sharon, of course his loutish behavior angered me, yet…yet…I was never ever bored by his storylines. As the years went on, it was always easier to like Phil but when both Ross Kemp & Steve McFadden shared a scene, it was always Ross who captured this viewers' attention. Somehow, Ross Kemp always communicated a feeling of pent-up anger that could explode at any moment; surely someone so tightly wound must be audibly ticking!
Despite the producer's attempts to keep Phil Mitchell in the fore since losing his brother, the excitement is gone. Without Grant's temper & impulsive behavior, Phil no longer seems like a relatively reasonable guy, a thug with a heart of gold. Now he simply seems selfish & immature. Phil's character was never about creating action, but about being the moderating influence on the action. Without Grant's spark, Phil seems to be treading water.
A very good current example is in his relationship with Sharon. Despite the writers & producers attempts, Tom Banks is simply not a romantic rival to believe in. A kiss & a cuddle maybe, but when the chips were down, who would you really want at your side, Tom or Phil? Back when Grant was with Sharon was another story entirely. We could certainly see why Sharon would be attracted to Phil's seeming gentleness after Grant's rough handling, yet Grant's ability to be vulnerable combined with his protective nature made the choice not quite so cut-and-dried after all!
As I've mentioned previously, a continuing drama such as EastEnders is a complex stew in which the actors influence the writers, & personal chemistry can make or break a plot. Who can say how Ross Kemp's presence acted upon the ideas discussed at story meetings? It's possible that explosive tension became reflected in other plots such as Terry & Irene's. All I know is that when I watch the 1998 shows, I am riveted. When I watch the current episodes, I am doodling on a notepad. And it all changed when Grant & Courtney waved "bye bye" at the airport.