18 November 2002
Here's a sure-fire plot for the next Jane Tennyson series: new producer of long-time top-rated BBC soap found murdered in her office. The Prime Suspect? Millions of (former) fans of EastEnders!
That's my current fantasy as regards Louise Berridge. The havoc she has been wreaking on EastEnders is sure to take its toll in viewership. What I find truly disturbing is the contempt she seems to feel for long-time followers of EE.
Internal consistency is a vital ingredient of long-running continuing dramas (as we call night-time soaps here in the US). I have sounded off many times about character driven vs. plot driven stories, but even more important is that storylines do not violate the "backstory" (as character history is known to writers). Louise Berridge seems to either have no interest whatsoever in the 17 year history of Albert Square, or else she doesn't believe that we, the viewers who keep this show on-air, care. She's making a terrible mistake.
So many little details have either been ignored or contradicted that it's almost becoming a game to list them. Just for example: Where's Terrence? Since Little Mo moved in with Billy, the dog seems to have vanished. Can Billy only have one pet at a time? And whatever happened to his beloved goldfish?
Aren't any of the Slater's even remotely curious as to how Zoe has funded her tropical sojourn? What did she use for plane fare? How's she paying a hotel bill? And why did she need to use an old publicity photo on a postcard? Speaking of that postcard, when she left Walford she was on the outs with her family; so why is she writing them & not Anthony, hmmm?
But when it comes to internal inconsistency, the winner hands down is Tom Banks. From the first scene Tom was in, it was obvious this was a hastily written, hastily cast character without much thought behind it. For example, if he grew up in Walford, why the Irish accent? If he really had been friends with Mark as a lad, why hasn't Pauline asked after his folks? And if he left the Square 20 years ago, how could he have seen Sharon's band "the Banned" perform in 1988? Or had a crush on her when she would have been 11 when he left?
The real howler of a plot twist though, is Tom Banks & his brain-tumor. As poorly written as this story is, the acting has turned it into a comedy. Last week we in the US were treated to the heart-to-heart between Anthony & Tom which was probably the worst written, most woodenly played scene I've ever been subjected to on EastEnders. Tom's attempts to lecture Anthony on the finer points of medicine were matched only by Nicholas Bailey's attempts to maintain a straight face throughout. Colm O' Maonlai's reading of the lines reminding me of a badly dubbed Japanese horror flick. Obviously the writers were told to educate we the ignorant public on brain tumors. The only surprise was that the BBC didn't add a "So you have a brain tumour" support link to it's website! I know the writers had to kill off Tom, & I'm grateful he's going to be joining Nathan in the dole line, but a brain tumor? C'mon! Why couldn't they have just had the fire without all the melodrama preceding it?
I fully understand that the EastEnders of 2002 cannot be identical to the EastEnders of the 1990's. I realize that Ms. Berridge has probably been instructed to make it fresh. But her recent forays into jump-cuts & voice-overs completely destroy the original intent of EE, which was to be a cinema verite, documentary-style drama of lower class London. Surely there are ways to keep the show modern without alienating long-time viewers?