When I sat down with various other excited press and the cast and crew of EastEnders to watch a special screening of this week’s astonishing episodes – which have seen Hunter Owen (Charlie Winter) die in a terrifying siege, Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden) and Callum Highway’s (Tony Clay) love come to the fore and Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer) and Lisa Fowler (Lucy Benjamin) return – I reflected on how far the show had come over the last couple of years.
The soap had had a lot of problems. Pacing was off, block storytelling was harming the show, storylines were not as engaging as they could have been and it was being trounced in awards and viewing figures by rival soaps Emmerdale and Coronation Street.
It takes a long time to undo the may issues and restore a titan of a show to its former glory and this was always going to be a gradual process, set in motion by John Yorke with the introduction of some new characters, some solid returns, a blockbuster Christmas for the Brannings that got everyone talking again and a move to more community based plotlines and character interactions.
Kate Oates and Jon Sen then took the torch and built on those laid blocks, adding more castings, exciting storylines and meating out the characters and relationships that are the heart of the show. For years, fans have called for a major stunt or a blockbuster week to put the show back on the map.
But without the characters where they should be, the build up, the tone fixed and everyone on the same wavelength, the aftermath of the spectacle would have just been back to basics again. A week like we have just watched – which was a classic EastEnders week of romance, high stakes, shocking cliffhangers, tension, great character mixtures, death, destruction and showdowns – is the pay off of years worth of work from a huge team.
And it has been worth it. Over the past few months, Kate and Jon have really worked on mixing characters up and giving others a new lease of life. Many a producer would have axed Stuart and Callum – one was a villain who seemingly had no redemption and another was treading water without much direction.
But Kate doesn’t come to a show and swing the axe. She looks at what she has got and how she can make it work. Callum and Stuart are prime examples of investing in characters and putting in the work to add some serious layers.
The Hunter arc could have easily have been put to bed with him in prison but suddenly, he was at the centre of a huge ensemble set piece. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the storylines come together and explode.
I ached for Whitney’s heartbreak while simultaneously yearning for Callum to discover who he is with Ben. I hated and pitied Hunter in equal measure and felt the sheer agony of Mel watching her son destroy himself before her eyes. I marvelled at the work that must have gone into having almost the entire cast in the same place, making it feel like a real EastEnders event. And I laughed until my gut hurt when the only person not to duck for cover was a stony faced Shirley Carter. Legend.
Every character had a role to play. Keegan’s fear at having to collect the phones, Jean telling Hunter what a stupid boy he was being, bex begging him to take her and not Louise – all of this combined really created an intense and diversely structured episode.
There were effects, shocks and tension but moreover, this launch into autumn showcased what EastEnders is fianlly getting bang on again. Character driven storylines leading into the excitement, interaction at its peak, solid writing, must see cliffhangers, a much faster pace and appointment to view television.
And at the heart of it all, Kate and Jon cleverly wove through a poignant and relatable theme through the situation. It was in your face in some moments with the blatant and heart breaking exchange between Mel and Hunter as she took the risk that he wouldn’t shoot her and, for a moment, he became a scared little boy rather than a monster.
Other times it was more subtle, like Sonia panicking over Bex putting herself in harm’s way. Mel questioning where she went so badly wrong with Hunter was simply devastating and Bianca was having similiar realisations herself when it came to how little she has been there for Tiffany.
Elsewhere, despite everything that has happened, Phil was forced to realise how much he loves his son Ben – it only took him taking a bullet to the lung for it to hit home. When he had a choice to make over which child to stay with, Phil left Louise with Lisa and stayed with Ben, panicking that he was going to lose his children.
It was a clever way of pulling so many stories together into the same situation and uniting the characters both with the same level of stakes and also with the same thoughts about their ability as parents and the damage they may have caused their own children.
And the beauty of the week is that it seals together all of the building work and foundations that the show needed – just in time for a cracking autumn, an unmissable Christmas and then the show’s 35th anniversary. And then we have a new set to enjoy.
There was a point when we feared EastEnders would have little to celebrate on its big birthday and some doom mongers even speculated that the show wouldn’t even live to see its new set. Of course that was never the case.
However, EastEnders is now firmly EastEnders as it should be. Yes there are many differences to the feel and tone of the repeats of Classic EastEnders but classic is classic for a reason. Instead of trying to replicate everything from the past, EastEnders now needs to look to the future and adapt while also holding on to the values that make the show what it is.
Those values are back and now it’s time for the massive storylines to keep rolling in. Something tells me that between now and February, there won’t be such a thing as a quiet week in Walford.
Source: Read Full Article