Corrie Street 14 Jan. 2018

Team Acts

Carla and Roy. Roy and Brian. Carla, Roy and Brian. Maybe add Cathy to any or all of these team acts. Friday, all four were in Roy’s kitchen. It was the moving of Brian out and Carla in.brian-proposes-toast-to-roy team acts

All week Roy and Brian were dithering, each wanting to tell the other that it was time for Brian to move on. Brian wants to move, with Cathy, into the flat that he evidently still owns. Roy wants Carla carla with cup of teato move in with him, platonically of course, so that he can take care of her. But neither Roy nor Brian knew how to bring the topic up to the other. Both assumed that the other wanted their arrangement to continue.

Finally, it got sorted. But it took a lot of scenes between the various duos before that happened. I enjoyed every one of them.

Carla and Roy – characters and actors – are so comfortable with each other. Theirs is an odd friendship but I believe it. It came out of Carla’s friendship with Hayley – also odd but believable. After her death, Carla and Roy came to rely on each other a lot and their friendship has matured into deep and comfortable affection for each other.brian-grabs-council-coaster

Brian and Roy? Can’t really say Roy likes Brian but he tolerates him, maybe is amused by him. Certainly, I think he recognizes Brian as another odd duck and maybe makes allowances for him. Brian has intellectual curiousity so I think Roy would find conversation with him to be enjoyable. When he isn’t being irritating, of course. And they – characters and actors – are comfortable with each other.cathy-roy-carla team acts

Carla and Brian don’t have a lot of history, but they share familiarity with Roy and his apartment. So maybe the three of them will hang out now. And Cathy. While she doesn’t have a lot of history with Carla, she fits well with the two men. So maybe with Carla too. Based on the scenes with all four this week, I’m looking forward to their continued team acts.

Corrie the Soap

When did Corrie become a soap opera? Here I mean that in the derogatory sense of the phrase, denoting melodramatic, formulaic and often illogical storytelling. About four months ago. That’s when Coronation Street went to six episodes per week.Media-City Footbridge July_2016 Ardfern-wikicommons

Corrie Changes

Maybe it’s coincidence. There have been a lot of changes at the Coronation Street production site in the past year or two. The actual site itself moved and expanded. They are working on further expansion of the set. Actors have come and gone. A new producer, Kate Oates, took over in August 2016.

But only that last one, a new producer, is something that can cause changes that are apparent on the screen. With good producers, historically, changes are seamless. Watching the show, you shouldn’t be able to tell right off the bat that a new person is in charge. That seemed to be Kate Oates’ style. She kept the Corrie tradition going while also doing some spectacularly dramatic stories.

Six episodes per week

pat-after-he-shot-andyThen we added the sixth episode. Storylines began to be very gloomy and dark. Some, like Phelan’s move into murder, were spell-binding and truly horrifying. But others were just horrifying in their petty nastiness. A change in volume, even, people yelling at each other seemingly all the time.

Oh, the humour was there. Dropped in like a brick once in a while, apropos of nothing, amid the snarling and weeping. The necessary flow and balance of mood was not there.

Things will sort themselves out, I tried to convince myself. Accept the stories as what they are, and assume there is a good reason that will become clear down the road.

Soap Clichés

gary-on-phoneBut I started noticing something else: soap clichés. Too many private conversations overheard by someone lurking nearby. Actions that make no sense for a character until you see the result. Aha, they needed to get to B from A and that stupid move provided soap lurking seb-appears-after-eavesdroppingthe most direct route. Characters jumping to conclusions out of nowhere. Oh, we needed a misunderstanding so that x and y could happen. Or we needed something mentioned so that a character could return or be introduced.

Script clunkers, contrived situations. These are not uncommon in soap operas. Also not uncommon in movies, television series and novels. They are more excusable in soaps. American soap opera production people say that they create the equivalent of two movies a week. Five hours of screen time, year around.

Writing and producing this amount of material so quickly also has to take into account real life circumstances of actors. Illness, decisions to quit, being fired, even death – expected and unexpected events crop up and must be dealt with somehow in the story. The show will go on regardless. It is a testament to the skill of actors, writers and production staff that American soaps are as good as they are.

Therefore, the writing and production method is a kind of machine. It’s a system that continues to produce regardless of the specific individuals involved at any one time. That machine keeps the identity of the show, its look and feel, consistent over decades.

The Character of Corrie

Coronation Street is a soap opera in its production and storyline. Multiple episodes per week, year around, with no end foreseen. Stories focussed on personal relationships and emotion.

Granada_TV_studios_Coronat_geograph.org_.uk-1999-wikicommonsBut Coronation Street has never really looked like a soap, at least not the American kind. That’s due both to its production schedule and its ethos.

In its stories, Coronation Street has more comedy and more characters with whom the average viewer could identity. Less dreams coming true, more chuckling through the bad times.

In production, attention to details. History of the show, its people and places, is remembered. And characterization stays true. Characters don’t have to stay static, but changes in behaviour occur in such a way that makes sense to viewers.

There is the time to take that care. Writers have time to say ‘hmm, maybe there’s a better way to do that.’ More rehearsal time, more time for retakes. Coronation Street‘s air time is half that of American soaps. So there’s that bit of time to reflect, to redo.

Speeding up

Adding another half-hour of air time exponentially increases the preparation time. Maybe there has to be more reliance on the formulaic part of the writing machine. The process must speed up. I haven’t noticed glitches in acting. I assume that’s due to the expertise of the actors and directors and long, long hours of rehearsal and taping. The clumsy bits I’ve seen are in the plotting of stories, that creative imagination where time for reflection and rewrites is so necessary.Granada_Studio_Tours_Manchester_2011-Mikey-wikicommons

Maybe it will get better? Coronation Street has faced this challenge before, and risen to it. They went from two to three, then four, then five episodes a week. Each time, there were complaints and fears. The quality couldn’t be maintained. But it was. If there was a period of not-so-great adjustment, I don’t remember it. And I’ve been with the show since it was two episodes per week. I don’t remember feeling like I do with this change to six.

Time to take a break?

Just fitting that extra episode into my Corrie routine has made watching feel like work. So that plus dissatisfaction with the stories? Maybe time to take a break. Remove Coronation Street from my pvr record settings. That’s a big decision after having lived with a show for so long, gone through highs and lows with it. But when you’re Coronation_Street_Sign-Andrea_44-flickr-wikimediawatching and thinking you’d rather be cleaning out a closet?

Since the new year, in Canadian air time, it’s been a bit better. Still some cringe-worthy moments. But I’m not looking at the clock every couple of moments, wondering how much longer I have to endure.

Corrie Street 7 Jan. 2018

Let it bleed

peter-holds-cloth-on-legPeter presses down on Billy’s leg wound to stop the bleeding. Then he takes away his hands. He lets it bleed. Billy has been telling him a story, a confession. He has told him that he was responsible for Peter’s sister’s death.

Peter is driving Billy home from court. Billy got off with a warning for attacking Peter. Outside the courthouse, a young guy got mouthy with them and pushed Billy into the side of a car. Billy winced in pain. Turns out the four leaf clover Summer had made for him wasn’t so lucky. Its rough edges pierced his leg. Hit an artery.peter-listens-to-billy

Peter calls for an ambulance and keeps compression on the wound. Billy is losing consciousness. Talk to me, Peter says. So he does and, thinking he’s dying, he confesses.

Peter’s face changes, as he hears Billy’s words. He focusses on the leg-wound-let it bleedstory instead of just wanting to hear the voice to know that Billy is still conscious. When what Billy is saying sinks in, he lifts his hands. Peter sees the blood pour out of Billy’s leg. He seems to decide, ok, let it bleed. Let him bleed to death right here. Justice served.

Then he hears the siren nearing. He puts his hands back on the peter-looks-back-at-legwound, increasing pressure again. Is it because he realizes he can’t just sit and watch a man die? Or is it because he doesn’t want to explain to the paramedics that he did nothing to help a bleeding man? We don’t know and that’s the beauty of this scene.

That was Wednesday, first episode. Corrie is back on track! Understated, powerful, a whole story told in a gesture.peter-puts-compression-on-leg

Three episodes later, high drama took over. Atop a very high cliff, Peter teases Billy with death. Billy is in the trunk of Peter’s cab, Peter says he’s going to put the car in reverse and rev the engine. Is Billy ready to die?

peter-reaches-for-billyInstead he puts the car in first gear. It shoots forward. Peter hauls Billy out of the trunk and unties him. Cliff-edge confrontation: ‘how did it feel?’ Then Billy falls over the cliff, hangs on the edge, Peter tries to pull him up, can’t. Billy plunges way, way down. No one could survive that fall.

But Billy does. “A miracle,” a rescuer tells Ken. It reminded me of what Michael Zaslow said about the return of himself and his character to the American soap Guiding Light: “They said, ‘But he fell off a cliff!’ Eventually, they viewed the tape and decided that he bounced.” (Soap Opera Digest 4 Jul 1995:51)billy-falls-off-cliff

Zaslow’s tongue-in-cheek recount of his return to the show after a decade away recognizes the absurdity sometimes needed in soap writing. But Billy’s “miracle” happened within a couple of episodes.

We can see what the writers needed to happen. Peter had to believe that he had killed Billy so the whole Barlow family could get involved in the revelations and cover-ups. And Billy needed to survive so that peter-turns-away-from-cliffthe whole Barlow family could get involved in the revelations and cover-ups. But surely there had to be another way! More time at the writing table might have got around a credibility gap as huge as that cliff.

Tamale Pie

tamale pie with saladWith salad or garlic bread on the side, tamale pie makes a perfect winter’s night meal. It’s a Tex-Mex type of shepherd’s pie or baked polenta with tomato sauce. My husband uses his mother’s recipe, but has adapted it.

Jim’s Tamale Pie Recipe

“Basically, you make taco filling and put corn meal on top.”

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1-2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp chili powder
dash cayenne
2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes (whole or diced)
1 1/2 cups corn (frozen, or 1 14 oz. can)
1 cup black olives

1 cup yellow corn meal
1 tsp salt

1 cup grated cheese (Monterey Jack or cheddar)

Directions

Sauté garlic, onion, celery, peppers and ground beef in a frying pan. Cook until meat is lightly browned. Add seasonings, tomatoes, corn and olives. Simmer 15 minutes. Oil a deep casserole dish and transfer mixture to it. (Or, if your casserole dish is stove top safe, use it for the frying as well.)

Mix corn meal with 1 cup cold water. Put 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to boil. Add salt and cornmeal mixture. Cook and tamale piestir until thickened. Reduce heat, cover pan and cook over low heat for 10 mins. Stir occasionally.

Pour over meat mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake in 350°F oven about an hour. Serves 4 or 5.

Marji’s recipe

tamale-pie-recipe card 2I don’t know who this recipe card originally came from. It is not in Marji’s handwriting. I think she likely adapted it much the way he has. Cut down the salt, increase the ‘heat’ with jalapeños and eliminate the fat. However, Jim says that bacon fat would make it more flavourful. You can click the images for a larger view.