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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 1 Jan. 2017

The Dictaphone

What about what Roy said on the dictaphone? He and Cathy are about to say their wedding vows. She hardly looked like a carefree bride on the happiest day of her life as she walked down the aisle. But that can be ascribed to nervousness. If you didn’t witness what we, the viewers, did in the parking lot.roy watches cathy walk down aisle

Cathy pulled out her dictaphone to go over her vows one more time. She heard what else had recorded on it. Roy telling Brian and Tyrone that he may not want to marry Cathy, but he had given her his word so he would do so.

What do you do then? There is no time to think it over or talk to Roy about what he says or how he feels. The minister, guests and groom are inside, awaiting the bride. Cathy can’t really call a ‘time-out.’cathy interrupts minister as vows begin

She walks past all the smiling faces to the altar. Then as the minister begins, she tells Roy and all what she heard on the tape. She asks the minister to get rid of everybody so she and Roy can talk.

cathy tells roy what she heard on the dictaphoneTheirs is not the first Weatherfield wedding to come to a screeching halt at the altar. The ministers likely pull out their evacuation and containment plans every time they get a booking from someone resident on or near Coronation Street.

Cathy and Roy’s abrupt end to the scheduled ceremony was certainly more civil than others have been. Compare it to Peter giving Leanne divorce papers at the altar during the reaffirmation of their vows. Or, roy and guests are astoundedmore recently, Nick going through with his marriage to Carla, only to call an end to it during the reception. The prize for the best ever altar fight still has to be Karen and Steve McDonald’s second wedding.

Compared to those, Cathy and Roy’s cancelled wedding was the model of decorum. Cathy stated the facts of Roy’s feelings as she had heard them on the dictaphone. She also got her digs in at Tyrone and Brian (“Usain Bolt, there”), the two who forced the questioning of the marriage.roy and cathy look around church

Roy did not disagree with her. After the people had been cleared out, he and Cathy sat in a pew and discussed what had happened, what hadn’t happened and what they would do next. All very civilized. We’ll see what happens next.

roy and cathy sit in silenceFor me, I hope they try again. Cathy is not Hayley, and her relationship with Roy is not the same. But that doesn’t mean it is not equally valid and good for both of them. Will Roy see that?

Corrie Street 25 Dec. 2016

Mary’s son Jude

St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes. And of hope. Mary has a son named Jude. “A nurse called Maureen Nuttall found him on the steps his wife was back homeof St. Jude’s.” The nurse named the foundling after the hospital.

When Mary was 14, she was raped by a family friend, a member of the clergy. She babysat his and his wife’s children, and when driving her home one night he forced himself on her. During her pregnancy Mother hid her in the house, telling people that Mary was visiting an auntie. Mother, presumably, then left the newborn on the hospital steps.

I started getting biggerSitting amid the boxes and tissue paper behind the counter at Preston’s Petals, Mary tells Norris this part of her life. She has told no one before. But finding a lump in her breast made her think of her own mortality. It made her think of her family, especially the son she had seen only one time.

Mary has been trying to find the nurse Maureen Nuttall. Hers is the only full name, and the only link, she has to the child.

Norris asks about her motherThe baby Jude was born 32 years ago, so 1984. At that time, there was no longer such a stigma attached to teenage motherhood and having a baby outside marriage. Hiding pregnant girls, sending them to relatives far away or to Homes for Unwed Mothers had pretty much stopped.

Mary’s story would have been the norm a few decades earlier. But then Mary herself seems from a different era. It is not surprising, then, that her mother too would be.

The story of Jude feels almost Victorian in its cast of characters and she told people I had gone to stay with my auntits evil. A clergyman, trusted member of society and family friend. A mother who feels only the shame that her daughter has brought to their home. So much so that she does not even ask how her teenage daughter feels about being raped, being pregnant, or having her baby disappear. And the child, wrapped in warm blankets and left outside a hospital. Someone will find him quickly there, and care for him. The choice made for relatively compassionate and guilt-free abandonment.

Jude such a lovely nameEven the name of the hospital, St. Jude’s. The saint to whom you pray when you’re hoping for the impossible. When you need a miracle.

Corrie Street 18 Dec. 2016

Pot Shards

tomato garden story joyreactor.com
Haven’t seen it? Click for larger view.

I didn’t see it coming, although I should have. It has passed through my Facebook newsfeed enough times. How to get the police to dig a garden for you, or chop your firewood.

When Tim spots the pottery urns that Tyrone and Freddie have salvaged, he has an idea. They are props from a local production of Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata. Tim offers to buy one of the pots. Freddie breaks it so Tim gets it for 50 pence. Good deal for him, he wanted it broken anyway.

Sally has dreamed up a new project for Tim. He’d like a garden allotment, she has decided. She tells him he will enjoy it. Next year, she tells him, they both will enjoy picnics there with salads dug straight from the garden. He looks thrilled.

So he puts the pottery shards in the garden soil. I thought he was going to try to convince Sally that their allotment was the site of an ancient ruin, and therefore could not be dug up for vegetables. Sally might well for fall it, but it would be very cruel. She is, after all, a city councillor.Tim comes back to see garden fully dug

But Tim’s plan was simpler and less cruel, at least toward Sally. A call to the Weatherfield Amateur Archeologists Society. And presto! On Wednesday, a small army diligently dig up the entire garden plot.amateur archeologists file past Tim to leave

The guy who was heading up the dig didn’t look too pleased when nothing of consequence was found. But perhaps he has learned a valuable lesson: check the “find” before wasting your time. Either the prop person at the theatre is extremely good at his or her job, or these archeology enthusiasts have not yet even reached amateur status.dig leader realizes pot shards were a scam

I am glad the writers thought to throw the word “amateur” in, though. The scene might still have been funny, but it would have been way over the top unbelievable otherwise. Also very funny to see another version of the garden-digging or wood-chopping joke.Tim smiles at his fully dug up garden plot

Corrie Street 11 Dec. 2016

Tombola

mother was locked in the church hallI had to look it up. A tombola is “a lottery in which tickets are drawn from a revolving drum.” In the case of Mary’s mother at the Scout Jamboree, it was food items in the drum rather than raffle tickets. Lucky for her. Tinned pilchards kept her alive when she was trapped overnight under the tombola.

what does that have to do with pilchardsNorris is wrong to cut Mary off in her storytelling. That was one of her best ones ever. Mother blindly reaching up into the drum, rooting around for a tin, then opening it with her teeth. It’s an image that will stay with me for a long time.

she would reach up into the tombolaA lovely scene, indeed a laugh out loud one. Brian, Norris, Rita and Mary all sat in the Rovers, talking about essentially nothing. What they can do with nothing!

Then they were joined by Ken. A good way to reintroduce him to the community of the street. Old friends. And, for him, a good way to get peter tells ken rovers is better than being homeaway from his lunatic family. It was nice, later, to see what Peter had done and to see Ken acknowledge it. Peter had used Ken’s absence to sort out his siblings about their incessant bickering and find alternate housing for the two new ones. So Adam and Daniel will be roomies in Dev’s flat over the shop. That gets the house back to normal, with only Ken, Tracy and Peter there and makes room for Amy again.

The Front Room

We got an explanation this week of how so many people can get norris leaves table for barsquashed into small houses. The front room. I’d forgotten about it. Ground floor, front of house – sometimes also called the parlour. We saw it in the Barlow house. It was Blanche’s room. When Kevin and Sally lived at No. 13, we occasionally saw the front room when someone wanted more privacy than the kitchen gave.

I can’t think of ever having seen the front room at Eileen’s house. But according to Norris, that is where Sean slept. I’m sure I remember mary, ken and rita listen to norris at barseeing Sean coming up or down the stairs to or from his room. Maybe some of them swapped rooms at some point, I don’t know. But it makes me feel much better, knowing that there is another room that can help accommodate the many people who happen by to spend the night under Eileen’s roof.

norris suggests new housing plan for sean and brianMaybe now we’ll see Emily’s front room and piano. With Sean and Brian in a bidding war, Norris has decided that they can have the two bedrooms. The extra money means he will be perfectly comfortable budged up by the piano.

Corrie Street 4 Dec 2016

Recycling Czar or Tsar

Brian Packham is back. A question he has for Roy: is it Czar or Tsar? brian explains czar or tsar quandaryRoy is flummoxed, and that’s a rare sight. He’s rarely had occasion to spell it, but thinks either spelling is acceptable. Of course, I googled it. Roy is right, and there are many lengthy discussion threads on the origins and usage of each. (My spellcheck chooses Tsar.)brian-and-roy-at-cafe-table

Brian is back without Julie, but with ambition to take a prominent place in the Weatherfield Council bureaucracy. At the moment he’s the Environmental Health Officer. But his aim is to revolutionize the city’s recycling programmes. Hence his dilemma: should his stationery say Recycling Czar or Tsar?

Prior to discussing the nitty-gritty of his title, Brian was flummoxed roy-with-lipstick-kisswhen he met Cathy. He expected to see Roy still single and grieving Hayley’s death. So he was astounded when a woman emerged from Roy’s flat and planted a kiss on his cheek.

Brian astutely picked up on Roy’s ambivalence about marrying Cathy. He suggested Roy ask himself why he wants to marry. Then he gave some good advice about navigating the wedding itself. It’s cathy-with-wedding-countdown-clockfor the bride, he said, not the groom. So let her have the disco, the pink wedding cake, even the wedding count-down clock – whatever makes her dream day. You focus on the groom’s speech, he told Roy. Ever the teacher, Brian later peeked to see how the assignment was going. Not well, he saw, so he gave suggestions for improvement.

The good and bad elsewhere

The problem with Tuesday’s episode was with the scenes bracketing michael-at-building-site-gateBrian’s. Michael and Anna were doing things that made no sense in terms of character history. Michael going to Phelan’s building site alone to check it out. Foolish, but maybe believable. But Anna asking Phelan to come to her place? Without telling anyone or having backup? It wouldn’t happen, not after the last time she did that. I saw, ok, it’s a way to get to the plot culmination. But clunky! They might not have jarred so much if they anna-lets-phelan-in-doorhadn’t been next to the smoothness of Brian’s scenes.

There were other great moments this week. Tracy and Peter after she says Daniel is just like Ken – a look that says ‘we’re out of the will!’ Vinny’s neighbour lady, played by Jacqueline Pilton. And Phelan watching Michael die, telling him about watching a rabbit slowly die after he had injured it.

Corrie Street 27 Nov 2016

Barlow Reunion

Friday we got the explanation. I wondered all week why Ken and his storyline seemed to have disappeared behind a hospital curtain. Would one day the curtain be pulled back and there’s an empty bed, hospital-curtain-pulled-backa different person, a skeleton in a hospital gown? Maybe an emaciated Ken pleading for food and water? ‘So sorry, Mr. Barlow,” the nurse might say, ‘we forgot about you.’

You just can’t put Ken in the hospital and leave him there, with Tracy and Peter occasionally mentioning that Dad won’t see them. Is it contract negotiations? Vacation or other obligations? What?

It’s a Barlow reunion. We knew Ken’s grandson Adam was returning. At least Peter said he had called him in Canada and Adam had promised he’d come. Remember, Adam is the son of Susan (Peter’s deceased twin) and Mike Baldwin.

adam-with-jaquarAdam did return and he’s played by the same actor, Sam Robertson, who portrayed him a decade ago. He may use the surname Barlow but he’s Mike Baldwin’s Mini-Me. He pulls up in a Jaguar, just like Dad. Lights a cigar, Mike’s smoke of choice. In the factory office, he looks for the Scotch where he expects it to be from the days of Mike, and there it is. The factory may have changed hands, but traditions last.

He finally stops marking his territory in the factory and goes to the peter-tracy-adam-in-waiting-roomhospital with Tracy and Peter. No, they’re told, they can’t just go barging in, someone is with Ken. It’s the mystery visitor who has been there every day.

Sibling surprise

In they barge anyway. A young man is reading to Ken. It’s Daniel, daniel-and-ken-see-newcomersKen’s youngest son. I had forgotten about him. So, it seems, had Tracy and Peter. Tracy thought he was a con man.  Peter thought he was a volunteer visitor. Neither recognized him. I think Adam has never met him.

Like all of Ken’s children, Daniel was packed off to Scotland. He is the product of an affair Ken had in 1994 with a hairdresser named Denise Osbourne. He and his mother were last seen in 2007 when Tracy, Adam, Peter look gobsmacked barlow reunionKen tried to be a good father to him. They must have kept in touch.

With the return of Daniel and Adam, the Barlow reunion is almost complete. Only the eldest son Lawrence and his offspring are missing. Unless, of course, Ken has more kids out there. Maybe someone should scout around Scotland.

Corrie Street 20 Nov 2016

Chickens Roost

sonia looks at sharifThe chickens came home to roost for Sharif this week. He’s gone. I do wonder what will happen to his chickens. Yasmeen didn’t like them at the best of times. And this is not the best of times for her.

Story and real life recently collided for the Nazir family. A few months ago, the story unfolded that Sharif, Mr. Respectable Family Man, had been carrying on behind Yasmeen’s back for seven years with yasmeen-heartbrokenher best friend Sonia. Alya figured out that there was something between them but had no idea how long it had been going on.

So, needing money for an embroidery machine, she blackmailed her granddad into giving her £14,000. He “borrowed” the money from the gym business account. His family money had gone for a downpayment on one of Phelan’s fictional flats for Sonia. Yasmeen was happy to put their savings into buying property that would help out her best friend and be an investment for their grandchildren.nazir-confrontation

Of course, they don’t know that Phelan has no intention of ever building those flats. Already a very complicated plot involving deceit by Mr. Scam himself, Pat Phelan, by Mr. Respectable, Sharif, and “I’m your best friend” Sonia and by “Carla wannabe” Alya.

You could predict that Sharif and Sonia would be caught out. Sooner yasmeen-figures-out-bribe-to-alyarather than later, likely, with Alya knowing. Of course, Yasmeen would not take it well. She and all the Nazirs will be very upset when, if, their money disappears with Phelan and Vinny.

Then real life intruded. So whatever the original plan, the writers changed or sped up Sharif’s undoing.

worried-sharifIt was Twitter. Donald Trump is not the only one who tweets without thinking of ramifications, apparently. Nor is he the only one who uses unsuitable words to do so. Marc Anwar, who portrays Sharif, took to Twitter to share strong opinions in strong language. And that was it for him on Coronation Street.

We see Yasmeen tell Sharif and Alya to pack a bag and get out. yasmeen-yells-get-outThat’s the last time we see him. While Yasmeen processes her betrayal and loss, Sharif disappears.  Next day, she reads a note he left. He went to Newcastle. Perhaps he took the chickens with him.

Corrie Street 13 Nov 2016

Explaining Why

michelle-in-back-roomPoor Michelle! Not a thought that often crosses my mind, but it did on Wednesday. Michelle had to explain to Amy why her tablet was open on an abortion clinic website.

Against Michelle’s wishes, Amy knows Michelle is pregnant. But Amy doesn’t know that the baby might have a congenital disease. Telling her that would introduce the topic that Amy too might have it. They were waiting for the tests results so they would know better what exactly they were dealing with. Or avoiding the discussion?

For Michelle to even contemplate an abortion must be extremely amy-enters-back-roomdifficult. She wants this baby, and she knows it’s pretty much her last chance to have another child. But she is afraid, with good reason. So exploring options is a reasonable thing to do. It also must be very, very hard. What she doesn’t need is to have to justify herself to anybody.

michelle-pleads-with-amyAnd Amy is maybe the most judgemental critic Michelle might ever meet. She seems to have inherited the harshness of her mother and great-grandmother Blanche. She also shares their belief that she should say exactly what she thinks, regardless of the hurt or consequences that may cause.

But Amy is also a child, and cannot therefore fully understand the ramifications of Michelle’s dilemma. All she knows is that she’s going to have a baby brother or sister. She cannot comprehend that there amy-confronts-michelle about considering abortionmay be problems further along that must be considered, no matter how difficult that is to do.

Amy’s mind is, simultaneously, one of a child, a scheming manipulator and a nasty old biddy who wants to mind everybody else’s business. That’s a bad combination for complex explanations, especially one like the sorrowful process of abortion consideration.

We knew, of course, as soon as we saw the site Michelle was looking at that Amy was somehow going to find it. But it annoyed me that the writers made it so easy. When she opened the tablet, I thought she would go through its history and come across the website that amy-runs-from-roomway. She’s nosy enough to do that.

After the business with Michelle flipping out about the phone call that Amy overheard, Amy’s antennae for suspicious behaviour must be up and at full alert. You’d think therefore that Michelle’s cautionary sense would be up too. So leaving that page up on the screen? I don’t think so.

Corrie Street 6 Nov 2016

Too much

eva-gemma-choose-all-we-doNot a scene this week. Too many, too much. It was extremely good, so this is both a compliment and a criticism. Edge of seat exciting, but too much to fully appreciate the separate parts.

Last week, we were left hanging with Ken. Was he alive or dead? Alive, barely, in hospital. Whew! Peter was still around. But Tracy found out he and Ken had been arguing just before the stroke. That was it – Peter, get out. Then she, Amy and Simon appear by Ken’s bedside. She tells him that they are there for him, always and ever more. Yikes! I half expected Ken to grab his pillow and smother himself.gemma-superimposed-on-hospital

But Ken and the Barlow clan were quickly overshadowed by David Platt’s car. First, Kevin welding right beside it. He had not noticed the cans of gasoline in the back. It’s a hatchback, it’s not like they too much for him peter-in-hospital-family-roomwere hidden from view. Sparks fly and Kevin says how happy he is that Anna is moving in with him. Words of Doom.

David escapes from the Bistro cellar and carries on with his plan to blow himself, Clayton and the courthouse sky-high. But his old clunker won’t start. All the Platts and others circle the car, screaming at David to stop.peter-superimposed-on-hosp-room

Lily escapes from babysitter Fiz’s back yard. She heads to the street, just of course as the car starts. David’s got his foot to the floor and the car takes off – straight toward Lily. Gary grabs her, car flips, gas doesn’t immediately explode. David crawls out, Gary and Lily are trapped underneath.

Everybody lifts the car and Lily and Gary are pulled out. Gas explodes. The Rovers is demolished yet again. Anna catches on fire.tracy-and-kids-with-ken

Meanwhile at the hospital, Ken regains consciousness but cannot speak. People go in and out of his room.ken-superimposed-on-shower

I wanted to savour each of these storylines. In the car scenes, I wondered about Ken. Then with Ken, I wondered about the crash. Stepping outside the story, I wondered if these were special episodes marking some anniversary that I didn’t know about. Because that’s what Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday felt like. A really big shew, as Ed Sullivan would say.david-superimposed-on-hosp-monitor

Usually in Coronation Street, music plays in the scene to which it belongs. The juke box in the pub or a radio on in a house. Music overlaying other scenes is an unrealism they usually do not do. But at the end of Wednesday’s episode, I liked “All We Do” continuing from the pub through the final shots. We saw the state of the central characters, and the music helped assimilate the whole.anna-surrounded-by-equipment