Tuesday, 3 January 2012

How Downton, Eastenders and Great Expectations soaped-up Christmas

I suspect like many of you, I had plenty of “smellies” in my Christmas stocking this year. But the soaps that made the biggest impact on me were on the TV screen rather than in the bathroom cabinet.

For over Christmas I managed to watch only three full set of TV programmes (Downtown Abbey, Great Expectations and EastEnders) but amazingly I managed to enjoy them all thoroughly. And what linked all three – dare I say it – was that they were all soap operas of sorts, even though I am sure such a term would be a shock to Carson the butler or the wonderful Mr Charles Dickens.

OK, I accept putting our greatest storyteller in the same bracket as the people who write Neighbours is somewhat controversial. But, if what defines a soap is an ongoing dramatic series full of interlinking characters and many often intricately-plotted different storylines then it could be argued that Charles Dickens is the grand-daddy of all soap writers.

His earliest novels were all written via monthly installments and he understood all about leaving the reader wanting more. And that is why I am sure that he would have loved the fact that as the credits rolled after the first episode of Great Expectations on Tuesday we were all really desperate to see part two.

What larks Pip old chap, what larks...

But, before we even had the chance to enjoy seeing the ever loveable Joe Gargery, the ghostly Miss Havisham or Ray Winstone rolling in the mud as an especially grimy Magwitch, the Christmas period had given us a double-dose of soapy delight at Albert Square and Downton Abbey.

EastEnders is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures – a show I can go months without watching but can then get ridiculously absorbed when a good story line comes along. And this year we had a humdinger.

It concerned a psychopathic doctor, a lighter, a house full of people and boxes of dodgy fireworks. It went off with a predictable bang and as with every great OTT soap story you were left wondering who was alive, who was dead and when the next episode was on.

And what a great news week for the Walford Gazette too.

For an altogether calmer but no less enjoyable experience the two-hour trip to the middle-class soap world of Downton Abbey was a journey well worth taking.

This beautifully crafted series has swiftly knitted itself into the national consciousness and its Christmas Day special was an absolute triumph from the start to the “for-goodness-sake-Matthew-just-
flipping- ask-her-to-marry-you-will-you?” finale.

Sure, the programme does sometimes leave you with more questions than answers – i.e. in this one just who did Sybil upset not to be featured at all? – but this Upstairs Downstairs for the 21st-century generation has all the class and style of Maggie Smith’s Dowager. I suspect it is here to stay – as I hope is that nice Mr Bates for I can’t stand seeing the saintly Anna upset.

So thank you to Dickens, Downton and the dodgy doctor for our festive TV fun. It was the year where the soaps truly cleaned up.

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