For all the trashy TV I have watched over the years, soaps have never drawn me in. There is something about joining a story midway through that is unappealing, and I never had much of an interest in the sort of stories they tell. That is not to say that I wasn’t aware of them (I often catch the end of EastEnders when I’m waiting for something more exciting to start), but I had never sat down and watched a whole episode. At least until Friday, when I gave Coronation Street a try.
And I hit the jackpot immediately. Rather than the terraced houses and city street I’d been expecting, I was greeted by a grand looking venue, hosting a wedding. Or at least it would have been hosting a wedding, were the bride not being led away in handcuffs. I had no idea who she was, or where the groom had gone, but the prospect of a ruined wedding was all I’d hoped for and more. Amidst the crying and smeared mascara, I saw an older man tagging along behind the police, who I learned was Mr. Barlow. Ah Ken, I realised, Corrie’s longest standing character. I know about him. Unfortunately, he was the only person I knew about, and I was lost in all the fancy hats and weeping, trying to work out what on earth had happened at the end of the last episode.
As if trying to shake off my inexpert attention, focus then shifted to Les Dennis (another person I recognised, but only from Family Fortunes) who was sitting blankly in a living room, with a shocked looking family. This must be related to the wedding, I thought. Wrong. Les had some kind of heart condition, and seems to have nothing to do with the others.
Suddenly back with the criminal bride, I learn a bit more. Someone called Peter is in prison. Rob, the groom, has run away. Tracy has been arrested for helping Rob. Then Ken delivers the sort of expository dialogue I need: ‘Rob confessed killing Tina to Carla and now he’s on the run.’ In one line, I have been filled in on what I need to know to understand what is going on, without needing to scour ITV Player for the answers. But what does this have to do with Les Dennis. Now he’s getting help from some young looking people who have been chosen to help because they can use Google. And they are looking for his estranged son. Hang on, what?
Amid all the melodrama, there is a lot of discussion in the pub (where else?) about various people I don’t know, between a mixture of old women and dodgy looking blokes. Some of them probably have something to hide – I wonder if I’ll find out what in a minute. I won’t, because we go back to Tracy, still crying, in a police interview. She’s getting out on bail. And then it’s the end.
I can tell that I’m nowhere near the end of this story. But I don’t know who Tina was, and I don’t care about Rob or Peter or Tracy, and I’m not interested enough to find out what’s going to happen. I can see why people who have spent more time with these characters would keep watching, but as a newcomer there just isn’t the hook that I need.
I’ve spent 29 minutes watching people talking in the pub, a man frowning in an armchair and a woman crying at the police station, and nothing else happened.
But if that’s part of a huge story arc that people have been enjoying from weeks ago, I can see why things have happened that way. Thanks to Ken, I have been given a pithy summary of what is going on, and I’m not completely lost, but it is the details that make a story like this worthwhile.
The problem is that every episode is just a chunk of the story, with no introduction or conclusion. Whereas regular TV programmes have beginnings, middles and ends, Coronation Street is just middle after middle after middle. I need a something else to help me get into it, to fill in the blanks and make me interested. When a new season of a programme starts, it re-establishes its characters and starts, or reinvigorates a storyline. But here things keep happening, and if you haven’t been with the characters before, it is very difficult to work out who to like or who to feel sorry for. And if you can’t do that, you can’t get invested in the storyline at all. Even when it involves a woman getting arrested at her own wedding.
Maybe its an inherited thing, where if your parents enjoy it, it is easier for you to watch it and to get to know the characters.When watching a soap becomes ritual, understanding the stories becomes second nature. But on one watch, there is little to fire the interest. The only redeeming feature is that there always seems to be something ludicrously exciting happening, but no matter how realistic it tries to be, it is always too artificial and distant. I bet there’s never been an episode where the highlight was someone running out of milk for their cereal. Now that would be something I could relate to.
I’m sorry Corrie, but I just don’t care enough to tune in three times a week, every week, forever.