Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bend it Like Dagenham

So, we've been popping round Mr. Wolcott's site now and then, and we stumble upon this spirited defence of keeping Eastenders on American airwaves. Apparently public broadcaster WLIW wants $29,000 to keep it on air in NY. Both Wolcott, and the Walford Gazette want to save it. Wolcott in particular gets rather misty-eyed about the series' 80s heyday.

As a little background, Eastenders is a soap opera devoted to a fictional part of London's East End. That's right, the bit with the cockneys. The show's genius is that it followed the changes that swept the area - social, cultural, political. Didn't hurt that it had amazing characters, and some wonderful writing. TV critics were fond of saying that "proper" dramas could learn a lot from EastEnders.

We loved it too, caught the first episode, and followed it whenever we were at home (the English boarding school system not being a friend of telly) right through to the late nineties. Our mother had divided loyalties, often preferring the slightly whimsical streak of Coronation Street, the rival, better established, soap on ITV. But northwest england meant nothing to us, while the East End was pretty close to Brixton, where we grew up.

But the series has lost its way, whether a victim of capricious programming heads, or the fact that the subject matter is no longer that gripping. When we went home at Christmas, neither soap was offered up for our delectation. Since the area has drifted far from its working class roots, the transformation subtext, that the characters were coming to grips with big changes and new themes, is gone. Yes, awful focus-grouped characters, and too-frequent explosions, haven't helped, but we're not sure there's a reason for it to exist anymore.

Whether there could be another soap that can grapple with the themes so successfully and for such a long period is also hard to call. sorry to be so class-fixated, but we're not sure the tensions exist any more. We suggest that they shell out for Little Britain instead. Little Britain is sharp, observant, and revoltingly funny.

Back to NYC for a moment. We note that Katherine Oliver, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, seems to be a tad overexposed right now. We might even compare her ads with those of Governor Pataki, who mastered the art of confusing promoting himself with promoting his pet cause, usually around election time. Could Ms. Oliver be a stalking horse mayoral candidate for this November, or is Sundance cover enough?


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