Tuesday 20 February 2018

TV soap puts politics in its rightful place

No offence, Taoiseach, but dumping Enda for EastEnders was definitely the right decision

Gillian Taylforth who plays Kathy Beale in EastEnders, whose return to EastEnders was so secret that even her own children did not know - meaning they missed the moment she stepped back on screen (BBC/PA Wire)
Gillian Taylforth who plays Kathy Beale in EastEnders, whose return to EastEnders was so secret that even her own children did not know - meaning they missed the moment she stepped back on screen (BBC/PA Wire)
Hetti Bywater as Lucy Beale

Eilis O'Hanlon

Who says that people can't do deferred gratification anymore?

First, TV viewers were forced to wait two years to discover how Benedict Cumberbatch survived the fall from that high building in Sherlock. Then, they were made to hang on for another 10 months to find out who killed Lucy Beale in BBC soap EastEnders. And the answer, when it came, was equally bizarre, as this game of "Cockney Cluedo" culminated in the revelation that it was 10-year-old Bobby in the living room with the music box.

Er, seriously? Colonel Mustard with a candlestick would have been more believable.

As for how Bobby's not-exactly-Herculean stepmum, Jane, managed to get Lucy's body into the boot of a car in the middle of Walford without being seen, then take it to the Common to make it seem as if the victim had been murdered there, well, don't ask. Just file it away with those other unanswered questions, such as why the police didn't manage to solve this mystery in days, rather than still being in the dark. (Who have they got on the case? Inspector Clouseau?)

What probably saved the show from totally jumping the shark last week was that no one really cares who killed Lucy. They're just glad that someone did, because that girl was almost as irritating as those crashing bores on this side of the Irish Sea who tut-tutted with prissy disapproval when the Taoiseach's interview on Thursday's Prime Time was bumped back by half an hour to make way for a special episode of the drama.

To listen to some of these whited sepulchres, keen to loudly advertise their disdain for popular culture, the decision to give precedence to a fictional English murder over a rare media appearance by Enda Kenny was practically a betrayal of Irish nationhood, and an insult to the victims of the economic downturn.

They couldn't have been more wrong. This was the 30th anniversary of a show with hundreds of thousands of Irish fans. They were far more interested in what was going on in Albert Square last week than whatever waffle the Taoiseach had planned on delivering to the nation. The jibber jabber could wait.

The Lucy Beale storyline had more holes than a rabbit during hunting season, but it didn't matter. The finale was one long, powerfully emotional exercise in collective catharsis that reached parts of the soul that politics can never touch. Kenny may be a man who avoids interviews the way a skunk avoids a bath, but ultimately, his appearance on Prime Time was just another political non-event. They happen every single day. Millions coming together symbolically to share an experience doesn't.

The figures confirm that the viewing public had their priorities right. Over 700,000 Irish viewers watched Thursday's episodes of EastEnders across the various networks. The audience for Kenny's equally scripted encounter was about half that number.

Social media also showed that the multiple hashtags associated with the "Who Killed Lucy?" story were trending heavily in Ireland. Only those who don't have sufficient confidence in their own identity would think there's anything wrong with being so interested in a "foreign" soap opera.

If Enda had any sense, he'd have spiced up his interview with a few unexpected revelations of his own to make it stick in voters' minds, instead of wrapping himself in familiar cliches and soundbites.

Viewers love nothing better than a twist. They're suckers for vulnerability too. Kenny was over-rehearsed to the point of being stilted. It doesn't do him any favours. A palpable fear of making a mistake stifles his natural charm.

Perhaps his advisers were wise, though, not to try and compete with EastEnders in case people at home started to spot a few uncomfortable parallels. In many ways, the Taoiseach is the Bobby Beale of Irish politics, after all.

Both were seemingly harmless innocents when they first appeared on the scene. No one would have suspected either of them of going over to the dark side. It's as if the whole nation turned round after the last election, like Jane in Albert Square on Thursday night, to find little Enda standing behind them in his pyjamas, eyes wide with certainty, insisting that battering the country to death with austerity wasn't his fault, he was just doing what needed to be done for everyone's good.

Some people would call that an implausible plot twist, but it actually happened. It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?

Sunday Independent

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