As many fans of The Young and the Restless, the number one rated soap opera in Canada and the United States, watched in horror as the residents of Genoa City attempted to survive four completely random and unrelated catastrophes in their mid-western town, there was a much better, written and directed soap opera event happening across the pond in the UK as the gloomy EastEnders celebrated its 30th anniversary.
After a ten-month buildup, more than 10 million viewers watched the reveal of who killed Lucy Beale on the BBC last Thursday night after. That’s not counting the number of fans living outside of the UK who may have watched online. For those who haven’t sampled the sudser, The Guardian describes EastEnders as the lovechild of Days of our Lives and The Wire. It can get downright depressing – and the storyline they showcased for the better part of a year is no exception. Producers, crew members and actors all worked together to ensure that no plots were leaked. Nobody knew who killed Lucy Beale – Hetti Bywater, the actress who played Lucy Beale only found out eight hours before filming her live “flashback” scenes.
Lucy Beale, a young blonde, was found dead in a ditch last Good Friday. She had a slew of lovers, including Lee (Danny-Boy Hatchard; a soldier) and Max (Jake Wood; her best friend’s father). Her family had enough of her due to her horrid attitude and cocaine problem. Pretty much everyone on the series was a suspect, including her dad Ian (played by Andy Woodyatt, who has been on the show since day one), twin brother Peter (Ben Hardy; who’d supply her the coke) and former stepmother Jane (Laurie Brett).
The biggest difference between daily British soaps and American soaps is that the Brits aren’t ashamed to air them in primetime. They get the audience and provide watercooler fodder for both genders. For its 30th, EastEnders aired live segments throughout the show (with #EELive letting viewers know which parts were indeed live) on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then did a complete 30-minute live episode on the Friday. On Feb. 19, the day of it’s anniversary, the show aired an hourlong episode and then even did a 30-minute “flashback” episode, which revealed the killer – it was Lucy’s 10-year-old half-brother Bobby (Eliot Carrington).
“Whatever she says, she started it. She made everyone unhappy!”
He hit her over the head with a jewellery box because she wouldn’t stop causing problems in the house. He was hurt. He had no idea he killed her. Instead, his mother discarded of Lucy’s body and protected her son and family from even more heartache.
The anniversary week had its fare share of soap tropes outside of the whodunit. There was a return from the dead (Kathy!), a wedding, someone woke up from a coma, a birth in the washroom of the iconic Queen Vic pub, a grandmother (Dot Cotton) confessed to letting her son (Nasty Nick) die over a heroin overdose, special returns (Peggy! Tanya! Christian!), even an aborted abortion. Over the top? Maybe if you read it that way but what those who haven’t watched should know that all these plots points were organic. Writers plotted out these stories for the better part of a year. There were no changing writers, producers trusted the vision of the writers and all the character beats were played out. The live portions weren’t perfect (“How’s Adam?”), but they created further conversation topics and memes across social media. There was even a small fire on set. It had people tweeting – in fact EastEnders’ 30th anniversary was the most tweeted UK soap event in history.
The performances were haunting. The Friday episode where Ian confronted his wife for covering up one child’s murder of another made for great television.
American soap fans should check it out. Canadian soap fans can, although they’ll have to wait quite a bit for these particular episodes as Vision TV airs EastEnders two years behind. With social media and all, it would be advantageous of the Canadian broadcaster to air the episodes in close airdate as the CBC does with Coronation Street (about a week behind).
As for the American soap writers and producers. They should also watch. Take a lot of notes. The soap opera, an American invention, continues to flourish overseas.