This piece has been bubbling away on a low heat for some time. There were occasions when it threatened to boil over, but I kept a lid on it. I suspected, or rather hoped, that it would simply dry up at some point. But no, it’s been simmering, and is determined to be served up. So here it is.
I’ve had the privilege of writing for the Coronation Street Blog for the past six years. At one point, I was reviewing two double episodes a week as well as posting the odd opinion piece when a particular character, storyline or script inspired me to do so. Being part of the blog has given me some of my happiest memories, and has honestly never felt like hard work. This is because I love the programme, and I love this blog, and all who sail in her.
Why then, have I never written as little about Corrie as I do now? Given my previous record, this is a question which is surely worthy of note, and so I decided to try and arrive at an answer.
On looking back, I was genuinely surprised to find that my last opinion piece was written as far back as February of this year. It concerned Peter Barlow’s Lost Buoy. I loved everything about that story. Given that it involved my favourite character, that may not be all that surprising. But that didn’t mean I’d like it! (Spoiler alert: I did.) Before that, I wrote about Audrey’s pursuit of happiness with Lewis Archer. That was in August 2018, and also involved two of my favourites fantasising about setting sail.
Was it simply that I favoured plots with a nautical theme? No. I delighted in them because they were borne out of sublime characterisation, beautiful writing, and had pathos, heart and just the right amount of humour while being perfectly paced. Simply put, they were quintessential Corrie. The fact that these were the last two storylines I felt inspired to write about doesn’t sit well with me. In fact, it makes me sad.
When a programme means as much to you as Corrie does to me, you want to be inspired to blog enthusiastically about it. The many passionate voices on this site all come from volunteers, and so everything you read is a labour of love which comes from the heart. For my part, it seems that when I’m not feeling enthused by the show, I am unlikely to write about it.
This isn’t because I am afraid to voice my opinion. In truth, it’s probably because complaining expends both valuable time and energy and can breed negativity. It’s also because when you feel loyal to a programme, and value the work that goes into it, you don’t really want to spend your time picking it apart, however valid your concerns may be.
The downside to this approach is that dissenting voices are not heard, and we grumble in private or, if we can’t help but say it aloud, on Twitter. My problem with the latter is that it leaves little room to explore an issue or to ensure that the criticism comes across as constructive and respectful, which is always an absolute must for me.
There is no doubting or questioning the skills or talents of those both in front of and behind the cameras of Coronation Street. These are professionals who work hard to bring three evenings of episodes our way on a weekly basis. It can’t be easy, especially when you’re under pressure to not only deliver six top quality installments, but to keep up the ratings while doing so.
However, that said, as fans of an historic and much loved programme designed to entertain, we should feel we can express ourselves if we are not enjoying it or are somehow irked by the show with whom we have long been firm companions.
I did just that in 2016 when Our Mutual Friend appeared to be out of sorts. The opening paragraph read:
Three years on, I am still peering through the window, but I am finding it even harder to recognise my friend now. Unfortunately my puzzlement and unease seems to have given way to resignation at the fact that it has changed, and continues to do so. Perhaps it is this resignation that has me feeling, up to now, that any attempt to pen my criticism, however respectful and constructive, is pointless. But there is obviously something in me that still wishes to do it, so, for what it’s worth, here it is.
Almost two weeks ago, we said goodbye to Sinead Osbourne via a set of highly stylised episodes which presented a raw, unflinching depiction of a young woman’s death. As you would expect, it was terrible to witness. The actors put in stellar performances, and the talents of the crew charged with portraying it were permitted full rein. But because of the work involved, the content, and the outpouring of praise on social media, it seemed like sacrilege to criticise it. I realise now that this is another reason which has sometimes prevented me expressing my views in the past. That doesn’t sit well with me either, and is another motivation to write this now.
As it turns out, that particular week proved pretty crucial in summing up why Coronation Street is harder to recognise than ever for me, and so is essential to this blog. I am taking the lid off the pot now, so here goes.
The stylisation of these episodes, together with the privileging of drama in the form of the Daniel and Bethany kiss, only succeeded in detaching me from the painful reality of what was being depicted. Had it been quiet and subtle, it would have brought me closer to it, and perhaps had more of an emotional impact on me.
Cutting between Sinead’s struggles and the prison riot felt wrong, and when that drama subsided, there was nothing of contrast to replace it. There are innumerable examples from the Corrie of old that demonstrate how having gentle stories either side of one like Sinead’s actually serves to make it more poignant. This is because we are presented with the light and shade of living in one episode, and we get the fullest sense of the tragedy because we know she will miss the funny, good, and beautiful things about life that are playing out on screen in parallel with her departure from it. While it was absent altogether that week, I have come to realise that this organic lightness has been missing from Corrie for some time now.
In terms of style – the breathy transitions, the cinematic effect on screen, the various angles – it was all very accomplished. But, and I’m sure there are those that roll their eyes when they hear this said, it wasn’t Corrie. It was, in fact, the furthest thing from quintessential Coronation Street that I have seen to date.
Now. For those that do balk at this statement, if people like myself feel it isn’t Corrie, that implies that there are baseline facets to the show that we expect to find when we watch it, and that these are absent. These features are concrete and real and arise from almost sixty years of tradition. It follows then to ask, if it isn’t Corrie, then what is it? My fellow blogger Scott has already pointed out that the worlds of Hollyoaks and Coronation Street should remain separate in his wonderful Five Things. I would ask, if soaps begin to become indistinguishable from one another, then what does the experience of being a fan of one or several of these programmes constitute? Where do our pleasures lie? Why the need to dispense with those things which make each one unique and individual? What comes of doing so? What would then ensure our loyalty to any of them?
The risk of melding worlds is at its greatest when we have an event week. It is on these occasions that sensationalist storylines imaginatively depicted with the promise of explosive endings are at their peak. But I worry that the suspension, and sometimes altogether abandonment of disbelief, is becoming a requirement in viewing the regular episodes too.
There are far too many dark and issue-led storylines competing with one another. Nor is any time allowed for them to resonate with the viewer, and the experience of watching them can be exhausting, especially in the absence of the abovementioned lightness. Some also seem to arise out of plot rather than character which threatens the realism on which they’re supposed to be founded.
This is not to say that when they are done right, they don’t have a place. Asha Alahan’s skin lightening storyline was impeccably portrayed. Why? Because it was subtle, well paced, beautifully written and performed, and had a quietness to it that made it all the more heartbreaking and resonant. It wasn’t sensational or dramatic, but down to earth and human, and it was all the stronger for it. It felt like it very much belonged on Coronation Street.
They too are the reasons why Chesney’s reaction to Sinead’s demise was one of the more authentic for me. Seeing him pause at her doorbell, unable to ring it, and saying ‘sorry,’ before walking away was one of the most powerful scenes of the week for its understatedness. Sadly, while he did become a father to quads, he still sallied forth into the following week as if it had never happened.
When it comes to comedy, I’m afraid I can’t come up with an example of where it has worked for me in recent times. Gemma and the babies might be seen by some as a nice story (as long as Bernie is not around), but it doesn’t feel realistic and I don’t find any humour in it.
Soap fans have spent years proudly, and quite rightly, refuting claims of them being nothing more than trivial nonsense. My greatest fear now is that these unfair criticisms will actually become harder to argue against if grounded, character-based storylines with heart and realism at their core take a back seat.
Of course drama is needed, but lurching from one to the next, sometimes even negotiating heavy crises simultaneously with nothing to counter them, is tiring and difficult to either watch or look forward to. We need to see the hum drum, and the humour of daily life, even in the face of adversity. It feels that this is missing from Corrie at the moment.
The longevity of the programme is not in question, but that doesn’t mean it should, or need to, stray from its roots. It can still move with the times while depicting and celebrating the characteristics that make it what it was in the first place.
Heart. Pathos. Realism. Humour. Stoicism. Subtelty. Humanity. Wit. Grit.
For those that think this longstanding viewer is living in the past, on the contrary. These qualities are still very much required in the modern world. They are the things that speak of the fullness of lives lived. Lives we watch unfold in our homes three nights a week. They are the things that have made us love and stay with Coronation Street all these years. That make it inimitable. Unrivalled. And quintessentially Corrie. Once they are there, no matter what is depicted, all will be well in the world of Weatherfield.
This blog also appears on the Coronation Street Blog.