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Coronation Street

Sunday, October 15, 2000 by

At the end of an eventful week for the Street, in which Curly, Ken, Mike, Alma, Les and Ashley have found themselves hostages in a botched supermarket hold up, it is a triumph for the human spirit to see – just days later – Ashley back on the job with his Mrs, Mike restraining his wife when she attempts to kick off a bar room brawl in the Rovers, and Curly manfully providing emotional support for the police markswoman who gunned down the armed robber (who in a twist of fate so beloved of the soaps happens to be the brother of Linda Baldwin). Even Linda, who is struggling to come to terms with the death, seems more pre-occupied with husband Mike’s renewed dalliances with Alma. Life goes on.

In the meantime, Alma is the only hostage to vocalize the possibility that some counseling to cope with the trauma they have all experienced might be a good idea. However, just as soon as making the point, she quickly adds to the lovelorn Gail: “Anyway, that’s not why I’m here. What’s happening with you and Martin?”

Last week’s siege may have been an obvious ratings ploy, but surely there was no need to plot it in such a ham-fisted, predictable fashion? If you missed it, then here’s what happened: two kids decide to hold up a supermarket, two of the hostages – previously sworn enemies – find themselves having to work together, thus forging an unlikely friendship (more on this later). In the meantime two others finally come to terms with their unspoken mutual attraction, whilst a bid for escape made by the remaining few is foiled by a stroke of bad luck just as they are about to make their break. Having played out all of our most beloved hostage clich├ęs, the episode ends with the big one: Curly going through the “just give me the gun” routine, just seconds before the criminals are gunned down by police marksmen. As Curly inwardly screams “why?!” the episode draws to a close. The final lingering crane shot is conspicuous by its absence.

For those of you who fell out of love with Coronation Street some years ago (say – when it went to three times a week), you should try watching it now – especially if you loved The Sweeney or better still – The Professionals. Their stock in trade of shoot-outs and car chases appears to have descended upon Weatherfield, turning this once old-fashioned soap into a deluge of thrills and spills quite alien to the seasoned Corrie-watcher. In contrast, recall the horror and intrusion into Street life when Ernest Bishop was gunned down by some petty crooks. Not only did the series come under prolonged attacks from viewers who felt the scenes to be unrealistic and inappropriate for a soap opera, but the dramatic impact spiralled out from within the programme for weeks. Not any longer. As much like Casualty relies on the “accident of the week” upon which to hang its tawdry moral tales, Coronation Street now seems to believe it takes a cataclysmic event to meaningfully progress any of the programme’s ongoing storylines. The modern soap viewer has come to expect an operatic conclusion to any long running story and it is difficult for the programme makers to deny them this satisfaction.

Whilst it takes admirable audacity to stick with a story for almost 20 years, it is disappointing that the Corrie scriptwriters felt that the Ken-Mike rift could only be healed by a circumstantial throwing together of the two perennial adversaries in the face of a greater evil. Their backslapping mutual congratulations in the Rovers Return is as crass as the arbitrary chain of events that forged their newly acquired bond. First, they get held up by a pair of spotty teenagers, next they are locked up together in a tiny storeroom, and finally (to put the tin lid on it) Ken talks Mike through a “minor heart attack” (conveniently forgotten about as soon as the moment passes). For the viewer, this potentially grueling experience is etched in their mind much like an episode of Friends. Let’s call it: “The One Where Ken And Mike Made Up”.

“I think, again, that’s another one of those bogus arguments that are put out by vested interests – that the more episodes you have a week, at some stage, inevitably the quality is going to go down.” So says Phil Redmond. Coronation Street has churned out a lot of episodes over the course of the last week, and it is difficult not to make a connection between the volume and quality of the output. The technical run-through has now been abandoned in the interest of time, and the pool of scriptwriters has grown to accommodate the increase in activity. Yet, ultimately it is the direction of the programme as a whole that is most disconcerting. But this is our fault. Through our button clicking and purchasing of tabloids we vociferously communicate our desire for excitement and more of it. How can we expect anything more from our programme-makers when we consistently back them in TV’s votes of confidence? Soaps are no longer cherished opportunities to overhear the chatter of a street much like your own, they are our opportunity to exact revenge on those “types” in society better looking, or more evil, or richer, or poorer than ourselves.

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