Friday, 27 November 2015

Plot Mechanics

Good drama springs from character and situation; it's not imposed.  It's an organic development.  Sometimes soap operas get this wrong though, and the audience can see the joins.  The cogs that turned to bring a situation about are obvious.

Brookside was terrible for this: a new family or character would be issued purely so they could cover an "issue".  Nat and Georgia may as well have turned to the screen and said, "hello, we're here to talk to you about incest for the next year."

Coronation Street isn't quite as bad as that, but sometimes you can see the strings being pulled, and it hurts.  I'm pretty sure this is why I've never taken to Robert Preston.  His introduction was contrived; I could see the join.  I can see why bringing back Tracy Barlow's ex-husband might be an interesting storyline.  When I saw that the sweetly pudding faced boy she married at the turn of the millennium had been transformed into a six foot tall brooding "hunk", I sighed.  "Oh, he's been brought in for us to leer at."

Worse was to come, and I'm not talking about his accent (fun fact: Tristan Gemmill was born in Royal Tunbridge Wells).  When they got into a discussion about his life since divorcing Tracy, Robert revealed he was now a talented chef.  He was a carpet fitter when he was married to Tracy, but apparently, at some point in the last twelve years, he'd developed a deep and abiding love for the culinary arts.  Even Tracy boggled at that one, pointing out that he was a terrible cook.  Still, being a good chef is just something you can learn, isn't it?

Meanwhile at the Bistro, Leanne and Nick were in a flap.  You're never going to believe this, but they needed a chef!  The old one had stormed out (off camera) and now, blimey o'reilly, they were in a right pickle!

I couldn't just hear the cogs turning, I could see them right in front of my eyes.  It was ridiculously contrived and I didn't believe a moment of it.

Robert has since continued on the Street, standing at the back and glowering from under his eyebrows, but this week he's suddenly, bizarrely, turned on Tracy.  A couple of months ago, Robert was deeply sympathetic when Tracy revealed that in an act of revenge, she'd broken into a flat, set it ablaze, then, when two people died as a result, she let Carla take the blame.  Never mind, he said; let me soothe your anguished psyche.

Now, Simon belts Amy and suddenly Robert is demanding Tracy apologises to Leanne for being angry.  A quick reminder: her daughter was hit by another child.  Tracy has every right to be annoyed, but in Robert's world, this is a heinous crime that means he can't stand to be around her.

And then I saw the cogs again.  I remembered that prior to Sarah Harding's appearance onscreen as Robert's ex-wife Joni, we got press reports about how the producers were "thrilled" with her.  There's this amazing quote from the Manchester Evening News:
Corrie producer Stuart Blackburn has said of the casting: “Sarah is proving to be a gifted and exciting actor and I’m absolutely delighted to have her on board, the viewers are in for a treat as her character will be right at the heart of a massive new story for the Barlows.”
In fact, just ahead of her appearance, she revealed that they'd asked her to return later in the year.

“It turns out they’ve given me more episodes to film,” Sarah revealed to The Sun. “But I don’t know about doing it full-time. You only get about seven days to learn your lines. Sometimes you have to learn on the spot.”
“It’s not like when I’ve done films and you learn the script well in advance. I’m nervous because people are going to expect high standards.”

And then Sarah Harding appeared onscreen, and blood spontaneously poured from the nation's television sets.  It turned out Ms Harding could not act.  Not even slightly.  There were eight week old bunches of flowers outside Dev's shop with more presence and talent.  Social media exploded, and newspapers were full of gleeful coverage about how awful she was.

So here's my theory: this wasn't meant to be about Leanne at all.  This storyline about a wedge appearing between Tracy and Robert was to have coincided with the return of Joni: one ex-wife against the other.  Sarah Harding's distinct lack of talent put paid to any return appearance, so there was a hasty rewrite and a jiggling around of storylines.  Cogs turning.

I could be wrong.  I probably am wrong.  I prefer my version, though, because otherwise it just means the characters are being written in a horribly contrived and inconsistent fashion for no reason at all.

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Louby said...

Corrie is very good at contrived. Nothing ever just happens, as in real life. It's not the first time that someone needs a job just as a vacancy that fits that description comes available. Similar things happen when someone needs somewhere to live. Part of the fun for me now is predicting why something happened. I still love Corrie and it's really entertaining, but realistic? No.

Tvor said...

You could be right. I'm not all that surprised, though, that Robert has turned on Tracy. He returned with an idealized view of the woman he's been carrying a torch for all these years. He knew she was grieving and was willing to forgive her mistake (Yeah, big mistake causing lives, but the fire was an accident even if letting Carla shoulder the blame wasn't). He thought he knew her even if everyone else warned him against Tracy. Now her true colours are flying again and his idealistic view is being cracked. When he called Tracy a poisonous bitch the other night, it was the first time since he's been on screen that he wasn't kind of boring.

THey do seem to be setting up a lot of plot lines that are contrived. I suppose sometimes they don't have a lot of choice (i.e. sudden illnesses, actors deciding to leave, or a maternity leave or four)

Anonymous said...

My personal indicator of the machinery showing is when I find myself inventing explanations for various characters' behaviour because what the writers have presented just isn't working. I've been doing that a lot lately.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure of the reasons behind the plotlines, but I cheered the other night when Robert called Tracy a poisonous little bitch and threw her out of the Bistro. Yeah, he is finally standing up for himself, but to put him with Leanne, NO NO NO NO. He deserves much better than that. The only other person I can see him with is Eva - at least she has a sense of humour and she can laugh. Something that is surely lacking in Leanne or Tracy. I thought at first they would pair her up with Aidan but it seems that Sarah will be front & centre. YUCK.

Anonymous said...

I loved Tristan Gemmill playing a dashing, skilled doctor and was thrilled he got a part in Corrie but this is the wrong role for him. Anything but playing Tracyluv's ex, please. Why doesn't he just play the new chef? Or why not reprise his old role from fifteen years ago when he played a counsellor to a young, screwed up, drug/drink-addicted Leanne Battersby? This time, he could be counsellor to an angry, violent Simon. Contrived plot? Oh yeah!

And I agree, he shouldn't get together with Leanne. She is such a sourpuss! Eva or even Carla would be a better match. I really don't think much of Carla and Nick together.

CP from Vancouver, Canada

Anonymous said...

Robert is supposedly a chef how come we see him behind the bar in the Bistro as often as we see Leeanne and Nick. Most chefs are very busy working in the kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes an actor/character can rise above the situation that brought them on the show. Look at Tim, brought in as Faye's dad, and for months that's all he was. We got endless scenes of Anna and Owen whinging about "what're we gonna do about Faye's dad", then surprise, Tim had chemistry with Sally, and a charm all his own, he developed into a better character than the one introduced. Once in awhile we are reminded he has a connection to Faye, but he's much better than the initial idea that brought him on the show. This doesn't always happen of course, some characters come on as one note characters and stay that way (Callum). Robert's introduction was contrived, but he's improved so the circumstances of his return really won't matter anymore.

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