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Friday 20 March 2015

Heroes or Villains?

The return of Jenny Bradley and my recent blog on Todd Grimshaw have me thinking about the theme of redemption on Coronation Street. While Jenny appears to have returned a remorseful individual wishing to prove she’s changed, it remains to be seen how it will all play out. Todd, however, showed true remorse last year after being rejected by his family on foot of his deplorable actions and achieved forgiveness, yet despite this redemption, he has regressed to villainy. This is for seemingly tenuous reasons which are unlikely to make him feel stronger than he did on regaining the affection of his family, and nevertheless he persists. 

Another character who, like Todd, went through what should have been a life altering experience last year and yet remains unchanged is Tracy Barlow. After Rob was arrested on foot of a rare moment of honesty from his fianc√©e, I expressed my frustration at her reversion to type following a seeming metamorphosis in which she showed welcome glimpses of character that we had never before witnessed. In December 2014 I wrote “I had high hopes for a change in Tracy which would have been natural and well founded considering recent events and her reaction to them, so I’m disappointed to see her revert to the woman scorned with a questionable agenda.”

It would have been interesting and true to life to find both Todd and Tracy changed for the better after their experiences. I don’t subscribe to the logic that there would be nothing there for them (or us) if they were to turn ‘good’, after all, this is a programme which portrays ordinary life, often in extraordinary circumstances, so why not let a character go through a life altering encounter and come out the other side wiser and better for the experience?

In any event, they have both left these significant experiences behind and returned to fulfilling the roles of Street ‘baddies’. The fact that they are well matched is, at times, a source of pleasure, but their redemption has proven rather pointless, and as this is the theme of the blog, let’s look at some other examples from the Street.

In order to be redeemed, you have to be a ne’er do well in the first place. Becky, Kylie and Maddie were all tearaways who managed to turn their lives around and become accepted by the community. While it was by no means plain sailing with regard to either sister, and Kylie's behaviour remains questionable, Maddie has been progressing on an upward trajectory, with the exception of her recent ill devised treatment of Norris. What is important though is that her confession and guilt were the markers of true change and this makes me disappointed at her impending departure. While it was similarly frustrating to find Gary Windass acting out of character and breaking into Roy's, his reaction assured me that there won't be a repeat performance. Both have proven that there is no need for a character to revert to type following a life changing experience and I wonder why this must be the case for Todd and Tracy.

There are plenty of characters who manage to get over their crimes, mistakes and indiscretions, and be forgiven by enough members of the community as to remain among them, but if a character is not permitted to achieve this, the only natural conclusion can be their departure, otherwise, the drama becomes implausible. History shows that the male Corrie villain doesn’t last very long, and will generally either be jailed long term or killed, Rob Donovan, Karl Munro, Tony Gordon, Richard Hillman, Jim McDonald, John Stape, Charlie Stubbs, and Frank Foster are just a few examples. Todd aside, Callum, Tony and Andy are the only other male characters on the Street who could be considered dubious at present. How the drama plays out should dictate whether or not there is a future for each of them.

Callum setting up in the community long term seems unfeasible to me, and considering what Andy is guilty of, it seems implausible for him to continue pretending to be Gavin, or remaining in the aftermath of his deception becoming known to everyone, even if he is coming across well. His portrayal as a better son to Michael than Gavin ever would have been doesn’t wholly ring true for me, because at the heart of it all is a lie which throws his whole character into question, regardless of the extent to which he comes across as a tortured soul. 

Where Tony is concerned, despite his shady nature, I find him likeable, and I think he has a better chance of remaining in Weatherfield in the event that his affair with Tracy is exposed. His dodgy dealings, however, are another matter, and he is as likely to end up behind bars as Callum and Andy for his misdemeanours. Considering Todd alongside each of these characters really proves that he was the strongest candidate for redemption, and I wonder why he didn't take it with both hands instead of regressing.

As far as women are concerned, Tracy Barlow is the only terminally villainous character on the Street, and I can’t see her going anywhere. Aside from Tracy, Steph is the only female embroiled in a deception at present. Like Andy, in the event that all is revealed, it would be unfeasible for her to emerge unscathed considering she is fully implicated at this point.  I must confess to being disappointed at her association with his scam, and concerned at what it will mean for her character. Whether or not there is the capacity for redemption in her case remains to be seen, but I do hope there is, as I have loved her addition to the Street. 

Where Tracy is concerned, while her long term villainy somehow ensures that we accept her lack of progression, her connection with Rob was such that I felt we were witnessing a true metamorphosis. I find her regression frustrating, especially when, like Todd, what should have been a life altering experience was so well portrayed. However, I have been enjoying Tracy of late, and I wonder if viewers would want her to be any different than she is. Is this the reason why she will ultimately never change?

Corrie does have a history of successfully redeemed characters who have been forgiven and change for the better, and when this can't be achieved, for the most part, the character leaves. Why in certain cases however, is neither course of action taken? My feeling is that it suits the plot to keep someone behaving a particular way regardless of what they've been through when really, who the character is and their personal history should inform their actions.

By Emma Hynes
Twitter: @ELHynes

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Anonymous said...

Okay, I understand why you're talking redemption narratives in terms of soap, but didn't the original Corrie seek to challenge that? Moral bars change over time. In the 60s, Elsie Tanner's behaviour would have placed her beyond redemption in many viewer's eyes. The whole point of the show was to challenge the viewer's narrow judgment and show that she was more of a person than they thought, despite her sexual "depravity." It seems like viewers are becoming more strict in their judgment in 2015, at the same time writers seek to keep up with this endless will to judge. Why not give it a rest and enjoy characters as characters, rather than being endlessly caught up in a moral narrative that Coronation Street, as a revolutionary programme, was actually born to resist?


Humpty Dumpty said...

Elsie lived life on her own terms despite the morals of the time, but she didn't set out to hurt people for the fun of it. She was a tart with a heart but you couldn't accuse Tracy of that. She's a panto villain, not a babe nor a cougar. Both she and Todd get a kick out of making other people miserable. Todd will eventually leave Corrie in a comeuppance storyline because Bruno Langley will want to move on.I doubt whether Kate Ford intends leaving Corrie so the writers have to dream up stories for her - and they're limited at the moment. Tracy does, however, have another chance at redemption when Deirdre is written out. That should be her wake-up call: she is nearly 40 and has a child to care for. Ken may last for years but, realistically, he will be leaning on Tracy as he ages. Her character should show how she feels about being the family's carer. She talked about this with Rob before his arrest, but all that seems to have been forgotten.

Viewers are becoming the moral compass of Corrie because there isn't a character to take on the role. The reason for this is most of the characters would be quickly challenged about their own behaviour. Apart from Roy and Emily, that is, and nobody respects them enough to take any notice.

Nikki NZ said...

In real life, personal development tends to be a gradual thing. Even when there is a catalyst for change (like a life-defining event), there is no sudden personality transplant - our default character structure takes time to adjust.

So with Tracey, her nasty snide comments are part of her social DNA. They are knee-jerk and come out before her brain engages. However of late, they seem to have lost much of their venom which could be a sign of a slow softening. Her affair with Tony too is driven primarily from her inherent narcissism and selfishness. As nasty as she now is towards Liz, she was't motivated by a desire to steal her man. Tony just happened to be there when she needed to feel better about herself. It helped that he (naively?) tried to get the better of her as that simply made the sparks fly.

Frosty the Snowman said...

In Frosty's opinion there havent been any real villans since the demise of Tricky Dicky and Tony Gordon. Middle class idiots like Callum woodenly clunking about are about as scary as a rice pudding. Tracy is a gurning fool and the less said about the ridiculous Todd and his pathetic and motiveless "plotting" the better. David Platt had the makings of a good villan but he has gone all soft. Phelan was pretty scary as was the brief real Gavin.

Frosty the Snowman said...

Frosty forgot to add that Tony also had the makings of a good villan but also seems to have gone soft, eagar to appease Liz and the ghastly Tracy all the time.

Milly said...

I too am disappointed at the way they use characters at their convenience instead of having respect for who that character is and was. It is disrespectful to the loyal viewers who invest in the show too. I began to really like that nice Tracy character, I remember Amy saying "Happy suits you." And I agreed.
It seems of late very convenient for the writers to throw personalities around to suit the story about to be. We see it writers! We're not as stupid as you think, we would expect the quality of the show to improve not deteriorate. Humpty Dumpty said "viewers are becoming the moral compass of Corrie because there isn't a character to take on the role." Wouldn't it be more fun to less negative. It's not easy to care about a show when the person at the helm doesn't get it.
Hopefully, the next producer will be a caring fan of the show and understand what it's supposed to be about.
In the meantime, they need to hire you as a writer.

Anonymous said...

@Frosty - I really liked Alan Bradley as a villain, partly because he wasn't too villain-y, in a panto sense anyway. In screenwriter talk, he had one core drive to his character, which was to have enough cash to be independent. His downfall was that he had to depend on Rita to get the cash to be independent, and his hatred and resentment toward her grew as a result. I thought that was an extremely interesting dynamic to watch unfold, and it happened over eons of time without getting dull.

p.s. Emma, thanks for getting such a good conversation going!

Laura said...

Interesting article. I agree with a previous commenter that David has the makings of a Corrie villain, and given the right set of circumstances he could still morph into one. His resentment is always there, simmering under the surface, and his disdain for pretty much everybody around him except his kids shows on a daily basis. If for some reason in the future Kylie got custody of the children and took them away (not likely, but you never know what could happen!), I'm sure he'd go full throttle baddie.


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