Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Cogitation Street

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:

“Watching Coronation Street of late, for me, has felt like sitting alone in a room peering at a dear, old friend through the window. I’m certain it’s my friend, as I can recognise them, but something about them has changed, and I’m left feeling rather puzzled and uneasy.”

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.

By Emma Hynes


www.emmahynes.net
Twitter: @ELHynes
Instagram: emmalouhynes
Facebook: @EmmaHynesWrites





All original work on Coronation Street Blog is covered by a Creative Commons License

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recognize a lot in this. And it all comes into greater focus if you are watching the Classic Corrie episodes, currently in early 1994, on ITV3. There the drama can still be found in the everyday worries of modern family life - the young Webster marriage, for example, and, most gloriously, in the trials and tribulations of the McDonalds. I think the key lies in all of the drama being something that you could imagine yourself being involved in. The drama these days seems to rely on sensational events that are sometimes so far removed from what most people experience that they become unbelievable. A young mother tragically dying of cancer is, of course, sadly something that does happen, but surely - surely! - there is enough drama in this without having to add a kiss of betrayal? Seems totally unnecessary and, ultimately, damages the main storyline.

Den said...

Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down Emma. It's important that voices are heard, even if they're negative, although I've done the very same lately, bottled it up and kept quiet. There was a lot of praise recently for the Billy and Paul scenes, particularly in the way the storyline had been handled and because my views contrasted so massively from what I was seeing on social media, I felt my voice would be lost, or attacked.

I remember early last year I was absolutely disgusted in corrie for the heroin storyline they ran with Billy, I still am quite bitter about it to be honest. And then a little while after another coro blogger blogged that we should all lighten up and stop moaning. A few corrie stars picked up on it chorusing "here here" and it just made me feel worse, so I wrote a big piece on his blog about why it's important that if something doesn't sit right with you then you should be allowed to voice it without being told you're just being negative.

It wasn't like I hadn't praised corrie in the past for everything I felt they'd gotten right, including actors and crew for all their hard work. Many others also commented likewise to my reply saying that they too were finding little light in the show. At some point all the comments on that piece got removed ... which did make me feel like writing blogs and opinion pieces is a little pointless if you're not going to allow others to reply, or allow a reply and delete them if they disagree with the piece.

I'm sure you'll have people read your blog and have a completely different view point to you, which is fine, obviously, we all have opinions and we all know what we like and don't like. I totally understand what you are saying with regards to the show, I tune in when I know certain characters are on and tune out heavily when I know any of the Winter clan are on. They're just not my cup of tea.

I did like the filming style of Sinead's final episode with her drifting in and out of consciousness. I lost my mum many years ago now to cancer and up until that Friday I had become quite worrisome by how little of my experience I'd seen in Sinead's. I did come to a realisation towards the end though that it would be impossible to get it 100% accurate to real life as people would switch off from the weeks and weeks of misery. But the final episode I did feel was very well handled. I particularly thought her dialogue with Billy was exceptional. I did think the line about most deaths being peaceful was a little tactless, but ... tbh, that is typical Billy, so it seemed very in character. Other than that, I thought he was a very calming voice in the entire episode.

I very much disliked the Bethany involvement in the storyline, it really wasn't needed. And I feel the idea of throwing in that kiss into an already depressing storyline is where, if you're struggling to watch the show right now, most of the problem lies. And I wonder if that comes from a social media perspective. Wanting those comments. They even posted a picture that evening on their own twitter account of Bethany and Daniel kissing with the word "Thoughts?" - I thought that was massively distasteful and just confirmed to me that it wasn't so much about telling a story as more getting a twitter frenzy.

Keep characters true, keep the dialogue true, keep their actions true ... and that's where the warmth comes from. Humour can come from simple conversations between likeable characters.

Everyone obviously works incredibly hard on the show, like you said, and I can't imagine the amount of hours that must go in to give 6 half hour episodes a week. Thinking of content to fill those minutes must be incredibly difficult. But the show definitely felt like an easier watch before than it does now and we've only gained 1 extra episode.

Humpty Dumpty said...

The litmus test for me is whether I can be bothered to switch on the TV and I am more selective these days. Certain developments have spoilt it for me. The first is the number of shows in the week. We're almost in real time so missing one or two episodes isn't crucial. The second is the way the actor and the character have become merged. There's a mixed message here: on the one hand, these characters 'aren't real' so don't blame the actor if you see them in the street. On the other hand, the actors are wheeled on to every chat show going which is a subliminal way of getting you to become emotionally involved with the character. The third is the ridiculous invention of the 'interview' which is clearly written by the PR department. There's no time for story arcs or character development so we're thrown a crib sheet to bring us up to speed. And, lastly, I really don't like being told when an actor is leaving Corrie. The 'kiss' probably signifies the beginning of Bethany's exit story. Some of us will be guessing how this proceeds, not because we like Bethany but because we like solving mysteries. My other litmus test is whether I would miss any character if they left. Unbelievably, to me anyway, is that I wouldn't mind if even Peter Barlow left! I suppose nothing will change while the viewing figures are ahead of its rivals, and while Twitter and the entertainment sites keep its profile high. Possibly a turning point will come when the older characters have gone. With nobody to rebel against, will Peter Barlow become the stable head of the family? Rita goes and Jenny gives out the 'Listen, lady' speeches across the bar? That could be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Jeanie (anon):

If a good litmus test is how much you miss the character when/if they're gone, then (for me, anyways) the reappearance of Gail shows just how essential she, Audrey, and the rest of the Platts are to the show. When I watched Monday's show, I realized just how much I missed them! One dose of Gail and her impossibly bouncy, glossy, golden hair--symbolic of her eternal optimism and ebullient spirit- and all was right with the world! Meanwhile, I was just so happy that miserable Sinead was no longer moping her way to an early grave, as tiresome and colorless in death as she was in life.

Gail and Audrey are the high spots, but the rest, David, Nick the momma's boy/a----e, Sarah, are great too. And their family dynamic is both authentic and hilarious. I particularly love how they come across so differently when you see them out on their own vs. when you see them in their family group with mom and gran--where suddenly they're back in the old family role that they've been stuck in since childhood. Demon David. Flaky but sweet Sarah. Responsible but controlling Nick. And the way they play off each other and their mom and grandmother, forging and reforging alliances and feuds, always jockeying for support and approval from Gail or Audrey! It seems so true to how so many families operate...and subtly suggests all the frustration family members feel when they're back with siblings and parents who don't see the person they are now but rather the sibling or child they've always been. Great stuff. Even someone like Sarah becomes so much more interesting when you see her bickering with David and Nick...the long-suffering sister sandwiched in between the antics of her demented older and baby brother.

By contrast this last month and a half has been so pointlessly bleak and so terribly, desperately humorless, despite the frantic antics of Bernie, Gemma, and crew that I stopped watching.

Why would anyone want to watch a young woman with a new baby and husband die on screen? Fortunately that almost never happens; even less likely is that one's beloved husband will kiss one's friend while one is in the process of dying. So I' afraid that I just tuned it all out as lazy, manipulative story writing designed to stir my emotions without much effort put into the development of an actual meaningful story (which is quite a different thing than nifty camera angles and stylized effects). I mean, of course seeing a beautiful young woman with a baby die on screen is heart-rending. The real challenge to a good story and good depiction is inspiring similar emotions in response to the everyday afflictions and heart break we all experience as we journey through life.

Lesley said...

I agree as to the heaviness that has beset Corrie over the last few years. I have found myself regretfully fast forwarding through the show lately. The joy is gone. There are far, far too many issue based storylines coming one after another. The long, protracted process of Sinead dying was neither enlightening, nor necessary. Nor do I watch anything with Geoff, Michelle or Bernie in it. Corrie seems to be a lost cause lately. I have watched it since day #1. Fast forwarding literally gives me a sinking feeling. Corrie is not alone unfortunately in dragging “current” issues into the plot. So many shows do these days. Most of us are not unaware of many of these problems. I personally watch tv to escape some of the pain etc that just comes with being alive. It hard to find a place to just find the appropriate balance. I do not watch vapid romantic comedies etc. As I prefer real life, but not being a journalist looking for the gore, I do seek some equality of light and dark in my programming. I hope Corrie goes back to its roots, as pretty soon I will be fast forwarding through the whole show and grieving the loss of a great tv series.

C in Canada said...

Here in Canada, we just saw Sinead pass away on Monday. I enjoyed the way the scenes were portrayed from a cinematic point of view - her drifting in and out of consciousness. I felt all the actors were spot on with their portrayal of emotions. You expected the ones closest to Sinead to be heartbroken, but watching Chesney's grief in particular was so very heart wrenching.
They all had me reaching for the tissues.

Kosmo said...

Some wise words Emma. Whilst not here I have been writing episode reviews for nearly as long as Glenda and I remain unconvinced that the current six episodes a week are serving us well.

One of the regular writers, Ellen Taylor, was interviewed on Conversation Street podcast last week and it was interesting to hear her say that the need for a pre-ad break and end of episode hook meant that every episode has to ramp up the drama to feed those 12 weekly interruptions.

She also described the complex effort going on - three teams shooting at the same time and effort backstage to schedule the story elements.

I feel that the scheduling and writing needs to be opened out to give us a couple of scenes in each episode where we see people removed from the current action but interacting - eg Imran and Toyah at home in the evenings; other couples the same - and from last week what is Jenny doing in the back room and where is Johnny. We saw Sal and Gail on a power walk recently - much more of that is needed.

Less drama and more about the wonderful characters. I remember four or five men maybe 20 years ago planning a night out and ending up getting steadily drunk in the Rovers and failing to go into town as they were enjoying a chat.

And I really don't think the viewer numbers would drop.

MartesBC said...

I am surprised at this embeded journalist's opinion having had supported Kate Oates reign in previous blogs and paving the road to today's Corrie and subsequent dissatisfaction. Sinead's death was very well done and would have been more special and highlighted if it wasn't juxtaposed with the stupid prison riot. There is an 'explosive' storyline every 5 minutes. Coronation Street is a massive machine now and the writing process is well described by the writer of Sinead's death episide in the Oct 31st Conversation Street episode. And if Corrie goes to 7 episodes a week, that we all consume without thinking, me thinks it ain't getting any better. So we deal with it if we want to, or tune out, or get a job on the writing team.Simple.

dhvinyl said...

An excellent piece and some equally well thought replies. Here are my brief thoughts,...too many characters leads to too many story lines. No scene is given the time to breathe and we rarely get to enjoy the extended conversations that build the characters. Six hours is too much. Two 60 minute shows a week with two ad breaks per show would give more time for extended scenes. Stop introducing all these long lost relatives and give the best actors time to show how good they are. To succumb to fast-forwarding your favourite soap - and I’m doing it more and more - is near criminal. The writers and producers must know it’s not working right now and needs a radical overhaul.

Glenda Young said...

A note to MartesBC - there are no embedded journalists on this blog. Never have been, never will. It has always been - and will remain - a fan site written by and for fans, expressing all kinds of opinion.

Glenda Young, Coronation Street Blog Editor.

Bobby Dazzler said...

You have accurately described how I feel about our favourite program.

Anonymous said...

Glenda, why do you no longer use Flamin' Nora as your identity?

Glenda Young said...

No particular reason 😀
Flaming Nora
Glenda Young

Karen said...

I am in total agreement with your post.
I'm longing for more comedy. Gemma, Tim and Steve, the new neighbours (sorry, I don't have all of their names embedded in my memory yet), their crazy antics and interactions occasionally pop up to give us a lark. Oh please writers, let us see more.

I couldn't watch the episodes covering the death scenes. It is too close to home for me right now.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more. I spend as much time watching old episodes on DVD from around twenty years ago as I do watching the new episodes. There was a time when I would not, indeed could not, bare to miss an episode of corrie but nowadays I find I can go for week at a time and manage to cope. This would have been unheard of in the past! I'm afraid that there is far too much screen time for the younger cast- probably because the younger members can cope with the grueling schedule- but I miss the older generation. The comedy that Corrie has always been known for has all but gone, as has the human reactions to the events taking place. The sense of community is lacking and, whilst this might be a reflection of the change in society in the real world, it is very much missed on screen. -Micky

Emma Hynes said...

Thanks to all of you. Not only for taking the time to read my piece, but to post your own honest, interesting and comprehensive opinions in response. While I would need to write another blog to address all the points, I will say the following.

I would have completely respected and accepted if people didn't agree with me, but the reaction, both here and on social media, has been one of overwhelming support. This demonstrates that Corrie fans remain a passionate bunch, and that we still care, very much, about the show.

Such fans are invaluable to any programme. And I genuinely feel that if we are expressing doubt and despair, and admitting to fast forwarding it or skipping it altogether, then that is something which should be taken seriously.

If a show is to change in an attempt to target new viewers, it follows that they will be less invested, initially at least. As the programme cannot rely on their long term loyalty, it needs to retain the existing fanbase. Yes, there is the need to build the audience of the future. But, and I made this point elsewhere, grandchildren, children and grandparents alike - that's three generations - have always been able to watch and enjoy Corrie alongside one another. That is proof to me that it has managed to move with the times without risking its universal appeal to gain younger or newer viewers.

The difference between now and previous decades is social media, which is certainly something which may divide the generations in terms of how they consume the show. This makes it all the more important that a programme can stand alone whether you're engaging with it online or not. I do have issues concerning writing scripts for any programme with social media in mind. However, that is a different conversation for another day.

Thank you again, Coronation Street Blog readers and Corrie fans. Your opinions are valued, and I'm grateful that you've taken the time to respond to mine and to share your own.

Emma

Louby said...

I'm just catching up on the blog and found this brilliant post and comments. These are my current Corrie thoughts....

I love the old episodes but don't watch through rose tinted spectacles. Not everything was better but we did get to know the characters in a lot more depth.

I think we are expected to overlook so many plot holes now and I know this has been discussed quite a few times. The elastic walls of the houses, skint people who can afford to eat at the cafe/bistro and drink in the Rovers for a start. But the scenes from Llandudno, obviously filmed in the summer and not at the end of October!

One of my biggest annoyances is how a character has a problem, it's a big thing for a while and then all of a sudden it's all over. I'm thinking of Craig's OCD, Sean being homeless, Carla and her drinking/gambling/psychosis etc. It would be good to see, for example, how Craig now copes which would make including the issue a lot more worthwhile.

To see how the show has changed, compare the 40th and 50th anniversary episodes. The 40th I remember for Ken and Co's fight to save the cobbles, Vera donating a kidney to her grandson and Peter Barlow returning. Mostly happy stuff, apart from Terry! 2010, mayhem and death!

I'll finish now with the thought that Brookside, which was brilliant in the early years, became ridiculous as the script writers thought up more and more extreme plots. Viewers including myself deserted it until it wasn't worth carrying on.

dhvinyl said...

Well said, Louby. Nothing is forever and I am thinking of other ways of spending the three hours every week. I’m guessing the Street’s viewers are almost entirely mature, and we are a generation that yearns for friendship, humour and love, not bitterness, nastiness and inhumanity. We get enough of that on the news!!

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