Cosy crimes and gritty sagas by Corrie Blog editor Glenda, published by Headline. Click pic below!

Sunday 3 March 2024

Faith, Hope and Coronation Street

As I sit here attempting to write this blog, my first since November 2019, it has me sympathising with the various Corrie writers tasked with penning an opening line for the return of a departed character.

How to begin?

Unlikely to make a jaw dropping entrance at The Rovers, or interrupt a fraught scene at just the right moment, I'd be better pictured slipping quietly into Roy's Rolls for a sticky bun, and settling in the corner for a good think about what's brought me back to Coronation Street.

When I was last a regular viewer of the comings and goings on the cobbles, Sinead Osbourne had passed away via a set of highly stylised episodes which were not only terrible to witness, but felt to me like they belonged in a different programme. Dark, issue-led themes not only competed with one another, but occurred back-to-back leaving the stories no time to resonate, or the viewer any time to breathe. Nor were the comedy elements any match for the gravity on show, and the normality of day-to-day life, which has always underpinned the drama, had all but evaporated.

What had begun earlier in 2019 as a petering out, turned into a stoic black taxi departure for me, as I no longer recognised the show I love and which means so much to me.

I decided that the door would be left open, however, and the hope that did remain saw me keep an eye on this wonderful blog to see if anything might tempt me back. Scott's oft-missed Five Things was a must-read each week, and as much as I laughed at his take on the sometimes incredulous happenings, there were times reading it where I knew my decision had sadly been justified.

But, come the end of 2023, I found myself on the threshold once more, minus the leopard print, and my return held no mystery; my favourite character, Peter Barlow, was leaving, and I couldn't go without seeing him set sail. Unfortunately, my conclusion on viewing was that his departure was inevitable.

Peter is unequivocally the soap's best character as far as I'm concerned, and Chris Gascoyne is the main reason for this. He and Alison King were brilliant, as ever, but the episode left me feeling the same as Peter; empty.

There was depth to the premise; if you love someone, be prepared to set them free, and the dilemma presented for both sides was a rich one. But the episode didn't quite seem to be able to carry it, and even had some out-of-character moments such as Peter having no intention of saying goodbye to Ken, who surprised him on the doorstep as he was leaving.

When it came down to it, the whole thing just felt like Corrie-lite which made it hard to invest in. 

But, as Billy Mayhew can attest, faith is a great thing, because here I am again in 2024 with hope renewed.

Interestingly enough, I'm watching Classic Corrie at the same time, and a number of things strike me about it; the personal, the human, the everyday is very much to the fore, and it makes it all infintely watchable. Indeed, the Corrie of 2004 feels more 'real' although it's twenty years old. There is a strong sense that you are witnessing a working, lived-on street. You are the quiet observer in the corner of the pub, sitting in the hospital, the factory, their homes; standing on the opposite kerb to the action. The performances too are consistently subtle, which gives the programme a very natural quality.

When I watch today's Corrie, I sometimes feel it's being put on for me rather than inviting me to immerse myself in it. Part of this is that it can feel more scant than Classic Corrie with its thronged, noisy Rovers and busy streetlife. Different too is the nature of the storylines; not least the continued volume of issue-led ones, and the consequent warnings before episodes. These instantly posit you in the 'viewer-of-something' position rather than someone who could feel right in the thick of it. 

I know its dark turn has been spoken about ad nauseum, but it is a contributing factor to changing the feel of the show. There is darkness in Classic Corrie too, but it doesn't make up the majority of scenes, and is set within a web of differently themed plots and the all-important humdrum, which can still feel a bit absent from today's.

Another difference between classic and contemporary Corrie is that there is often no real sense of time nowadays. I can't be fully sure if it's morning, afternoon, evening, or night, and it's even hard to tell at times what day it's supposed to be. Everything is presented as 'now' and you just have to surrender to it. Others may not see this as an issue, but it helps to ground me in the reality of what I'm seeing, and to feel I'm witnessing a day in the life unfold and come to a close.

Now, with all that said, there is a reason I'm here, and that is, there is plenty to be hopeful about contemporary Corrie from what I've seen so far this year. I very much enjoyed this week's episodes which had just the right balance of light and shade, and saw personal stories to the fore. Rita's birthday scenes were a highlight, as was the incidental humour that was woven nicely into Thursday's; it even had me laughing out loud.

I am a tad confused at the Steve / Tracy / Tommy O storyline however, as it's both played for laughs and treated seriously by all concerned. Perhaps there's scope for humour around it, as I have loved Sally's reactions, but I feel, in real-life circumstances, the break up and associated responses wouldn't play out as they have done so far, and that's a little jarring.

In terms of other personal stories, Liam's bullying, while issue-led, has been excellently and sensitively done and brilliantly performed with the all-important human, lived experience at the core of it.

I enjoy Jenny, Daisy and Glenda behind the bar, and the Daisy / Ryan / Daniel / Bethany storyline is a promising example of a watchable relationship-based plot. Roy continues to anchor the café with aplomb, and any scenes with Evelyn are a delight.

Another great character is Dee-Dee, and while her struggle, now that she knows Adam's secret, will be an interesting element of the Harvey saga, I'm not overly enthused by the storyline itself. But then it involves crime, violence and murder, all of which for me have reached saturation point on the street. Corrie viewers do love a good villain and we saw some of the best in Pat Phelan and Richard Hillman. But I think it works better when introduced now and again, and not as a permanent fixture.

And if the programme-makers think we won't tune in unless such themes are constant, this viewer would disagree.

Yes, of course life can be dark, but there are enough dramas dedicated entirely to crime and violence if that's what people want to see. There is no reason why the soap can't remain a space where the full range of human stories and experiences can be represented, with tragedy, joy, sadness, fun and authentic humour all woven together in down-to-earth settings that show the toing and froing of daily life. There was a promising sense of that in this week's episodes and I dearly hope it continues.

Key too is that its stories are led by the characters rather than the plot. And in case of any concern that a contemporary soap embracing character-driven intrigue borne out of simple human interaction wouldn't appeal in 2024, think about the appetite there is for shows such as The Traitors, Love Island and The Apprentice. Viewers are hooked because of the people, their interactions and responses; the situations themselves are relatively low-stake.

As I've said, we do need a villain every now and again, and it's worth thinking in this context of shows such as Call the Midwife; a programme which successfully maintains a core ethos despite embracing dark storylines, and is immensely popular without compromising on its gentleness and heart when tackling a grave issue.

The stylised moments, dark, issue-led themes and lack of a fully authentic day-to-day life can still be seen in today's Corrie, but it seems there's a better balance to its light and shade now, and the show seems to be tipping in favour of what makes Corrie unique and enjoyable to watch. It would be a gift to see it progress like this, and with that in mind, here are some thoughts on what I think would and wouldn't help to keep it this way:

  • Stylisation, unusual camera work and incidental music will never work, and only pulls us out of the bedrock of reality which needs to underpin the programme at all times.

  • Issue-led themes should never compete with one another, or appear back-to-back.

  • Comedy should be at the heart of the programme like it was on Thursday. We don't need any farcical plots, just some authentic light stories and organic threads of good humour running through it all.

  • Ground the normality of day-to-day life with a strong sense of the time of day, and pepper the drama with humdrum inconsequential scenes; these help us get to know characters, give them depth, and can be a great vehicle for connection and humour.

  • Keep going with the personal, human, everyday stories of relationships, goals and challenges, and don't be afraid to give them tenderness and gravitas, with depth, when needed. If comedy wouldn't suit them in real life, don't bring it in.

  • Fill the Rovers and the streets with extras and noise to make it less like it's all set up to show us a cast of main characters and more like they're people who live their lives there alongside those we don't know.

  • Don't put Corrie on for us, invite us in. Make us feel we are sitting in the corner as first-hand witnesses to it all.

  • Let rich characterisation lead the stories rather than the plot.

Many lifelong viewers like myself run the risk of being dismissed on account of expressing a desire to see the cobbles of old honoured. So I'll say, for the avoidance of any doubt, that I understand the show has to move with the times, and I want that for it. The thing is, I genuinely still believe it can do so while retaining its authenticity, and everything that makes it quintessentially Corrie.

I've seen enough of that potential now to sincerely hope it not only continues, but truly blossoms.

By Emma Hynes

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Flo said...

Excellently put! I quit watching in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. I didn't need dark TV at that point in time and even watching after they were back to filming, it just still seemed so depressing. I've thought about starting to watch again, but haven't yet made the leap. I agree completely with your suggestions of things they need to avoid, in particular having two dark storylines running together or back to back. The viewer needs a break from that and it makes it seem way too sensational if that is all they do. I have several friends who quit watching as well for the same reasons, so I hope someone who has some influence actually reads your post and the comments. I miss the fun and lighthearted day to day stuff of Corrie from the past.

popcorn said...

Very well said Emma.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Although Tim and Steve's obsession with Wethy County is a bit OTT, the conversations have been hilarious. They even make me laugh out loud. A perfect balance to all the doom and gloom. I like Tommy too, his facial expressions are priceless. I only hope that Steve and Tracy get through this

C in Canada said...

Very very well put.
I began watching in 2003 while I was home on maternity leave. Once I could figure out what the heck everyone was saying (Canadian :) I really enjoyed the show due to it's being more like everyday life.
Traditional soaps on this side of the pond are very unrealistic - everyone is rich, beautiful, successful...and the storylines reflected that also.
Coronation street felt like you were living their lives alongside them.

I feel that the issue based storylines are getting more and more prevalent because that is reflective of society today. Unfortunately.
The best scenes are still the quiet ones with a few characters having a good chinwag in any setting, about, well, anything!


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