Wednesday, August 20, 2003 by

Standing head and shoulders above its contemporaries, Emmerdale continues to forge a lonely path as it manages to stand alone as the sole soap to juggle quality acting, quality dialogue, identifiable realism and good old fashioned entertainment without diluting the product or insulting its viewers. Whilst EastEnders persists with a seemingly endless stream of utterly banal storylines and Coronation Street struggles to come to terms with the post-Hillman blues, the burghers of the Dale maintain their ineffable ubiquity and carry on regardless. That immutability, the synchronistic pulse that permeates every scene and fuses the background indelibly into the psyche of the viewer, remains a wonderful constant upon which the show flows.

This particular episode was a quintessentially classic example of the show. In effect a handful of storylines split into 23 separate scenes, of which all but four were two-handers. Formulaic and derivative? Yes. Entertaining? Commendably so. This episode spun by with an hypnotic sensibility and the bold writing gamble paid off handsomely. By allowing the plot to flow between Cain/Charity, Terry/Chris, Ashley/ZoĆ« and Sid/Scott, we were treated to bullet-point soap viewing that captured the viewers’ attention and propelled the story with an innate sense of passionate urgency. In recent weeks the convergence and inter-weaving of these storylines has been handled with an assiduous adeptness with only momentary lapses of quality and style.

With a standard of acting that is currently very high indeed, Emmerdale also retains amongst its cast a wonderful core of young actors who are possessed with a talent and joyfulness that clearly separate them from their peers. Factor in the excellent storylines they are given (in terms of realism they rank ahead – by some considerable distance – of all other soaps) and you have a vibrant, strong element of the show that is wonderfully built upon. Able to intricately conjoin the youth and adult communities and present them as an organic whole as well as two separate entities when required, the show tends to flow as a microcosm of rural life rather than speciously attempting to understand youth in the hinterlands, and youth issues. Similarly, plots, issues and events concerning the greyer haired members of the cast are handled with equal sensitivity and objectivity.

This clear constant from the writers – that the characters are themselves first and their age, station or ethnicity next – is a refreshing change in soapland. If you look at the introduction of the Ferreiras to EastEnders, we see an Asian family first and foremost rather than, simply, a new set of faces in the Square. The recent plot involving the Asian wedding was as insulting to the viewers as it was predictable. We were taking bets on how quickly that particular plot would appear – with unreasonable haste was the voice of popular opinion. That’s not to say that there are no flaws in the characterization of Emmerdale. Sid as the stand-up, regular guy requires some fleshing out. Eric is called in to be pantomime villain far too often for my liking and the writers have taken Laurel’s dizziness to a frightening height. However, these grumbles are minor and easily remedied.

There have been, recently, some wonderful moments. Ashley’s admission that the Young Farmers viewed him as the stereotypical gay vicar was a lovely portrayal of human predictability and a well-observed scene. But the plaudits, for me at least, go to Terry and Chris, particularly Terry. His performance as his master’s faithful servant in the face of abuse and anger has been quite magnificent. The actor in question has managed to convey the character’s journey through the emotional maelstrom with consummate skill. Bringing a wonderful depth and insight to the relationship, this has added to the poignancy of the storyline and deserves enormous praise. The writing also managed to be reined in rather than go for the extravagant and this too added to the storyline.

Yes, Emmerdale has managed to maintain an impressive momentum of late and this episode merely added to its merited reputation. I would heartily recommend this excellent programme to any soap viewer who still brings memories of Annie and Joe Sugden to mind when hearing the name. Things have changed over the last few years and they’ve changed for the better. If you go down to the Dales today, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.


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