Thirty Thousand Streets

Monday, May 15, 2006


I find that my TV watching habits are kind of a barometer of what's going on in my life. If I can give good account of recent events in Neighbours, say, it's a pretty good indication that I've not been working and am probably to be found drinking tea and staring moodily out of my living room window at coach loads of Polish tourists thundering past on Camberwell Church Street. Same goes for Countdown – except that's good, of course.

One thing I do seem to watch regularly though is Eastenders, and I say this with very little pride, as I realise that the programme is, put simply, car-crash tv.

It is quite amusingly bad though, and there are a few reasons for this. The most obvious one being that it depicts a London that is utterly nonexistant, except in the fevered imaginations of the shows producers. A vision as authentically 'London' as Dick Van Dyck's accent in Mary Poppins, only less so. For starters, if this is supposed to be the East End, shouldn't it be a bit more, shall we say, ethnically diverse? Rather than the token asian and black characters crudely shoehorned in to for appeasement's sakes, where are the African characters, The Bangladeshis, the Northeners (and don't say burt).

And jobs.. never mind all this market stall nonsense, surely anywhere in London is going to be home to at least one web designer, a couple of grime DJs, a freelance journalist and some recruitment consultants. Oh the recruitment consultants. Some shadey landlords as well, charging small fortunes for shoeboxes overlooking the high street, and taking two months to fix a tap. Then putting up the rent.

But one thing Eastenders does pride itself on, is its portfolio of 'hardmen', who are about as intimidating as yoghurt, only less useful in a fight. The most obvious being gurning 'double trouble' slapheads Phil and Grant, (brought back in in a vain attempt to boost ratings and proving, ultimately, that no-one ever really leaves the square – they just do a series of 'Ultimate Force' instead). Other than that though, notable villains include the 'pathetic gangster' – a post last occumpied by Johnny Allen. Pre-requisites for this role are simple really, you just have to be bereft of gravitas and supremely unintimidating, so having a receeding bouffant hairline and having sung in Spandau Ballet won't harm your chances one iota.

And the storylines... watching a storyline emerge in Eastenders is a bit like watching a ship sink – incredibly slowly. There's an awful inevitability to it in its sheer crashing unsubtlety and contrivance. One thing that always makes me groan inwardly is when two of the characters start talking at each other at cross purposes, and you realise that this is only the beginning of a tedious 'comedy of errors' that will take weeks to unravel, and won't even be that good when you get there. A bit like worrying away at the yards of grubby grey cable tangled behind your pc, somehow you realise it's better left alone and it will still be like that in six months time anyway. Something else that isn't exactly hard to spot in the 'Stenders is the way they introduce new characters – in short, they talk, unlike the hosts of extras who generally potter round mutely in the background like animated bit-players in some East End fuzzy felt diorama.

What is problematic with this, is that the programme's vocabulary in terms of its players is so limited that it's frankly ludicrous. Everyone has got, or had, such beef with other residents of the square that it's hard to see why anyone still lives there. An example of this that Will pointed out to me was how on Steve Owen's stag night, everyone put aside their differences for a night of leering and carousing in the E20. Why would you invite your enemies to your stag do? Because they're the only people you know of course, because no-one else in your neighbourhood talks! Jesus it's like some kind of Beckettian dystopia round here.. let's get down the queen Vic and roll out the barrel.

Eastenders is spiritually bankrupt too. Everyone always ends to scewing someone over over (both literally and figurtively) so in the end, everyone is as bad as each other. There's no moral compass in it whatsoever, unless you count Dot Cotton, and frankly, even she was being kinda snidey to the guy from Dad's Army who Pauline's shacked up with now. And far too many people end up sleeping with Pat Butcher, though, I did hear she was shacked up with Moira Stewart so maybe anything's possible.

All thus aside however, I can't pretend I don't watch this shit, and there's something peversely enjoyable about it. It really is utterly brainless, powdered soup for the mind, which is just the ticket for a Monday night. It also offers up a plethora of characters it really is quite fun to be irritated by – I'm thinking of Phil Mitchell's meeping drip of a son Ben at the precise minute, but there have been, and will be others.

But it has gone downhill since Big Ron left. Next week: Hollyoaks (joke).


mountainear said...

I am glad somebody, somewhere remembers 'fuzzy felt'. What hours of innocent fun it proffered in the days before cyber-space.

gridrunner said...

Fuzzy Felt – yeah, it’s been a while...

The Eyechild said...

I'm actually putting on a fuzzy felt night at Dream Bags & Jaguar Shoes in Hoxton – Floella Benjamin's DJing back to back with one of the guys from Autechre.

Come down, it should be a riot.

Zeno Cosini said...

I still carry around a fuzzy felt moustache in my bill-fold, "in case of emergencies."

Adam said...

Eastenders to the UK is Neighbours to Australia.

The Eyechild said...

ie shit.