The Snipist – an exercise in AWESOME @mrholness @skyarts #thesnipist

When Sky announced that they were going to show a series of short plays with massive stars in them, I felt a little disheartened. Apart from a slice of Russell Tovey and Alison Steadman getting her end away with Tom Jones, nothing really stood out for me. Call me a philistine if you want, but I’m not a massive fan of plays on TV – I’m not even a fan of plays in theatre. Plays are for people who thinks Eastenders is for idiots and frequently use the word “peons” and “peasants,” and know about this whole Greece economy thing. But when I saw someone tweet that Matthew Holness (creator of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) was involved in one of them, you could consider my interest piqued. It was more than piqued actually, if my interest was underwear, there would’ve been a little sexy dot on the crotch.

The Snipist is a brilliant way to spend 30 minutes of your life in tense silence, watching things get progressively worse for the main character, only to not only have the carpet pulled from under you, but the three piece, Lax table from Ikea and that throw that you’ve been meaning to throw away but haven’t got round to doing yet.

Heavily influenced by Tales Of The Unexpected (of which I have been enjoying lots of; again being shown on Sky Arts) but mixed in with the dystopian horrors of Threads and 1984 (John Hurt even stars as The Voice of The Ministry as well), The Snipist shows us a future where one dog infected with rabies has been smuggled into the country and infected everyone else, humans included, to the extent that there’s only one human left free of disease, except it obviously isn’t going to be that easy is it? It never is when it comes to post Apocalyptic dramas.

Deliciously tense, with just enough information being dangled in front of you to keep you going, Douglas Henshall’s haunted Harker carries us through the story really hating his situation and the inevitable choice that he has to make; potentially killing another human, being plagued with nightmares of past events and horrid futures.

It’s difficult to say much about The Snipist without giving too much of the plot away, but if you can stick with it until the closing minutes you’ll experience one if the biggest WTF moments since Coronation Street decided that rehiring Jimmi Harkashan was a good idea. Simply put, The Snipist will make you feel incredibly uncertain; for the World created before your eyes, as well as Harker’s eventual fate, but at the same time you’ll probably marvel that an idea this brilliant can be summed up in just under 30 minutes.

Dear Bryan Kirkwood, has Eastenders gone down the pan?

It would seem so, especially according to The Daily Mail, or people who have seen it over the past few months. Comparisons are already being made to it’s heyday of Dirty Den’s dealings and the epic Diederick Santer era, but even harking back to a bygone age isn’t productive to something which needs to represent current life. Which is something that Eastenders claims to be proud of. 

But why? Why has Eastenders taken such a slump in ratings and people’s opinions, compared to Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and, dare I even say it, Doctors? What has effectively ruined a perfectly amiable show?

Could it be that Eastenders has become too concerned with customer complaints. For instance, having 10,000 watchers complained about the controversial Babyswap storyline which turned out to be just Samantha Janus crying in a black waterfall cardigan must have stung a bit. How much do you fly in the face of public opinion if you know you have a decent story to tell? This taming of the Eastenders story lines wasn’t always like this, however. Back in the 1980s, Eastenders prided itself on being a grim look at family life in the East End of London. It was dark, stark and dangerous, and that was just Pat Butcher. The greasy walls of Kathy’s Cafe reflected a World totally abject from the Northern hole that I was brought up in, obsessed by microwaveable food and deciding who would win between Orco or My Little Pony. Even watching it as a child was a terrifying event. June Brown’s teeth and her Child Catcher look stood as a water test for how horrific people in London were. On my one and only trip to London at the age of 10, I was expecting to bump into skeletal harridans on their way back from shtupping someone’s husband (in reality, it was Jibba Jabbas everywhere). 

In a World where Bryan Kirkwood believes that making us believe Whitney Dean is pregnant, but then pulls the rug under our feet and have her not pregnant, is a cruel, cruel World. Not because we’ve all become emotionally invested in the character, but just because it’s a flagrant waste of the watcher’s time. Do I really have the time to waste being told that some skeet who’s going to get pregnant eventually isn’t? Of course I don’t! Stop playing with our lives Kirkwood et al.

This isn’t the only storyline that has made no sense of the past few months. Another one is Roxy Mitchell’s sudden fall into destitution. For those of you who don’t remember, Roxy was left the majority of her late father, and kiddie rapist, Archie Mitchell’s estate. It essentially made her minted overnight. Great news! People love seeing rich people on TV. It’s partially where the appeal of TOWIE and Made In Chelsea lies. That and the cast being total knob wipes. Roxy was incredibly rich, she bought flash things for her daughter (the oddly invisible Amy) and shops. At some point she might have owned Bootys. The nail salon is like Mayfair on Monopoly, everyone wants to own it, so it’s possible that Dot could branch out by the end of the year. 

Another example is Derek Branning’s racism. Derek is a renowned racist, he has been for years. He hated Alan back in the 90s and called people ‘Boy” in 2012. As racists go, his isn’t the best career that’s ever been. That sounds a little like we want him to be more racist doesn’t it? That’s a terrible sentence to write, let’s gloss over it by focusing on what it means to the overall state of story lines and their chronological impact shall we?

If something is a massive part of their character; like Derek’s racism, or Roxy’s money, or Jim’s racism for that matter, or Max forgiving Tanya for burying him alive that time, is it a case of bad writing if these things are forgotten about in exchange for a poor plot choice? Of course not! It’s lazy writing. Which is definitely an area that Eastenders has fallen by the wayside with. And bearing it mind what the next point is, is a little odd.

Eastenders has a rich heritage to mine for inspiration. If it hasn’t been done by Eastenders so far, chances are that it isn’t going to be. Drugs, HIV, Cancer, rape, affairs, homosexuality, cults, domestic abuse, fairground ride accidents. It’s all in the almost thirty year history. There’s loads that can be taken, brought up to date and then spun so it’s entertaining. But when the show becomes obsessed with paying homage to an era who’s only redeeming feature was Bianca Jackson’s puffa jacket is setting themselves up for a fall. 

Yes, there were good times. Who among you can say that they didn’t have a tear in their eye when Alfie bought that snow machine for Kat? Or when Mark Fowler drove off on his motorbike to find somewhere to die. Like a cat. Or when Tiffany took on a car and lost. All very sad times. But very sad times in the past. History is a massive part of everything, thick books full of words have told us this, but what happens when history starts to overrule the future? Mandy Salter is what happens. 

This whole exercise in futility, fleshing out the bones of a character no one would have remembered unless they were on a particularly nostalgic YouTube trip, is annoying and pointless. She was an irritating character twenty years ago, so how anyone drew the conclusion that this is what people wanted to see is baffling. And to pair her with Ian Beale, the only single man with money in the Square to fulfil an ‘Is She/Isn’t She’ a gold digger plot has got very old, incredibly fast. The lazy story has Ian repeatedly proposing after Mandy does something stupid, like sleeping with Ricky Butcher (another by-product of a poorer time on Eastenders) or wanting to care for her dying mother. Mandy is like a verruca; you need medical treatment to go away and she appears when there’s an abundance of dirt. 

The entire problem that the people behind Eastenders has is that they’ve lost the vision of what the watchers want. Despite the controversial story lines, like the Baby Swap and the death of Danielle at the hands of a fast moving car, it still had people watching. Even though there was a ‘mass boycott’ ratings went up, rewarding the storyliners for their bravery, but somehow, the current breed; lead by the ineptitude of Bryan Kirkwood, has lost what made Eastenders brilliant and turned it into a mediocre soap opera. I would love to even say that Eastenders is a better version of Hollyoaks, except it isn’t. It’s not even Family Affairs for crying out loud. It rests on par with a spin off centred on the failed Ferrera family. 

What do you think? Have you stuck by Eastenders through the thick and thin and are loving the trials and tribulations of the new breed of young Eastenders stars? Do you think that Mandy breathes fresh life into poor Ian’s life?

5 Things We’ve Learnt From…Steps: On The Road Again

Some people just don’t know when to say dead; Kerry Katona, Margaret Thatcher, Jesus, and generally the “spectacular comebacks” tend to not be that impressive. But instead seem to be a somewhat successful attempt at clawing in money for artists who’ve gone off the boil. Michael Jackson for instance. 

Nevertheless they are entertaining, even if you get to see how they’ve been in the ten year interval. Who wasn’t shocked when they saw Claire Richards and she looked more like Christina Hendricks than Christina Milian? Everyone was. 

So the new series of The Great Steps Revival 2012 is well worth a cheeky peak if you want to remember how sometimes truly awful Steps were. Here’s five reasons why:

  1. Claire from Steps, otherwise known as Claire Richards, is fat. She’s fine with it, but she’s not fine with everyone obsessing about it. To be honest, people are only bothered about her weight gain because it makes her the most interesting member of a group who’s members include Lisa Scott-Lee; a woman so universally dull that even giving them a double barrelled surname doesn’t make them interesting. And, surely if the Daily Mail is only saying that you are “pouring your curves into” something then consider yourself lucky. You could be Katherine Jenkins. They really hate her.
  2. Advertising Steps: The Great Collection during the program showing us their dramatic comeback is a bit heavy handed, and a little presumptuous. It’s like spoiling the end of the story before the end. Like during the bad series of Buffy where Dawn was shoehorned in and they revealed that Buffy died in the ad breaks before the series finale ended. What’s that you’re saying? This is just a huge capitalist ploy to tart up an otherwise uneventful comeback tour? Well, aren’t you all just cynics?
  3. Lisa Scott-Lee’s teeth haven’t really improved since the Stomp braceface era. Shame.
  4. During the Steps era of pop history Ian Watkins was known as ‘H’. When asked about what this meant he would beam and say the words ‘hyperactive,’ when in fact we all knew it meant ‘homosexual.’ His sexuality is one of the greatest obvious secret in the World of pop, coming a little after Paloma Faith being totally batshit crazy. Now ten years on, Watkins is as repentant as he was during the original Steps documentary. The little shit. 
  5. This is an obligatory mention of Lee Latchford Evans.

There. Claire from Steps is still the best one.