Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's a Shame About Ray

The song says it all ...

You know, the end of the year - if not the world (if you believe conspiracy theories) - is nigh, which means, after all the Christmas and New Year's kerfuffle, the early part of the ensuing year used to be a time when EastEnders announced those departing cast members.

Remember that? Those people announced at the beginning of a year, usually left within the course of the year, and those departures announced around May or June were dead certs (emphasis on the "dead") to be drummed out at Christmas or New Year's.

That is ... until the Kirkwood regime, when people's departures are announced after their last scene has been shot, if they elected to leave on their own volition and maybe even if they didn't.

Anyway, a new broom sweeps clean, and everyone is waiting with baited breath to see whom Sweet Lorraine sweeps out in the aftermath of panto absences, Derek deaths, Shaggerman reveals and Branning secrets.

Were I a betting man, or even a woman, I'd say Linda Henry will be gone by spring - or even June at the latest - and that's criminal. Henry is one of the strongest actresses on the programme, and - at one time, had an Executive Producer steered her character in that direction - had the potential of being the next generation's Pat figure.

Shirley was a strong, stand-alone character - a flawed character, but a strong one nonetheless - when she arrived on the scene in late 2006. She was the wayward ex-wife of Kevin Wicks, who'd cheated on him twice and walked out, leaving him to bring up their disabled son and two children who weren't his. After Kevin had done all the hard work, Shirley returned, determined to recapture her place as her children's mother.

Who can forget Shirl's drunken, yet plaintive plea, when mourning Kevin's death?

I loved him first and I loved him best!

There was ample scope to explore Shirley's relationship with her children after Kevin's death, but Diederick Santer decided Kellie Shirley and Matt Di Angelo needed to depart. Santer toyed with a Shirley-Phil relationship, as all the fanbois were then clamouring for it; but it was left to the soul-destroying Bryan Kirkwood to firmly ensconce Shirley as part and parcel of the reconstructed Mitchell dynamic.

In doing this, not only did he re-establish this strong woman as a desperate and unlikeable doormat, totally obsessed and pathetically clinging to Phil Mitchell for unrequited love and status in the community, but it brought out the ugly side of her bullying nature and also brought Phil Mitchell, arguably the most nuanced character on the show, down to her base level of bullish, intransigent unlikeability.

Now, with Phil's character about to be reunited with Sharon - and, really, this was ever why Letitia Dean was brought back into the fold, Scott Maslen's involvement being a smelly red herring - Shirley's left on the periphery again, this time alone, and cold, bitter and vindictive.

She's effectively isolated, and since Lorraine Newman has adamantly declared that none of Shirley's family - not those whom we know (Carly, Dean or Zsa Zsa) or those whom we don't (her unseen sister Tina) - would be part and parcel of 2013, this means Shirley has no real association with Walford.

She's got tangential friendships with Denise and Jean, but that's about all. She has no job, no prospects, no place to live and certainly no money. Without Phil's association, she has no influence either.

She'll wrap her vendetta with Phil by being defeated and humiliated by him and she'll skulk off.

Shirley will be a casualty of 2013, because I think Linda Henry might want to leave.

I also think the upcoming mini-storyline featuring Ray Dixon might herald his departure as well.

As we know from the spoilers, Ray's about to embark on a bit of a fling with Denise, his current squeeze's sister. If you're thinking cheating on her sibling is way out of character for someone as level-headed and moral as Denise, you wouldn't be wrong. This is a storyline, which will result in the shit, literally, hitting the fan between the sisters Fox, and will most likely mean the break-up of Ray and Kim and Ray's ultimate departure from the Square.

It may even mean that Kim might leave in the near future, certainly sooner rather than later.

Several weeks ago, EastEnders offered us the interlude titbit of Denise embarking on a relationship with Fatboy, a character young enough to be her son. Unusually, considering this EastEnders is one of garish retconning, unlikeable, over-the-top and downright mean characters, this storyline was done with great sensitivity and subtlety. It was obvious from the beginning that Arthur was afraid Denise was using him for sex only, and it was obvious that she, initially was lonely, but was drawn to him in a certain way. It was a storyline which could have taken Ricky Norwood's character from the annoying and cloyingly stereotypical Fatboy to Arthur, a gentle and sensitive but very passionate young man. It would also have been innovative to have a genuine couple consisting of a much older woman and a younger man.

Instead, after a couple of clandestine encounters, Denise let Fatboy down gently, and within two episodes, he's chasing a countergirl in the local pharmacy and receiving pulling techniques from Poppy. This lasted another couple of episodes before it became obvious to both Poppy and Fatboy that they really fancied each other.

Easier storyline and easier option for a writing room afraid to take chances, except in a sensationalist and dysfunctional way.

The Denise-Ray-Kim love triangle will follow the traditional EastEnders' line of exposure, with the guilty culprit deciding to leave the Square - in this instance, Ray. It's what should have happened at the end of Stax. It certainly should happen with Kat at the end of Shaggerman. Instead, I'm betting that Sweet Lorraine is taking the easy option of dropping Chucky Venn's contract.

And that sucks.

It's all very well getting rid of the character of Ray Dixon. After all, Ray's not only a weak character, he's a totally retconned one.

Ray, in case no one remembers it, was originally a nameless one night stand, according to Bianca when she explained to Pat and to Ricky how Morgan, her bi-racial son, came to have a white father. Refreshing any conveniently forgotten memories, here's the first "reference" we have of Ray:-

After Nathan Dean died, Bianca went off the rails, sleeping with any and all men. She got pregnant. She slept with so many men, she had no idea who the father of the unborn baby might be. 

Then one dark and stormy night, when Whitney was twelve and Bianca was pregnant with Morgan, she and the kids were walking back from the shops when the wheel of Tiffany's pushchair broke. Miraculously, out of the wind and the rain, stepped Tony, who fixed the wheel, walked Bianca home and subsequently moved in. He was so good with the kids, they came to think of him as a father. Whitney, we know, came to think of him as something more.

Anyway, hearing Bianca's tale of woe about her baby not having a father and not knowing who the father might be, Tony gallantly offered up his name to be put on Morgan's birth certificate. Imagine the surprise when Morgan was born; but even then, Bianca had no clue as to the identity of Morgan's dad.

That was the story in 2008 and Diederick Santer. OK, we know Bianca lied to Nathan Dean and to Ricky about Tiffany's paternity, but there really was no reason for her to lie about this story; and whilst she could snooker Ricky, not many people got lies past Pat.

Fast forward to early 2012. Another producer, Bryan Kirkwood, suddenly created Ray as Morgan's father, who came to light when Morgan queried why his siblings' skins were white and his was not. According to Kirkwood, not only did Bianca know who Ray was, she had kept a record of his mobile number. Tiffany traced him, rang him, took iit upon herself to inform him that he had a son, and took Morgan to visit him. There ensued from Ray a story - not of a one night stand, but of a full-fledged relationship. The kids knew Ray, and - more importantly - Ray knew Tony King. In fact, Ray introduced Bianca to Tony. And Ray and Bianca stayed together long enough for her to discover she was pregnant and to lift five hundred quid from his wallet before taking up with Tony.

A totally different story entirely, with not even a referenced explanation from Bianca about why 2008's version was so completely different from 2012's.

One can only wonder at the low intellectual regard the production crew has for its audience.

Truth is, they wanted a romantic interest for Kim, someone to show her in a different light, and they needed to introduce a man of colour onto the Square with some sort of connection; so they went for the obvious - Morgan's dad.

Ray couldn't have been someone Alfie knew in Spain or even in his youth. He couldn't have been an old police mate of Jack's or even the forbidden friend Max had whose friendship resulted in Max being nailed in a coffin by his racist dad. He couldn't even be a mate of Lucas Johnson's or one of the Trueman sons come looking for a connection. And, most importantly, in the new world of the EastEnders' low-on-confidence production team, he couldn't have not had a connection on the Square.

Ray's been there almost one year, and it's obvious TPTB have no clue in which direction they want to take the character. He arrived a nice and easy-going guy, a bit of a prig in the lecturing on healthy eating. A bit of a soft touch, he was willing to financially support his son, but wasn't willing to get snookered into supporting the rest of Bianca's brood. And whilst he was a good father to his daughter Sasha, his idea of parenting Morgan was to lather him with presents.

His romance with Kim, originally supposed to be light romcom which would, ostensibly, develop another angle of Kim's character, was totally unreal. Kim was Tanya to Ray's Max. Ray had the opportunity to be a truly nuanced character with many different levels, whilst Kim came across, still, as the ultimate ageing party girl, strutting her stuff about, tits and skirts high, necklines low, purring and rubbing up against Ray like a cat, much to his annoyance sometimes. In fact, when they met, she was wearing a catsuit. Plus, Kim didn't "do" children. Ray was his priority. The added baggage of his daughter (who was soon dropped along with Shenice) didn't fit Kim's criteria, and Ray noticed this.

As the year wore on and as it was pushed that Ray was going to be a suspect in the Shaggerman mystery, he morphed into a latter day version of Theophilus P. Wildebeeste:-

Ray as Theophilus without the music:-

Within a few months, we have Ray as the ubiquitous angry black man with attitude when he's stopped and searched by a bizzie, in the lead-in to the background storyline of Ray's establishing a fitness programme for street youths at the boxing club. How that one will end, no one knows, because all he's been seen to do lately is incur Derek's wrath by teaching MahAliceMahAngel self-defence moves.

All of which is about as interesting as watching paint dry and a superficial nod  by EastEnders to the real problem of racial profiling in stop and search. (Actually, EastEnders does a fair bit of racial profiling, itself, in presenting many of its ethnic characters as stereotypical, but that's a topic for another blog).

So, when in doubt, turn to that oldest of EastEnders' standards - the love triangle. Sweet Lorraine will have Ray kiss Denise, Kim's sister and a woman whose temperament, intelligence and lifestyle is infinitely more suited to Ray's intellect than the silly, often drink-sodden Kim. As a clandestine affair with a sibling's partner is something totally out of character for Denise, we'll have a lot of soul-searching and gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands before the shit hits the fan and Kim wallops both Ray and her sister (and Kim can pack a punch).

Then a few weeks to a few months down the line, after Chucky Venn has finished filming his scenes and departed, we'll have Sweet Lorraine's PR people announce that Ray's leaving ... actually the following month. And in an explosive storyline, dontcha know ... or maybe not.

Still, it's a shame about Ray. Kim too, because she'll be following in order to accommodate the arrivals of Ava and Dexter, who - no doubt - haven't been thought out as characters either.

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