Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Branning Show: Big Love Brannings - Review Boxing Day 2012

Max's song for the occasion:-

This is what I mean by short-term remedy. Diederick Santer had it down to an art. The show's been bleeding viewers, seriously, since 2003. I don't give a rat's ass what a particular over-enthusiastic Digital Spy shipper, quoting audience figures and pushing viewing times, has to say about the show and how great it is. Everything said in that respect reeks either of being on the BBC payroll or wanting to be part of what he would deem the EastEnders' experience. I also don't buy into the cutesy PR plant on the same forum with the same agenda, which is to big up the show no matter what.

These people are hucksters. P T Barnum would have made sure they were given a goodly supply of snake oil.

The show's been on a downward spiral for a long time. Up to the plate steps Santer. He's got to staunch the flow. Maybe if he stops the thing from bleeding out, he can turn its health around, but to staunch the flow means a quick-fix solution that gets bums on seats.

So he employs two short-term devices:- bringing back popular former characters and sensationalist storylines. Sometimes they work - Ricky and Bianca worked, Clare Bates didn't.  Sometimes they don't - the Stax reveal was good, the burial alive of Max was something best forgotten, along with the obvious symbolism of being effected over the Easter weekend of 2008, with the incumbent symbolism of rising from the grave and all that.

He creates a precedent. Santer gave us  Ricky, Bianca and Carol as we remembered them; Kirkwood gaves us a mutant Alfie and Kat. And a brief sighting of David Wicks, with David's and Carol's teenage shag behind the bike sheds being turned into the second coming of Frank and Pat. He also burned down the Vic, blew up the B and B, swapped a dead baby for a live one, and had Heather killed with a picture frame by mad, bad Ben Mitchell, the tap-dancing psychopath. He expands the Brannings until the family and its attachments reach into every aspect of Square life. He expands the teens, so that now their diverse couplings become things of a serious nature. He kills off a long-established and much-loved matriarch and gives us a Branning replacement, once removed, complete with fag smoke and whiskeyed breath, wheezing and bullying her way around the neighbourhood and asks that we accept her.

This is not EastEnders. This is BranningVille, and, believe me, BranningVille makes Pottersville look pleasant.

The entire year of 2012 has been inconsistent - at best mediocre, at worst downright bad. There are characters so devoid of warmth, purpose and compassion who've hogged the screen and in whom we've been begged to invest something, that it becomes impossible to do so, and people turn off. Writing is lazy, circular, with no end objective, retconning almost at will and moulding new characters to fit the personalities of the actors who play them - most of whom have little or no professional experience and very little talent.

The premise of the Christmas storyline has basically been the revelation of two "surprises" and the death of a character who was, arguably, the most unliked character ever created on the show. We knew Derek was going to die, we just didn't know how. Anyone using more than one braincell could have sussed that Kat's Shaggerman was Derek and that Max's major secret was that he was married to someone other than Tanya.

Yesterday, because of these revelations, EastEnders won the ratings' battle. How they sustain the aftermath of all these things will determine if it deserves to win the war, itself.

Don't listen to the shipper and his various incarnations on Digital Spy. Shippers gonna ship. Or the PR bod who skips about and uses musical analogies, playing the part of a dizzy teacher awarding grades and sounding like Aunt Bluebell on acid.

Watch the damned show and think, especially if you're a long-term viewer. The public fund this through a stealth tax. We shouldn't let anyone, not the professional shippers nor Lorraine Newman and her writing room get away with dishing us any old tripe and then try to tell us that public perception of this programme is positive.

Grab them by the short and curlies and shake!

Because tonight's Boxing Day episode was back to the same old same old. When I find myself beginning to doze during an episode of EastEnders, something is wrong. Not with me, but with EastEnders.

And for the record, the Shipper-in-Chief of EastEnders on Digital Spy assumes that Downton Abbey is a show aimed only for women or elderly people. That is an insult to everyone who watches that programme and an insult to his perceived intelligence. Downton Abbey boasts two ex-cast members from Coronation Street and Emmerdale. I see no one, upstairs or down in that production who is an alumni of EastEnders. Think about that.

OK, let's get Max Branning's marital history straight.

An 18 year-old Max Branning gets his girlfriend Rachel up the duff and marries her. Bradley is born. Max is now a married man. When Bradley is six, Max dallies with 18 year-old ex-drug addict and incipient alcoholic hairdresser Tanya Cross and gets her up the duff. Result? Max has to abandon Rachel and Bradley in order to marry Tanya. Tanya is a woman who thought nothing of going after another woman's husband. Hold that thought.

Max is a serial cheater, and he cheats on Tanya. Each time he's caught, he assumes the Max  Branning sad face

and apologises to Tanya, each time offering her an increasingly more expensive present. When Max is caught sleeping around with the ex-girlfriend of his son, who subsequently marries his son, Tanya kicks him out, and sleeps with the local psycho in order to get him to help her kill Max. At this point, Tanya becomes as bad, morally, as Max.

She attempts to bury him alive, relents and rescues him, agrees to some time apart, but then shacks up with Jack the Peg, Max's brother. They spend a year taunting and publically humiliating Max before trying to skip the country, illegally, with Max's kids. That's when Lauren, Max's oldest daughter tries to kill him.

Both these murder attempts have since become jokes within the Branning family. Eventually, Max and Tanya reconcile, but when he goes tits-up financially, she leaves him and within a couple of months, has latched onto a gormless younger builder with a fat wallet and an even fatter wotsit. They divorce, and Tanya marries gormless Greg. Tanya is now married to another man, and Max is single.

Within weeks, Tanya starts sleeping with Max. If all the Tanya-shippers never believed her to be as amoral as Max, they do now.

When she finds out she has cancer, she keeps it a secret. A big secret. In doing so, she pushes Max away, after gormless Greg finds out about her affair, but she does so in a way in which she allows her daughters to believe that the affair was all Max's fault. Tanya never takes responsibility for anything she does. Tanya and Lauren order Max to leave Walford. Max is still a single man.

At some point during the three months he is absent from Walford, Max marries Kirsty. However,when he's called back by Jack for a family crisis and finds out about Tanya's illness, he decides to abandon Kirsty.

OK, Tanya married in April 2011. Max married sometime between August-October 2011. This would mean that Tanya could not divoced Greg before April 2012, and Max could not initiate divorce proceedings until August, September or October 2012. So Tanya and Max, for the better part of the year, were two people, married to others, who were living together. Except that Max never told Tanya he was married.

Another secret, but then secrets are the Brannings' way of life.

It has to be assumed that Tanya and Greg got a divorce, because at some point in the year, she ceased to call herself Tanya Jessop and became Tanya Cross again. We now know that when Max visited the mysterious council house with an evelope of money and wanted, but didn't, knock on the door, that he was delivering a wodge of dosh as a sweetener in order to get Kirst to sign the divorce papers, also enclosed. That scene occurred around September 2012, so that was accurate.

After that, we got increased demands from Derek that "their friends" wanted more money in order to give Max what he wanted. We know know also that Derek was scamming Max and Kirsty at the same time.

Last night, Tanya accused Kirsty of being one of "those women who sneak around after other women's husbands." Sorry, but that isn't true. That applies to Tanya, in both instances with Max. The first time around, originally, she didn't know about Rachel; and this time around, she didn't know about Kirsty.

So somehow, this is all Max's fault, when Tanya lied and kept a secret from him about her illness, drove him away and it happened that he, a single man, fell in love and married this woman?

More of this I'm-a-victim-it's-not-mah-fault shit. This time, Tanya-style, aided and abetted by Cora the Bora. There, you go, Cora, wineglass in one hand in the morning and fag-end in the other, encouraging your daughter to nab another woman's husband, just so she can break the bank in financing yet another white wedding. How many times has Tanya's hymen been psychologically and surgically sewn back together again?

And here's Cora the Bora again, bullying up to Kirsty, who was talking to Abi - it's obvious that Max told Kirsty all about his family back in Walford - well, at least, his daughters. There goes the old lag again, looking down her nose at Kirsty the Exotic Dancer (when Cora the Bora's daughters have slept around with various men, have been drug addicts and are near-as-dammit alcoholics, as well as one being a marriage-wrecker) and issuing empty threats. You go girl. Followed by Tough Tan, who gives Kirstly the ultimatum of leaving town of her own volition or Tanya will put an end to her.

Nope, Walford ain't big enough for Kirsty and Tanya (much less Cora the Bora), but we know that Kirsty ain't going nowhere, and it's Tanya who leaves. In fact, judging on that scene alone, my money's on Kirsty. And if anyone's the victim here, it's she. She married Max in good faith. He as good as abandoned her. She hadn't seen him in more than a year and had only one communication from him. She has better grounds for divorcing him than he does her.

Max,who owns his amorality but also owns the fact that he is in possession of a conscience and can experience guilt, is in a quandry - and this is one of the reasons why the Brannings are moral cowards. Max could push money and divorce papers through a letterbox and trust Derek to fanagle proceedings which would convince Kirsty to sign the papers. Max would then be free to marry Tanya. No fuss, no seeing Kirsty again and remembering that he'd actually fallen in love with her  - or at least fallen for her when he was vulnerable and emotional. He would never have to look her in the face again or hear of the fact that when he abandoned her, she was pregnant with his child and aborted it. He'd have Tanya and live happily ever after.

Similarly, Jack can drop kids all over three countries. He can send a cheque a month and doesn't have to see any of their faces. It gives him moral approbation enough to bed woman after woman, including playing happy families with his latest shagfest's fatherless child and allow him to call himself a good father because he financially supports the children he never sees and scarcely thinks about. Once again, another Branning moral coward.

And Derek, who spent years sending birthday card after birthday card to Joey, only to have them returned, and eventually bribed Alfie into taking Joey Jim's heirloom watch, only to have it shoved back in his face. This is why Derek found it so difficult to deal with his son - harder on the face-to-face bit. 

The Brannings are moral cowards in a way the Mitchells could never ever hope to be.

Max is in a quandry. He knows he has to make it good to Tanya - not because he particularly loves Tanya. He finds her comfortable and familiar. A port in the storm in between forays into infidelity. Max really loves Stacey. She's the only woman for whom he was willing to say goodbye in a New York minute to his children and swan off with her for places unknown as she fled Walford, a murderer. She was the only woman for whom he allowed his son to be branded a criminal. Still, he's on uncertain ground with Kirsty. Because of the aborted child, and because Max possesses a conscience. He knows deep down that he's done wrong by her; he also knows that Kirsty does, indeed, get Max, probably in a way Tanya never really has. The fact that Kirsty knew enough about Abi to identify her as "the one who wanted to be a vet" or "the one with the brains" indicated that Max and Kirsty had, at least, talked, which is something that Max and Tanya never do.

Max's and Tanya's co-dependent relationship is based on sex and comfort. Max gives Tanya good sex and material comfort - nice house, good job, a semblance of middle class aspirations. Tanya offers Max stability and the comfort of the little wife at home until he becomes bored and strays again. But it's not a relationship based on honesty or communication. If Afia, who'd only been married to Tamwar a matter of weeks, ascertained that Max and Tanya as a couple were on a hiding to nothing, then there's nothing left of them, not even the children. Tanya undermines Max's parenting, and - where Max had formerly bonded with Abi - they now sink all their parental resources into the most ungrateful, spoiled and entitled child in the universe - Lauren. 

I would imagine that Kirsty does, indeed, get Max and that she's more than a match for him in various ways. This is going to be interesting, if TPTB can sustain it.

Keirston Wareing is an up-and-coming actress of note, a BAFTA nominee. She's not going to want to stick around and be eternally identified as "Kirsty on EastEnders." She'll burn bright and brief, but she'll match Jake Wood in a way Jo Joyner, journeyman actor, never could.

I found the aftermath of Derek's death seedy and hypocritical, just like the Brannings. Max, again, is feeling his conscience twinge - it must be going into overdrive, with Kirsty's appearance and Derek's death. Jack, surprisingly, is playing Mr Wooden Indian, revealing nothing and keeping strong for the sake of holding it together. The Mouth-Breather was in full  lock-jawed mouth-agape mode tonight, and in full transferral of guilt mode, blaming Max's wife's appearance for Derek's death, when Derek's death came from a myriad of reasons - his situation with Kat (his own fault), Max's perceived betrayal and rebellion (again, this was Derek's fault for having blackmailed Tanya) and it was Derek who brought Kirsty to Walford.

Now that Derek's dead, his daughter has acquired a new name. She's gone from being "MahAliceMahAngel" to being "Aaa-aassss" in Joey-ese. Joey spent two minutes trying to comfort "Aaa-aasss" before she went beserk and threw him out of the house. Maybe she didn't like being called an ass. Kudos to the unintelligible one, however, for putting that thoroughly selfish and unpleasant little bint, Lauren, in her place. What a thoughtless little piece of shit to sit down beside someone, obviously in the throes of grief, and remark blithely that within two weeks' time, everything would be back to normal. She is pathetic. She doesn't even deserve Mr Mouth-Breather.

Once again, I reiterate that the Brannings could be pared down to just Max, Abi and Carol, and no one would miss the other hangers-on. Carol was great tonight, providing strength in comforting words and fortitude in cups of tea, remembering the fact that the Brannings have buried children before parents - referencing Billy, James and Bradley - but totally unaware of the deceit Derek had vested upon her also.

At least, it was established beyond a shadow of a doubt tonight, that the Brannings believed they watched Derek die, although that time lapse looked as though Derek was dead as he hit the ground. This will be another timeless point of debate as much as Barry Evans's death was and is still.

Over at Moon Manor, otherwise known as the Queen Vic - pardon me, but was there some editing here? Because I'm sure the spoilers said Kat overhears Alfie asking Roxy to move in, or am I mistaken? I don't like Kat's 2010 reincarnation much, but I like her even less when she's involved with the Brannings. 

Roxy loves Alfie, and Alfie is still playing the honourable card and sleeping on the couch. Kat sleeps around, yet on two separate occasions, Alfie has offered accommodation to Roxy, and has yet to sleep with her. I actually liked the scene with Mo and Jean in the kitchen and the fact that Mo considers Alfie family enough to protect him when he's emotionally vulnerable. I don't think either Jean or Mo - and Jean was once Roxy's mother-in-law, remember - think Roxy would take advantage of Alfie, they just recognise that he needs time to heal from Kat's betrayal before entering into any other relationship.

I love the idea of Alfie and Roxy, that she's a warm, generous and loyal woman, who loves the bones of him, but I hate knowing that Newman is setting this up as a device to eventually reunite Alfie and Kat, when Kat should just bugger off and go.

The comedy vignette, yet again, was provided by Kim, who managed to sleep through Christmas Day and awake on Boxing Day with no hangover effects, after downing two pitchers of Big Mo's punch. Not funny, but it was good seeing Shirley interact with Denise and the two sharing a laugh, as well as the return of Patrick, and the subtle beginning of Zainab's leaving line. Also, how the mention of poor fatherless "Aaa-aass" prompted Shirley to remember to ring Carly, Zainab to ring Shabnab and Denise to give a mention to Libby and Chelsea. And Kim got her Christmas.

Other highlights of tonight's episode:- 

  • Amy spoke, but off-camera.
  • The reaction of Kim, Big Mo, Jean and Roxy when Kirsty entered the pub saying she was meeting her husband, and the husband turned out to be Max Branning.
  • Shirley calling Zainab "Zabnab."
Boxing Day becomes a filler episode. Christmas and Boxing Day with no Mitchells and no Beales. Let's hope 2013 becomes more Branningless.

1 comment:

  1. This is totally off-topic, but blimey, I'd forgotten all about Sparks! I watched the youtube clip and remembered exactly why Ron Maels totally freaked me out when I was six years old and saw this song performed on Top of the Pops! The way he sat at that keyboard was just totally unlike anything I'd ever seen before (and have ever seen again!). All those memories came flooding back today, but it's a cracking song and I've just downloaded it, so thank you for igniting that memory!