Friday, December 21, 2012

The Branning Show: Two "Victims" and One Spoiled Brat - Review 21.12.2012

Here's a little ditty for the two women who are, arguably, the biggest self-perpetuating victims in Walford. Ladies and gentlmen, I give you Tanya and Kat ...

Simon Ashdown scored another winner tonight, but I've some bones to pick with the episode. First, however, the accolades:-

Shane Richie. It's criminal how much TPTB, during both of Richie's stints, have fallen back on that "cheeky, chirpy chappie" routine that all-too-soon becomes cheesy and annoying. Yes, we know that Alfie is a character who normally makes people smile and whose modus operandi has been to make other people feel good about themselves, even when he really needs to put himself first.

Alfie's always been one of life's givers, someone who - as we say where I come from - would give another person his asshole and shit through his ribs. He's never been one to shy away from helping people or stepping up to a responsibility. He was all cleared with a Green Card for a job in the US, when his parents were killed. He gave up the job to raise his young brother and look after his grandmother. He took the rap for his cousins' credit card fraud and went to prison in their stead. Even when he returned to Walford in 2010, when his and Kat's money got mistakenly taken by Heather (being hidden in a toy she'd bought at the market), Alfie took the money but left her with a small bundle from the cache.

He's forgiven Kat again and again for her infidelities, even taking her back after she'd got pregnant by his cousin. He's done this so much that he's been labeled a doormat this time around.

Yet whenever he's called upon to step stage front and give a dramatic performance, Shane Richie never fails. Of all the actors involved in the benighted babyswap storyline, Richie carried that and his performance by far was the most poignant. He is one of the few actors in the programme who can do comedy, yet believeably switch to drama and do just as well.

I would also rank Perry Fenwick alongside him. Too much time is wasted on Billy the Loser. Who can forget Billy's support of Jay the night Heather was killed?

If this is the dark side of Alfie Moon promised us way back in 2003 by Louise Berridge, I want to see more of it. This is the landlord of the Vic. I liked the way he shouted the odds with Kat when she tried to wriggle out of being caught in her dirty little secret and how he publically threw her out of the Vic, in full view of all the punters, on a busy night when even more punters were engaging outside. This needed to happen.

It happened to Sharon when Grant played that infamous tape of her confessing her affair with Phil to Michelle back in 1994. It happened to Pat when she and Frank were discovered in their affair by Peggy back in 2000. The ritual public humiliation. Why shouldn't it have happened to Kat?

He shouted the odds with Kat and then faced the punters in the pub with icy cold anger. Notice how he never once raised his voice and how he effectively put the upstart Brannings right in their places, first allowing Derek to leave, thinking he was doing so in a dignified manner; but if you watch the episode again, clock the looks on Fatboy's and Phil's faces as Derek leaves the pub. That's revulsion.

My favourite Alfie moment was when he shook off any help from Jack or Max and then issued this ultimatum:

So why don't you take your wives and your girlfriends and any other hangers on and just get out of my pub.

When Tanya, Kat's rival for self-perpetuating victimhood (and about to get a level of home truthdom shot her way, herself) tries to play like the responsible adult, Alfie basically tells her to STFU. She got the message all right. And so did the punters. This shocked them because they'd been so used to seeing the holly jolly meinhost Alfie, always ready with a bad joke and a pint, they never imagined his astuteness, in knowing that they thought him a mug. And now they've seen the consequences of crossing him.

One of the most amazing revelations about what happened tonight was how much the Shaggerman situation neutralised Big Mo. Jean's astonishment, i can understand; but Mo never raised a decible or a hand in attempting to defend Kat and Kat is her granddaughter. Whether this was shock or what, I don't know - although I do know from Mo's past association with Pat, she takes a dim view of infidelity. Still, Mo and Jean are in the Vic and Alfie looks as though, in the moments after the ordeal, that he's OK with them staying there.

Richie's Alfie was just perfection all the way through this episode, and I hope this wasn't just a Simon Ashdown "special" of Alfie, but more in the direction his character should go in the aftermath of this. EastEnders has a bad habit of ratcheting it up a gear for the big moment, then packing the character with whom we're familiar back away in a neat box only for him to emerge having learned nothing nor having developed in anyway.

Alfie even came out the winner in the end, even against what we knew was going to be Derek's ultimate deception; but even then I thought Kat was hoping for too much from Alfie. Thinking that him hearing her voicemail to Derek ending their relationship and declaring her love for Alfie would be enough for Alfie to allow her an explanation - giving her time to think up some sort of pithy excuse which would ultimately portray her as the victim of the thing. I think Alfie's reached the end of his tether with her. The trust he had in Kat left the night she was forced to confess her latest infidelity. We've known that ever since.

Derek's little charade at the end only made him look small. Alfie took his taunts on the chin, smacked him and told him never to come back to the pub. I'm glad Alfie unburdened himself to Roxy at the end, but knowing the way Lorraine Newman wants this thing to go, I'm sad that it's all kabuki theatre.

What was interesting and at the same time frustrating were the scenes between Kat and Derek. Making this abysmal storyline a guessing game throughout the interminable months it played denied the viewer to see what exactly it was that attracted Kat to Shaggerman and how their relationship deepened. It still comes across as one based primarily on sex, but Derek - as everyone agrees - is the most repulsive one of the Branning brothers; and that's not merely about his looks.

Max Branning is not a physically attractive man, but he has no problems in puching above his weight and succeeding with women you'd never imagine would look twice at him - Tanya, Vanessa, Stacey. The same with Phil Mitchell, who's counted Sharon, Kathy, Kate and even Dawn Swann amongst his conquests.

Amongst Max and Jack, there's always been the running joke that Derek's never been a hit with the ladies, and that was made a certainty when we were introduced to Jackie Bosch. We also know that whilst Derek likes a rough but vulnerable girl (Rainie/Kat), he's also prone to beating the cack out of women - reference Joey's remembrance of Derek hitting his mother so hard he left the imprint of his signet ring on her face.

If the purpose of Ashdown's episode tonight was to highlight Kat's vulnerability, it didn't work with me. She was vulnerable tonight because she was placed in a situation she never imagined herself to be - out, in the cold, a couple of days before Christmas on her uppers, abandoned by her husband due to her own infidelity. This is why her constant refrain last night, begging Alfie not to give up on her, and tonight about wanting a second chance with Alfie, grated on my nerves.

It's always been thus - Kat can pull her cheating tricks anytime she wants and come crying the victim to Alfie, and Alfie's supposed to forgive and forget. Last night, Kat was telling Alfie that none of this was Kat's fault, that Shaggerman made her do it, that he kept bothering her etc etc, when tonight we learned from Derek, that Kat was up for what he had on offer from the getgo - and if you remember the kitchen scene in the Vic, Derek was telling theh truth.

I wonder if Alfie had been unfaithful to Kat if she'd be so ready to forgive? I think not, considering the fact that she was ready to take the moral high ground when Roxy was discovered living in the Vic, even though she and Alfie hadn't slept together. Until that point, Kat had had her infamous knee-jerker in the alleyway with the deliveryman. Alfie had the moral high ground. But Kat thought Alfie and Roxy had been living it up for months, romping the bed whilst she'd been away, which would have given her a higher moral high ground - only to have Roxy hand her her ass.

Does Kat love Alfie? And if she does, why did she go with Derek? Kat is Whitney in twenty years' time. Alfie is Kat's dependable bloke. He's nice. He has a steady living, he'd good to her child, he offers security. But, as Derek says, that's not enough. She's got to have a variety of sexual partners, but always go home to Alfie for comfort. She's Max in reverse and as amoral as Max - but Max owns what he is. Also, she knows what she gets with Alfie, and that's something she doesn't know about Derek. For all his protestations about loving her, he's an unknown entity to her.

It's better the devil you know than the devil you don't; and she's either off her guard due to the ubiquitous "vulnerability" aspect or she's bloody pig-thick ignorant in trusting Derek to deliver her "message" to Alfie intact.

Derek, like all of the Brannings, are losers, but he's the biggest of the lot. And he punches down. Notice that every person Derek's managed to manipulate this past year have been women - Carol, Lucy Beale (hardly more than a little kid), Tanya and now Kat. He set up that entire situation knowing that Kat had no one in the world on whom she could depend except him now, and he manipulated her trust, even getting her to admit that their dalliance meant something to her.

And that was the most unbelieveable thing about the entire Shaggerman ordeal. Maybe it was because the actors, themselves, didn't know who Shaggerman would turn out to be, but I don't believe it. Everyone knew Jamie Foreman was leaving; he was the obvious choice. But based on the contrived scenes - the scene of Kat bandaging Shaggerman's hand in the kitchen and her other taped voicemail message tonight - there was no warmth or passion exuding in those scenes. Only sex. Kat came across on the tape as a slutty, unfaithful wife on the prowl while her husband slept.

BranningVille. Lauren is drunk again. Surprise surprise. The problem with Lauren's being drunk is that Jacqueline Jossa is so bad at portraying a drunk. Instead, she came across tonight as being exactly what her mother said she was - a spoiled brat, who was acting out in the worst sort of way because she couldn't have the boyfriend she fancied.

She got a smack, which was long overdue from Tanya, but that smack only came as a result of Lauren holding up a mirror to Tanya's own faults. From the minute they left the pub and entered the house, Tanya was back onto the only subject that's mattered to her this entire autumn - her wedding.

Lauren and Tanya are mirror-images of each other - self-obsessed, selfish drunks, who think they are better than anyone else. Judgemental hypocrites just like their matriarch Cora the Bora. The only other thing concerning Tanya was the whereabouts and state of Derek after the reveal - not for any concern about his safety or his state of mind, but because he was Max's best man for the Branninaganza about to take place the next day.

It was a turn-up for the books Lauren spilling the beans about Tanya's convenient little secret from Max, but really ... the whole palaver about Derek manipulating Tanya in a pretence to protect Lauren in order to get her to get Joey to leave Walford was - shall we say? - one of the biggest and protracted bores of the year.

Tanya acted like a spoiled bitch and Lauren matched her. Why not? They're mother and daughter, although the remark of the night came from Tanya when she claimed to have worked in nothing but Lauren's best interests and for Lauren's protection all her life. The ripping up of the wedding dress and the demolishing of the wedding feast - been there and done that. So Stacey Slater.

And once again, Max, like Alfie, pulls off a brilliant charade of understatement about Tanya's lies and deceit. She really is no better than Max; but there at the end, we had her wheedling and cajoling Max that this little lie was just a teeny weeny one. They had no real secrets between them, which - of course - is something Max knows isn't true, and is why he has to forgive his selfish wife her indiscretion, because he is as bad, if not worse, than she.

Jacqueline Jossa was way off kilter tonight. Someone should really send her to an actors' workshop with a view to working on the way she plays a drunk, and she should also be advised to tone down the excessive arm and hand gestures and facial expression. This is not the stage, it's film, and the director will pick up whatever nuance an actor wants to convey.

The selfishness of the Brannings stood out a mile tonight. They were concerned about one of their own, only because of the part he played in the incipient wedding. No one voiced any concern about Kat or Alfie, whose marriage had just been ripped apart by the actions of one of their own; or Kat, thrown out on a cold winter's night.

It was just utterly amazing how everything that had transpired before in the Vic suddenly all became about Tanya and her wedding and Lauren pining for her cousin she'd shagged once  in a week.

This should have been an aftermath all about the Moons and less about Tanya and flipping Lauren.

The best thing about that was Max. Jake Wood's Max is one of the most nuanced characters on the programme at the moment, and Tanya's leaving will free up his character for interesting development. For me, Jake Wood and Shane Richie (when used properly) are good long-term prospects for the programme.


  1. I really don't see why they had to stick the Branning drama into this episode.

    They've been trying, since it's inception, to build the Shagger story up as some great excitement, and yet they can't even bring themselves to dedicate one measly episode SOLELY to the primary players in the storyline in the immediate aftermath. Why not just focus on Alfie, Kat and Derek during the fallout from a reveal episode you've been pinning your hopes on for the best part of the year? Even bring Mo, Jean and Roxy into the frame a little more if you want to break it up a little - but why the nonsense with Brannings? It felt completely out of place and just seemed to get in the way of what the episode should have actually been about.

    But then TPTB were hardly going to miss out on an opportunity to shoehorn their little golden family right into the heat of an episode they knew was likely to be a big draw. And it WAS written by Ashdown after all - who probably has a clause in his contract requiring that he has at least five Brannings to write for in an episode before he'll even consider setting pen to paper.

    And Jossa's drunk acting is utter shit.

    1. Small correction to the above post - Jossa's acting is utter shit at all times, whether she's playing drunk or not.

  2. I agree about Shane Ritchie - he's not the best actor in the show by a long way (I don't think there are many 'good' actors in soaps; good soap actors, maybe, but not good actors in a wider sense - but that's an argument for another day...) and he should be able to show this side of Alfie more often.

    Honestly, the deception by Derek re the voicemails was so obvious as to be laughable - and everyone believed what he said to them! They deserve to be lauded as idiots in that case, I'm afraid.

    JJ's acting is being lauded (my word of the day!) on DS as being fantastic, and relative to her usual stuff it was better, but the best bit was the slap! I don't know how they managed to act/pretend/edit in the sound so seamlessly, but it was a resounding, ringing, stinging slap delivered with such apparent force behind it you could feel it! Kudos to whoever the stunt co-ordinator/director (whoever decides these things) was, because they worked it all together perfectly!

    It was odd how suddenly the events in the Vic were secondary to Tanya's wedding as soon as they got home - they really are stuck in their own little world, aren't they, and we are stuck there with them whether we like it or not.

    I can't believe how the media are reinforcing EE's publicity department with stories about how the nation has been 'gripped' with this s/l - comatose, would be closer to the mark! Surprised it was Derek? Only if you've been asleep for the last few months. On the edge of their seats waiting to find out? Hardly. The only good bit was seeing Alfie's reaction to it, but we've seen nothing to make us invest in the Derek/Kat relationship, so they can't expect the viewer to suddenly invest in it now, much less understand it.

    And I'm 99.9% sure Derek's death isn't going to be a 'whodunnit', just a death from natural causes, albeit natural causes exacerbated by an argument or confrontation of some sort with one or more of those he's upset recently, and further consolidated by someone (Joey?) standing by and watching for just too long before calling an ambulance (hence his 'guilty secret' he confesses to Alice at the funeral?). But a 'whodunnit'? If it is I'll eat my hat, despite TPTB doing their best to line up reasons and suspects why it could be - they're so transparent!

  3. I couldn't agree more with the blogger's critique of Alfie, and Shane Richie. I thought his performance was fantastic but I was also interested in the background players. Did anyone else notice the shocked faces? Watch Arthur's expression when the camera's on Kat, he looks choked. And disgusted, and so sad for Alfie. I noticed he was the only one to step forward and attempt to halt Alfie's progress across the Vic and towards Derek, only to be swatted aside by an Alfie none of them had ever seen before. And Michael and Phil, their only scene in the episode I think. Phil, especially, looked shocked. Michael didn't. He looked like he'd been expecting this. But notably, neither man stepped in to stop Alfie's physical assault on his wife as he dragged her across the pub and tossed her out of the door. I loved it all, including Roxy's sweetness and concern for Alfie. I do hope she doesn't cross the line and declare her love for him too soon, she's surely old enough to know a rebound when she sees one.

  4. Please refrain from using the words "matriarch" and "Cora" in the same sentence. She just happens to be the oldest one in the clan, but she certainly doesnt deserve any extra honour for this!

    Professor Plum

  5. Do you think once Tanya leaves, Janine could be brought together with Max? After Ryan ditched Janine for Saint Stacey Slutter, Max and Janine had a brief scene together, and I was amazed by their chemistry. I think they'd make an exciting couple.