Friday, February 3, 2017

A Confederacy of Dunces - Review:- Thursday 02.02.2017

Jesse O'Mahoney isn't one of my favourite writers on the show, but I enjoyed this episode, even though parts of it angered and annoyed me.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The Trouble with Sharon and Phil. I blame John Yorke. The problem with Sharon and Phil, or rather, the problem with the way their characters are depicted, date back to Yorke's tenure. 

I realise that there are some viewers whose cognizant memories of the show begin with Yorke's reign, and they refer to this as "the Golden Age" of the show. Believe me, it's not. Yorke put into play many of the problems which plague the show today, but chief amongst them were the mis-representation of Sharon's and Phil's characters.

Yorke was faced with the dilemma of developing Phil, always the nicer of the Bruvs, beyond Grant after Ross Kemp's departure. Instead of veering Phil in a new direction, he had him fall off the wagon again, develop an obsession with Steve Owen's squeeze and, basically, just tacked the bad bits of Grant's character onto Phil.

With Sharon, he did worse. Sharon was the first of the big-name, iconic characters to make a return, but people forget that Sharon left Walford with her head held high. She'd faced down the Mitchells, after having been betrayed by Phil to appease Grant, and she left. In fact, she did more than just leave, she left Grant Mitchell crying in the middle of the street.

Sharon had always been a strong female character who repeatedly bounced back from adversity. She returned to Walford a man-dependent tragedy queen with an even more tragic secret - the fact that she left Walford pregnant with Grant's child, which she aborted. The abortion went wrong (highly unlikely) and she was left infertile; but a few years down the line, when Nigel Harman's character was killed off, TPTB threw a sop to the Shannistas and allowed Sharon to have a miracle baby. She left Walford again, but this time in a welter of tragedy, and also pregnant.

Since her return in 2012, however, something hasn't been right about her character; and since Bryan Kirkwood's era, something's been wrong with Phil's character as well.

I blame the writers. Phil, even with his tack-on of Bad Grant, at least had a modicum of compassion. Since he got together with Shirley, that went out the window. It's been mooted that Peggy, Sharon, Kathy, Kate all acted as anchors to temper Phil's excesses, but Shirley actually let his inner bad run wild - and she ran with it.

The acute fact about Sharon's situation is that not one of the people in the writing room understand the character at all. Many only know Shannis Sharon, a precursor of Ronnie before the psychopathy emerged; but those of the writers who remember her 80s and 90s character, seem lost in a fog of what to do with her now that she's reached middle age.

Treadwell-Collins and O'Connor are going with John Yorke's assumption that Phil was the real love of Sharon's life and that Sharon was the girl who got away from Phil, the standard by whom he measured every successive wife and girlfriend he had. DTC eventually pairing them together should have been the end of a long process and a charismatic couple.

Instead, they've become a chore to watch. Sharon is all over the place. She's allowed herself to suffer a beating at the hands of thugs hired by Phil, she's tolerated him cheating on her - not once, but twice. He's fanagled her business and livelihood from her. He holds her at arms; length, treats her like and unwanted stepchild, and actually has to be told by Michelle Fowler to grow the fuck up and learn to appreciate his wife.

Sharon, because of the Fox-Mitchell unintentional baby, is living in fear that Phil's obsession with blood kin will outweigh any sort of commitment he's made to her. She explained to him in painstaking eloquence why adoption was just as valid as natural kinship, yet she offered him the option of fighting for his child and said she would support him - because that's what you do when you love someone. Phil reconsidered his claim, but now he's got a new interest. We're watching him suffer from Survivor's Guilt and want to involve himself with the widow of a man he barely knew and her grasping young son just because he got a liver, and the man in question didn't.

I could totally understand Phil going stir crazy in the house, whilst convalescing from what was a very serious operation, indeed. I could also understand Sharon's uncertainty about what he wanted. I genuinely believe she thought he wanted to leave to be away from her, and for the most part, I wondered that also, because of the off-hand way in which he treated her throughout the episode.

As with Whitney and Lee, I don't think these two really love each other. Phil, ultimately, only loved himself and Peggy - and Peggy's was a love-hate situation at best of times. I think he loved the idea of Sharon, but now he's got her, he doesn't know how to contain her. There have been times when they've been rowing, when Sharon will bring Grant into the equation, remarking about how Grant would have done this or that differently. And that's Phil's uncertainty. Because I think he knows, deep down, that Grant was the love of Sharon's life, and whilst she loves Phil, it's nowhere near the way and of the same intensity that she loved Grant.

I suppose this trip to "somewhere hot" for a few months heralded the beginning of Steve McFadden's panto break and some time off for Letitia Dean. They won't surface again until March, and I won't miss them. A lof have discussion has gone on about the relevancy of Sharon and Phil to the programme as it is at the moment. 

They've never been more relevant. With all the hoohah going around about how the show is going to put more emphasis on the younger faux-adolescent characters, at a time when this group is the most unlikable group of teenagers in the show's history, the older characters balance things out. The problem is, just as the writers are crap at representing teenagers, they're equally crap at representing Sharon and Phil, who they were in the 90s and who they are today. Coronation Street is brilliant with long-standing characters over the ages, but somewhere along the line, EastEnders has lost its way.

Sharon needs to bag the Vic licence when the Carters fuck it up. Putting her back behind the bar of the Vic, not as a barmaid, but as someone with a vested interest in the place where she was brought up from a small child, would do a lot to enhance her character and to imbed her identity back into the show. Phil needs to forget the missing Mitchell or the greedy little boy who's lost his dad. He's been given a second chance with raising a child in the form of Dennis. Adopt the kid and be a father.

The Trouble with the Adults Playing the Teenagers. No matter how much you scrub her face clean of make-up, dress her in a school uniform and re-style her hair like a little girl's, Tillie Keeper will always look twenty-five years old. (Yes, I know she'll be twenty this year, but she even looks older than that.) 

The girl who plays Rebecca is simply just bad. Not just bad, but awful. She's an older adolescent, whose bodyline is already taking on the contours of an adult, and she annoys me the way she has to deliver every line of dialogue by throwing back her head and jutting out her chin, with a funny peculiar semi-smile on her face. 

It simply makes her look smug. And that makes her look unlikable..

There are no words for Shakil.

We're finally getting down the the real nitty-gritty of what this storyline is all about and what it has been about since the year dot ... revenge porn. This started, when? Back in the early autumn, did it not? Here we are, literally, on the cusp of spring, and we finally have this storyline moving on.

It's been so boring that one could be forgiven for not seeing, on one level, how much it's a story about betrayal in friendship, as much as the unintelligible rationale of plain meanness that some kids exhibit.

Shakil actually saved Louise's life. He stayed on the wrecked bus, in what could potentially have been a dangerous situation, with no thought of his own safety, until he was sure she was off the bus and back into safety. Yet she's never once thanked him for what he did. Instead, she's screamed at him from the outset, derided him and bullied the hapless Rebecca into breaking with him entirely. For some reason, known only to her and to the Luddite girls whose very existence and behaviour encourages the overt and aggressive misogyny of their immediate peers, specifically Keegan, Louise and the two grifter girls from the drama club, seem to think Shakil has some sort of punishment due him.

For what?

For saving Louise's life? That's perverse. For popping Rebecca's cherry? That's between him and Rebecca. Why, I can't fathom; but it's resulted in Louise nicking Rebecca;s Smartphone long enough to send the naked pictures of Shakil to her two new wannabe mates, so they can make this go viral. Thing is, these pictures were sent from Rebecca's phone, sent to her by Shakil, who'll think that she did this.

I can't help thinking that the pictures of Rebecca, which she took of herself and didn't send, will also re-surface somehow. There was a reason for that scene with Tina all those months ago,when Tina reminded her that once pictures of herself were "out there," that's where they stayed.

On another level, it's also a story about bullying, and it's Louise who's getting bullied on all fronts. She's bullied remorselessly by that teenaged psychopath, Keegan, yet another and the youngest of a gaggle of characters displaying overt misogyny - his aim at bullying Louise is to humiliate her appallingly. On the other side, she's also being manipulated and bullied by the rancid two girls who are hanging around her. It was they who coerced her into stealing Rebecca's phone for the purposes of sending those pictures of Shakil.

According to Keeper, the show is moving these people front and centre. It's obvious now that this entire ordeal we've been suffering with them - the virginity storyline and all of the yawnworthy rubbish in its wake, has the ultimate aim of a story about revenge porn. Emmerdale did the same sort of storyline between BFFs Liv and Gaby within a matter of a few episodes. That's all it merits. EastEnders is BBC 1's flagship programme. It's not a niche soap about the teenybob set. Get a grip.

The Trouble with the Carters. Quite simply, the ranks are being depleted fast. Nancy left almost a year ago. Babe's and Lee's characters are being axed - although I suspect we'll see Lee again within a year sporting a new head - and Linda is away, at least, until the spring. That leaves, officially, Mick, Johnny (a non-presence), and dirty Whitney in the pub. Shirley, Tina and the insufferable Sylvie are peripheral to the action and function as a unit in and of themselves.

Until Linda returns, where does that leave the thwarted passion of Mick and dirty Whitney?

That's the least of his problems, however. Time was, everything Mick touched turned to gold; then his wife was raped, and everything after that went rancid. His position as Big Daddy was exposed as a fraud. He and Linda were two kids, stunted emotionally in adolescence, playing house. She grew up after the rape; he regressed.

Now, after being with the same woman since he was fourteen and a child, he's suddenly and inadvertantly bumbled into a full-on snog and attraction to his son's wife, who is badly in need of a bath, but still Mick finds her sexy in some way. Add to that, the fact that he's in serious financial trouble - not so much for having bailed Lee out of a jam, but for taking out a loan from a shark in order to bring Linda and Elaine back to Walford for Elaine's recovery; but not in the Vic, everything's going tits up. From inadvertant racism via Sylvie's silly Chinese entertainment on Tuesday, we arrive at the fact that there's not one, but two substantial leaks in the roof at the Vic.

Enter Alan, a man whom Ian Beale recognises as a rogue builder, and this on the morning after the Chinese debacle, when people are avoiding the Vic's breakfast buffet like the plague (hence the warning to Kathy that there was a queue extending around the block.)

There was a whiff of Breakfast Wars and dirty tricks emanating from Ian's side of the equation, with the appearance of the rogue builder and Ian's inexplicable presence, allegedly asleep at a table in the Vic early in the day of this episode, only to wing it back home and disclose to Kathy and Jane that Alan the builder would hit Mick for a lot of money and then do a shoddy job. At it was, Mick was told that they needed a new roof - which they'll probably find isn't covered by whatever insurance that they have.

I suspect Ian was there to keep an spy-eye out on just how badly the competition was doing. But he wasn't the only person watching the Carters in this episode. The undercover policeman who's discovered Babe's serving booze out of hours on the premises was back and being served alcohol as well.

The clock's begun to tick for the end of their tenure, or at least their being the licencees of the pub, I surmise.

The Trouble with Denise (and Kim). This vignette was obviously a showcase of Diane Parish's showpiece - her telling-off talent, because that's what Denise does best, aside from making snide faces. 

You really want to shout, Change the damned record, why don't you!

Same shit, different day, except with a pecuniary and distasteful scene of utmost cruelty. I was thinking O'Connor was fashioning the Fox sisters into yet another co-dependent siblinghood of weak sibling being utterly dependent on the stronger sibling, but I'm not sure what I think of this set-up.

First of all, I'm now confused about the age difference between Denise and Kim. Tameka Empson is a rising forty, so we can assume that Kim will turn forty this year. Denise is the same age as Ian, Sharon and Michelle - forty-seven. With all the best will in the world, Denise could only have brought Kim up from the time she was at least sixteen, which would have meant that Kim was nine, and what nine year-old would refer to her sixteen year-old sister as "mummy."? Anything under than the age of sixteen would have branded Ada/Emerald/Grandma Medusa an abandoning mother and would have put her daughters under the auspices of Social Services.

Besides, and here's another mathematical miscalculation along the line of the Carter subsequent re-writes, Denise was supposed to be some sort of teenaged party animal, living in some squat with Lucas and giving birth to Chelsea when she was barely out of her teens - Chelsea is older than Stacey Fowler, so when would Denise have had time to play "sister-mummy" with Kim?

I do wish that successive EPs with their pet characters and pet agendae would stop re-writing characters' backstories to suit themselves. This is treating the audience as ignorati, and we're anything but. In fact, although Kim has always been presented as selfish, irresponsible and feckless, herself some sort of ueber party-girl who, initially, ran after the likes of Fatboy and drank for England, there was never any hint of any sort of dysfunctional co-dependency with Denise.

Kim was lazy and impetuous, but what O'Connor's pulled out of his hat for the pair of them seems like a poor attempt to re-create Ronnie and Roxy without the psychopathy. It ain't working.

Up until this episode, we were getting tired of same scene different day with Kim banging on about Denise's baby being brought up by strangers. This episode presented a different tack. It was a degree course in stating the bleeding obvious - you knew Kim had something up her sleeve when she was playing nice and inviting Denise to dinner. Grandma Medusa knew, Vincent knew, but no one thought to confront Kim about it.

The one thing that struck me in all of this was the incredible strand of cruelty in both sisters. Months ago, we had Denise acting just as shittily toward Libby when she chose to have an abortion (a contrived tale if ever there was one - what adult returns home to announce to her mother that she was having an abortion? You get on with it. It's your life, but not po-faced Libby). Now we have Kim the bully, taking umbrage with the fact that Denise chose to go to her class - her GCSE class - instead of breaking bread with someone who's barely spoken to her for weeks, and then only to harangue, bully and guilt-trip her?

So what does Kim do? She barrels down to the place where Denise is in the middle of her GCSE class, after her tutor, unknowingly, announced to the class that she'd given birth, only for Kim to empty Denise's cache of breast pads onto the desktop and announce to the class that Denise had given her baby up for adoption to be, yes, "raised by strangers."

Because, of course, Kim is the mouthpiece for EastEnders' rage at the machine which entails that some women do, indeed, put their child up for adoption, for the child's benefit, yet Denise's assertion that she's bettering herself is educationally is the equivalent, in Kim's eyes, of their mother toddling along after the first fit piece of male flesh which came along during their young lives.

So now, as Denise points out to Kim, this has all become a story about Kim, and Kim's transferral of abandonment issues onto Denise. I don't get this co-dependency storyline. It's like Ronnie and Roxy have come back to inhabit the bodies of Denise and Kim. Kim lived well away from Denise in her successive relationships. Kim was away living with creepy Dexter and running a restaurant, far enough away that she hardly visited Denise. It was Denise who sought her out each time a relationship failed.

It's that re-write, re-boot, whatever you call it, that bothers me about this storyline, apart from its incessant repetitiveness. Neither Denise or especially Kim has come out of this storyline smelling of roses. Instead, they're both varying degrees of foetid.

And is Denise that stupid to think that all people will judge her harshly for putting her child up for adoption? Not everyone is like Kim or even Phil Mitchell. Especially not her educated and cultured tutor, who is urging her to pursue a degree in English. Just one problem with that - Denise is only doing GCSE level, and she'll need an A-Level or two before she thinks about uni, unless it's the Open University. And if she's studying English, even English lit, someone is going to have to give her some remedial work in improving her appalling grammar.

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