EastEnders has had a bit of a bad press recently, with ratings taking a dive and a buoyant Emmerdale threatening to make it Britain’s third soap. But this week, at the Edinburgh Television Festival, BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore claimed that all soaps have their peaks and troughs, and told delegates she wants EastEnders to be “the best drama on TV”. So how exactly should producers go about improving life in E20? Here are our ten steps to fixing EastEnders…
1. Kill Sharon off Sharon hasn’t added much following her reappearance last year and has seemed particularly aimless since her non-wedding to Jack. But a tragic illness would give Letitia Dean something to get her teeth into, especially if Sharon were to expire on Christmas Day with a deathbed plea that Phil raise her son Dennis. Phil could then be subsequently tormented by the chequered history he had with Dennis’s late dad as he tries to parent the young boy.
2. Bring in a matriarch At its best, EastEnders has been about strong family dynamics, but we’re currently lacking a convincing matriarch. Cora is too wayward and Dot is getting more frail – so what’s the answer? Either convince Barbara Windsor to stay full-time or pick someone else for whom adversity has bred backbone and a nice line in telling comment. Ronnie Mitchell, maybe?
3. Do a week of live episodes We enjoyed the 25th anniversary special, while Billy’s Olympic torch run was heartwarming stuff. But this has never been done before: four consecutive live instalments. Just imagine the scenario – some shotgun-wielding enemies of Carl’s take Kirsty and the regulars hostage in the Vic, but Alfie, Joey and Lauren all get injured in the crossfire when events spiral out of control. We could have stand-offs in the pub, siege negotiators out on the Square, plus lives hanging in the balance at the hospital after the villains start releasing their captives. All eyes would be on the show to see if it could pull it off, but a mixture of spectacle and sweaty-palmed tension would raise its profile enormously.
4. Reunite Kat and Alfie Kat has one of those smiles that never quite reaches her eyes, so it would be perfect if she could be made genuinely happy by re-marrying her soulmate Alfie. It would be equally brilliant if Roxy were to turn to alcohol and end up in the gutter after Alfie does the dirty on her.
5. Introduce more slow-burn storylines All too often we see stories torn through too quickly: Carol’s menopause was dealt with in the space of one episode; Liam’s association with a gang began and ended in the blink of an eye; while Ian seemed to renovate, open and then flood his new restaurant in a week and a half. Lauren, meanwhile, goes into rehab thanks to her drink problem and returns a month later looking like she’s been to St Lucia. We can only really invest in characters if we’re given time to get emotionally involved in their affairs and believe in what they’re doing.
6. Be more political and address social issues Let’s get away from the ‘who is sleeping with whom?’ potboilers. Back when EastEnders started, Lou Beale used to rail against “that cow in Number 10”. Lines like that seem unthinkable now. And why in Albert Square can people afford to live for months at the B&B? Is there no recession in E20? Surely not everyone can have a secret safe in their living room like Phil.
7. Have Dexter Hartman question his sexuality So far we’ve had virtually no romance for the young mechanic. OK, so in this coming week he gets to snog a barmaid, but so what? Why not be bold and have him get the hots for a guy whose car he’s asked to fix. Or maybe even Jay? It would certainly change the dynamics in the Arches.
8. Give us somebody to fear We’re making some headway here with bad boy Carl, whose Robert De Niro routine is unsettling the locals. But, let’s face it, his mother was ten times more intimidating and she was only in one episode. EastEnd life should always be a combination of charm and menace: for every Jack Branning, there should be a Trevor Morgan. Get Carl and his old ma to join forces – then we’d be getting somewhere.
9. Give us some memorable lines and catchphrases Everyone remembers “you ain’t my mother” “Yes I am!!!” or “Get outta my pub” or “Ricckkkaaay!”, but can you honestly recall any memorable quotes from the last six months? The best EastEnders characters have always been the ones you can mimic because they’re slightly larger than life. But there hasn’t really been anyone in 2013 who has been distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd.
10. Show us who Kirsty Branning actually is We know Kierston Wareing is an excellent actress, but what do we really know about Kirsty? She likes mesh tops and, er, that’s about it. For six months, she just seemed to stay under that gold duvet in the B&B. Come on writers, flesh Kirsty out some more. She could be superb if given better material.