What a week it’s been on Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Car crashes, a life lost, several others in grave danger – but most importantly, two soap operas once again becoming major TV talking points. So why has ITV’s super soap week been such a big hit with viewers? Here are five reasons why the headline-grabbing episodes proved to be a success:
1. Peter’s return
Comebacks will be important to Corrie over the coming months and it was a smart move to put Peter front and centre. He has an instant connection with viewers, proved to be the catalyst for the drama of Ken’s stroke and is also obviously withholding some intriguing secrets. Upcoming plotlines will also see the likes of Rosie Webster, Toyah Battersby and Adam Barlow resurface, all of whom tap into the soap’s history and help refocus the eye while – I’m guessing – the fate of underperforming characters are sorted out. But are such residents of the Street like Alya, Andy and Luke lacklustre or merely ill-served by storylines? That’s what needs to be decided.
2. The stunts
Car smashes are ten-a-penny in soapland but the collisions on Corrie and Emmerdale had emotional as well as physical impact because we were fretting about those whose lives were on the line. Car flips mean nothing if we don’t care about those behind the wheel and both shows chose their potential victims well. Emmerdale’s Aaron and Robert are something of a modern-day soap phenomenon, while there was a horrible symmetry in seeing Corrie’s David almost kill Lily in the very spot where his wife Kylie was murdered. The grand spectacles also served as a reminder that soaps need to be a mixture of the everyday and the melodramatic – fans want to see their lives reflected back at them, but also be offered the opportunity of escapism, however heightened.
3. The performances
Soap actors generally get flak for merely playing facets of their own personalities. And, see, I’m even doing it myself right now by calling them ‘soap actors’! In these recent episodes, we saw actors delivering such nuanced performances, from Jack P Shepherd’s anguish to Danny Miller’s frightened underwater pleas. But, for me, the standout has to be John Middleton who – as dementia-suffering Ashley – conveyed so much with just a confused smile or a worried frown. He’s never been better than in Thursday’s breakfast and christening scenes and I hope to see him rewarded come awards season.
4. The sense of community
In a sense, the main message of soaps is to strive towards that community ideal. Neighbourliness prioritised above family ties. Everyone – irrespective of who’s related to who – pulling together in the face of adversity. And there has been a danger of late – particularly on Corrie – of that being lost thanks to characters orbiting in separate satellites and never converging. This week, though, we once again had everybody working towards a single aim: getting that death-trap car off Gary and Lily! And, on Emmerdale too, there was a real sense of a shared loss, with those regulars standing around the graveside, all too aware that it could have been one of them in the coffin. More of that, please! Otherwise, why have cafes and pubs in which to congregate? Characters may just as well be in their own front rooms.
5. The sheer soapiness of it all
With the future seemingly heading towards on-demand and catch-up services, both Emmerdale and Corrie’s episodes highlighted the continuing power of the linear schedule. You had to be by your TV at a certain time watching events unfold for fear of missing out on crucial twists or having the secrets blown on social media. And yes, there was plenty of disbelief to suspend (how did they all recover so quickly on Emmerdale to attend that funeral?), but picking apart the plot holes is all part of the game. And I know I’ve criticised ITV’s decision to add a sixth weekly episode of Corrie in 2017 (and it still does seem an unimaginative move to bag more viewers with a bankable hit rather than trying out, say, a badly needed new sitcom), but you can see why they’re doing it. Particularly if the schedules (and our soaps) are going to survive long term.