A new executive producer in Dominic Treadwell-Collins, a fresh family at the Queen Vic and plotlines we actually care about – yes, the residents of Albert Square are becoming compulsive viewing again. After a 12-month slump, EastEnders is impressing the critics – but what are the reasons for this reversal of fortunes?
1) Enter the Carters: Basing your creations on real-life people is a sure-fire way of making them feel authentic, so hopes were high when Dominic Treadwell-Collins revealed back in November that Mick and Linda Carter were influenced by his own mum and dad. And what a good move it’s turned out to be – the Carters are a true antidote to the likes of Sam James and Ava Hartman, characters that felt like they were designed by committee and who have now been rightfully dropped.
2) Johnny Carter comes out: Proof that soaps can be at their most effective when they shun grand spectacle and concentrate on character studies. The tender and poignant scene where Johnny bared his soul felt like one of those classic EastEnders moments – a 2014 answer to the likes of “Merry Christmas, Ange” and “you ain’t my mother”.
3) Danny Dyer plays against type: Go on, admit it: you thought that the Dyer was going to turn up with a shooter under his overcoat and a headbutt for every punter who stepped out of line. What we weren’t expecting was a pink dressing gown and Mick’s acceptance of his son’s homosexuality. News that he wants to do a stretch as long as Adam Woodyatt’s is very welcome.
4) Alfie is put on the back foot: Alfie was beginning to atrophy behind the bar of the Vic, so it’s great to see him return to his roots as he ducks and dives his way around the Square. Let’s hope though that he and Kat remain solid: constancy is rare when it comes to soap relationships, but these two should buck the trend. No more bust-ups and infidelity – just wheeling and dealing, please.
5) The Christmas adverts: EastEnders’s campaign slogan used to be “Everyone’s talking about it” – but nobody was in 2013, except to say how dull it had become. Promoting the festive episodes with the message “it’s all about to change” was recognition that the soap needed shaking up. Thankfully, the content has matched the hype.
6) Evil Ronnie: Since she returned in September, Ronnie has been a character in search of a purpose. But the boot-slamming, car-crushing cliffhanger at the start of the year has now given her fresh impetus. We’ve been assured that Ronnie has the makings of a true Walford villain – deciding to wear her late dad’s sovereign ring certainly bodes well for the future.
7) Carl’s murder: The wannabe bad boy was bumped off on New Year’s Day and won’t be missed. His poor-man’s Robert De Niro shtick was starting to grate and EastEnders has never really thrived when it’s put pre-watershed gangsters centre stage. Just don’t ask how Ronnie managed to drag his unconscious body over to the pit at the Arches.
8) Janine’s exit: The Janine-Alice-Michael power struggle was a load of convoluted nonsense and a real disservice to Charlie Brooks. However, help was at hand at the 11th hour in the form of David Wicks, a man whose scheming and charisma can salvage any half-baked plotline. David’s blackmail attempts lent an urgency to Janine’s unravelling and provided viewers with a neat Christmas Day stunt. How he managed to avoid police attention is another matter, though…
9) Shirley gets more screen time: Linda Henry has been criminally underused for some time, her talents ignored in favour of woeful stories such as Sharon’s painkiller addiction, the Hartman kidney saga and (worst of all) Kirsty’s fake pregnancy. But now she’s back in the spotlight and Dominic Treadwell-Collins has promised that there’s more to come: “We’ll see what makes her tick and why she walked out on her kids years ago,” he says.
10) Carol’s cancer: For a while it looked like the character of Carol was running out of steam thanks to an underpowered love triangle and a menopause that lasted just one episode. Her breast cancer storyline may not convert those who perceive EastEnders to be a misery minefield, but it cements her position as head of the Jackson household. The show has been in dire need of a matriarch since Peggy and Pat’s departures and Carol looks set to become a worthy successor.