This year’s BAFTA TV nominations are in, and while it’s good to congratulate the shortlisted shows and performances it’s also time to grumble about the glaring omissions – specifically in the Soap and Continuing Drama category.
It’s a narrow category and not all six of the UK’s continuing dramas – all of which remain at impressively high standards – can fit into the quartet, but the snubbing of BBC One and Channel 4’s flagship soaps is a great shame in a year when both displayed huge leaps in innovation and bravery, as well as managing to surprise their loyal audiences who sometimes feel like they’ve seen it all.
Take EastEnders, which marked an incredible 35 years on screen this year. With a reinvigorated commitment to experimentation within TV drama’s oldest format, it took more risks than ever to stay contemporary and keep up with the shiny streaming dramas setting the agenda.
Linda Carter’s alcoholism, and the episode told entirely from her point of view during a drunken meltdown on New Year’s Eve, deserves special mention – it was a triumph of script, direction and performance (step forward, Kellie Bright) that struck a chord with audiences and found inventive new ways to tell a familiar story.
The soap’s tent-pole Christmas Day episode was its strongest in years: with an eye to its significant anniversary it let legacy legends Sharon and Phil take centre stage with an extended, electrifying two-hander scene where they picked over the bones of their failing marriage that referenced decades of history and heartache. Raw and real, it dug deep into character as only continuing drama can. Incredibly, it was shot in just one take by soap pros Letitia Dean and Steve McFadden.
Then it really pushed the boat out – literally – with February’s set piece river cruise disaster that took the risky move of killing Sharon’s teenage son. Grieving for a child completely re-sets the character and pushes them into brand new territory, quite an achievement for someone we’ve followed over 35 dramatic years.
Meanwhile, Hollyoaks tackled perhaps the most taboo topic yet attempted by any UK soap, with its year-long story on Ste Hay being groomed by far right extremists.
We followed disenfranchised Ste as grief for his sister was twisted by a seemingly harmless, working class group of lads purporting to promote family values and provide a surrogate family to lost souls, while subtly manipulating their vulnerable target into anti-Islamist ideology and terrorised local Muslim family the Maaliks.
Ste’s isolation and indoctrination was terrifying, and rightly so, and the story really kicked into gear when the scales from his eyes and he tried to extricate himself from his living nightmare.
Ultimately turning a political hot potato into a tale of love triumphing over hate in a modern, fractured society, the radicalisation of Ste surely deserved recognition for its impeccable commitment to being truthful about an issue rarely explored in any dramatic genre. And doing it all in a teatime slot.
Portraying Ste’s complex journey into indoctrination and out the other side was a challenge Kieron Richardson more than met, and light entertainment cheeky chappy Ray Quinn was a revelation as a sinister extremist, his casting against type another way audience preconceptions were challenged from the start.
Soaps have precious few opportunities for acknowledgment within the industry as it is, and with the British Soap Awards cancelled for 2020 due to coronavirus there is even less of a platform to praise TV’s most robust and influential format. It’s a shame BAFTA has passed over these particularly powerful achievements in the genre.
The BAFTA TV Awards ceremony will be remotely presented by comedian Richard Ayoade, with winners announced on 31st July in a televised ceremony over on BBC One. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.