Even a live episode might not be enough to revive ailing Corrie
FEW viewers can have failed to notice the advert for tonight’s live episode of Coronation Street. UTV and ITV have been airing it repeatedly practically every evening since the beginning of September.
Bat-faced squirt David Platt, his dumb sister Sarah-Louise and Kylie are shown being chased along the cobbles by drug dealer and all-round bad boy Callum when, thanks to a clever bit of CGI trickery, they suddenly find themselves teetering on a cliff.
It’s an apt image. Coronation Street has itself been close to falling off a cliff for ages now, pushed to the very edge by a combination of lousy characters, dodgy acting by some younger cast members and silly, tedious storylines that drag on interminably.
Look, for instance, how long it took Tracy Barlow to confess that she and not guilt-ridden Carla was the one who started the fire that killed two people.
Some of the recent plots involving even the best-loved characters have been less than believable. Hayley Cropper’s assisted-death scene last year was a profoundly moving piece of TV drama.
Written with brilliance and sensitively, and superbly acted by Julie Hesmondhalgh as Hayley and David Neilson as her husband Roy, it was one of the highlights of the television year.
Shunting Roy into a potentially romantic relationship with widow Cathy Matthews (Melanie Hill) so soon after feels forced: a cynical device to give him something to do now that he’s at a loose end.
It’s effectively a betrayal of an engagingly complex character that the writers and Neilson himself have worked hard to develop over the years.
The hour-long live episode — the soap’s first since its 50th anniversary in 2010 — is
ostensibly to mark ITV’s 60th birthday, which falls today. Realistically, it looks more like a straw-grasping attempt to revive a flagging programme that’s been shedding viewers faster than Elizabeth Berkley shed her clothes Showgirls.
One episode last December, the month when the soaps are usually enjoying a pre-Christmas audience boost, was watched by just 4.9 million people in the UK.
Even allowing for the fact that soaps no longer generate the kind of telephone-number viewing figures they once did, this was still a disastrous performance by any measure.
It’s an indication of how bad things are at the moment that tonight’s episode pivots on the Platts — surely the most boring and irritating fictional family on television — being menaced by the world’s most useless criminal. Callum doesn’t look capable of dealing a hand of poker let alone hard drugs.
I’ll never understand why soaps need to do live episodes in the first place, given the potential for disaster. Props can fail to work, actors can fluff their lines (as a mortified Jo Joyner did in February’s live EastEnders), miss their cues or dry completely.
The video recording technology developed in the 1960s eliminated all those potential problems, so what’s the point of burdening the less experienced actors with extra pressure?
Preparations for the episode have been troubled. Some cast members were so terrified by the prospect of performing live, they simply pulled out. Corrie veteran Barbara Knox, who plays Rita, fell ill during rehearsals and had to be replaced by a stand-in.
There are reportedly worries in the ranks that the new producer, who takes over in January, will cull the cast.
Given how poor Coronation Street has been lately, someone bumping into the scenery might be the best bit of drama we see tonight.