Friday, February 19, 2010

TV: EastEnders at 25

The soap celebrated 25 years on-air tonight with a live episode. The BBC hype machine went into overdrive leading up to the event – you couldn’t go anywhere on BBC TV without a reminder at every possible opportunity!!!. Viewers were heard singing the theme tune and being asked for their opinion on the ongoing plot – there was even a special logo integrating the meandering Thames with a ribbon and a ‘25’.
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The plot centred around: ‘Who killed Archie Mitchell?’. Viewers had been left wondering since Christmas Day and there had been various non-soap stars on pretty-much all prime-time BBC shows pontificating on who-dun-it. I just got the impression that it was all a bit desperate (even though I like the show), forcing the the whole thing into the national consciousness.

Scrub the previous comment – 14.4 million people tuned-in, with 16.6 in the final five-minutes. That’s unbelievable viewing figures these days for a TV show!

 eastenders_bradleydeadCripes…they even had a show after the live episode (EastEnders – The Aftermath) where they met all the live cast including the character ‘Bradley’ who was now errr…. dead! It seemed weird/scary/inappropriate* (delete as applicable) as the host (Doug Lamb, son of Larry Lamb who played Archie) interviewed Bradley, his face literally dripping with blood (having just fallen off a roof). The actor, Charlie Clements was so hyped-up, he could hardly speak.

So, onto the episode itself. Actually, it was very well acted. In fact, it was hard to tell it was live. The errors as I saw them were mainly in the camera work – a wobbly shot here, a lighting issue there and a inappropriate zoom just once! I think I picked-up a few fluffed lines early on and Ronnie left the supermarket without paying for her goods! (see, my old retail habits die hard!!!), but apart from that, it was very watchable – even if you’re not a fan.

You have to marvel at the sheer organisation of the thing – that’s the bit that interested me the most. The scenes were quite short (typical soap), but of course, if it’s going out live, that means that the actors have to get form one part of the set to another pretty quickly – and it’s a big set. Even the simplest of shots (entering the Queen Vic pub for instance) is more complicated when you realise that the exterior of the Pub is nowhere near the interior – 90 seconds away actually. Add to that, scenes like the substitution of the stunt-man that doubled for Bradley falling off the roof and that they only had 90 seconds-or-so to get him and the air-bed he fell on, out of the way before the cut to Bradley lying on the ground.

imageThe only thing that felt a bit inappropriate was that in order to keep the plot-line a secret, the cast weren’t told who the murderer was until very late in the day. In fact ‘Stacey’ wasn’t told it was her until 30 minutes before the live episode aired. They had even recorded alternative murderer confessions, presumably to confuse anybody thinking of leaking the story. Neil McDermott who plays ‘Ryan’ was even told he was the decoy. Complicated stuff ehh? As it was, viewers didn’t find out who it was until about 1 minute from the end of the show and I don’t know if that was part of the suspense or whether those higher up wanted to keep it from the cast for as long as possible!!

Interestingly, for me anyway, for a show that was obviously rehearsed, rehearsed and then rehearsed some more, it over-ran by about three-minutes.

Photographs © BBC and Digital Spy