Blogging from A to Z Theme: Bringing Me Joy
After a long day of work there’s precious little I look forward to more than settling down to watch the latest episode of EastEnders, a wildly popular, impossibly long-running, utterly lowbrow serial on British television. I really ought to dismiss it as nothing but a sentimental, sensationalist soap—which it is, unashamedly so. But dammit, I like it, and—dare I say—it brings me joy.
“EastEnders? But why, why on earth would you want to watch that junk?” Cousin Sue asks me incredulously. I shrug my shoulders and mumble the names of certain handsome actors; but in truth, it’s more complicated than that. So complicated that I haven’t wanted to spoil my unsullied enjoyment by analyzing it too closely. But I suppose I have to come up with something resembling an explanation.
First of all, EastEnders is not an American soap; you wouldn’t catch me watching Days of Our Lives, although to an outside observer there might not be much difference between the two. No, it’s set in London, a (fictitious, factitious) working-class East London, rhyming slang and all. Don’t ask me if it’s realistic—it’s not. I doubt if there are many people younger than my mother who use Cockney Rhyming Slang anymore, and then too, only when they’ve put a few away. Certainly no one of Mick Carter’s (played by Danny Dyer) generation, who all speak American English now, as far as I can tell. But the odd English idiom is a delight to hear.
So no, realism isn’t what has me hooked. Something about the way it simulates real time is part of the magic, though. Each new half-hour episode is aired four evenings a week (GMT), and the show is so indispensable to its viewers that if another major event is going to pre-empt its regular slot, BBC One has to offer two episodes the day before to head off the fans’ outrage. On Mother’s Day, EastEnders celebrate Mothers Day, at Easter, Easter, on Halloween, Guy Fawkes’ night, Christmas, they are facing the family meltdowns that everyone else is having as well, only they do it with a vengeance.
For me the real-time feeling is particularly meaningful because of course I’m not actually in England but thousands of miles away; by the magic of the Internet I’m able to watch it almost in sync with my English relatives—except I don’t think any of them would be caught dead watching it. It’s a ritual all my own as I settle down with a cup of tea and fire up my computer to watch it on BBC iPlayer. Then, after the show is over, I can follow the fans talking about it on Facebook, and on occasion I even join in, chiming in with my opinions on their decision to kill off Fat Boy, one of my favorite characters, or on their routine massacring of the beautiful Shabnam Masood’s name. (Britishers take a fiendish delight in mispronouncing “foreign” names.”)
The Masoods are another reason I love EastEnders. They are a British Pakistani Muslim family who are becoming an integral part of life on the Square and the actors who play them, Nitin Ganatra (Masood), Himesh Patel (his son Tamwar), and Rakhee Thakrar (his daughter Shabnam) are talented and easy on the eyes, especially Nitin Ganatra, my personal favorite. I also tend to root for the characters of color on the show, and for the mixed relationships, which invariably break up, it seems, at least for the two years or so that I’ve been watching. Watching them is experiencing in some vicarious way what it might have been like if my family had settled in England instead of moving to India and then to the United States.
Two years is but a moment in the thirty-one year life of EastEnders so far, and the main families—the Beales, Mitchells, Slaters, Brannings, and Carters, and more recently, the Masoods and the Hubbards—stretch across three generations at this point. That’s a large part of the attraction for me as well: the extended, intertwined families and close-knit community that cluster every night in the Queen Vic or the Prince Albert one of two (rival) pubs where they perform their daily dramas, rituals, and knock-down, drag-out fights. I have spent most of my life across oceans from extended family, so the idea is appealing, however fictional, of three generations living cheek by jowl and knowing and caring about every detail of each other’s lives, sharing in triumph and in tragedy.
It is a caricature of working-class life? Well, sure. If it was even remotely realistic, one would think that working-class people routinely went around murdering, raping, and robbing one another. It’s downright insulting, if you think about it. (Which I don’t.) But I must say that after watching EastEnders for two years, I understand the concept of catharsis. So much happens in the space of one episode, that the characters and the viewers are “reeling,” one of the favorite words used in the synopses of each episode. The blurb for today’s episode, for example, reads,
Ronnie is left shaken to the core. Abi’s world falls apart, but is there a way out?
I missed Tuesday’s show this week, so I am two behind. The previous episode reads:
Abi and Louise find themselves at each throats.
And now I really have to go, before my tea gets cold.