Category Archives: Television

Killing All The Right People

In a 1987 episode of Designing Women, a show about four interior decorators in Atlanta, the titular characters discover a good friend is gay and dying of AIDS. They are naturally distraught, but one of their customers is smug and satisfied. In a diatribe about how AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality, the bigoted belle screeches “as far as I’m concerned this disease has one thing going for it: it’s killing all the right people.” The indomitable Julia Sugarbaker, played by Dixie Carter (who herself was a lifelong conservative), reads the woman the Riot Act, throwing her out of her business to applause from the studio audience. It’s one of the most powerful television moments of the 1980s.

I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot since yesterday, when three things occurred which might not seem entirely connected, but are. Larry Kramer, the legendary gay rights and AIDS activist, passed away, aged 84. Then, the nation reached a grizzly milestone: 100,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. As this was happening, President Trump retweeted a video of a supporter mirthfully telling a crowd of likeminded Red Hats that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” No, really. See for yourself.

What do these things have in common? Two of them tell us a lot about the dangerous times in which we find ourselves. One of them shows us the way forward.

None of us exist in a vacuum, least of all the President of the United States. His acolytes will insist that the president did not watch the video, or that the “Cowboys for Trump” leader who said Democrats are only good when dead was being hyperbolic, or that he clarified that he didn’t “mean it in the physical sense” but rather in the “political sense.” It doesn’t matter. The gun-toting militiamen heard what they heard, what we all heard.

It is a nifty little trick of theirs, to walk back statements or send coded messages which provide plausible deniability. As the author and academic Reece Jones pointed out this week, these far-right terrorist groups have developed their own vernacular and symbols, such as wearing aloha shirts as a way of signaling their desire for a second Civil War. The cowboy Red Hat said what he meant, the President amplified it and thanked him for it, and his supporters heard what they were meant to hear: “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. I don’t mean that literally… wink, wink.”

Of course, sometimes they escalate beyond coded language. Earlier this week, an effigy of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, was hung from a tree by a far-right militia group. In 2018, a Trump supporter was arrested for planning a bombing campaign against Democratic officials. Back 2011, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot when a gunman opened fire on an event she was holding in her district. Six were killed that day, including a federal judge, a congressional staffer, and a nine-year-old girl. I guess they’re good Democrats, now.

This callous indifference of Trump and some of his supporters to the lives of those who do not look and think like them should not surprise anyone. We probably crossed the threshold into a six-digit coronavirus body count weeks ago, but it officially happened yesterday. The president, who had time to tweet his thanks to a man who believes the opposition party is better dead than alive, did not acknowledge the somber and gut-wrenching news until this morning.

Why did it take the President so long to comment?  Well, it’s a remarkably cogent tweet, striking the right tone and without any grammatical errors or random capitalization, indicating that Trump probably had some help composing it. Perhaps the staffer charged with making him sound human was out yesterday. More likely, though, it is simply that he did not care.

The President did, however, care enough to endorse the notion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat, and this pandemic has killed a lot of Democrats. The New York Times recently ran an article comparing how the coronavirus has disproportionately affected blue states, as well as Black people and Latino people, who are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. The President and Congressional Republicans have refused federal aid to states like New York and Illinois, callously labeling much-needed help for ailing Americans as a “blue state bailout.” These Americans are largely Democrats, though, and the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. So blue states get nothing, and the death toll rises. After all, like AIDS in the 80s, it’s killing all the right people.

Which brings me to Larry Kramer. Best known as the confrontational, unapologetic founder of ACT UP, Kramer never minced his words. “Some reporter called me ‘the angriest gay man in the world’ or some such,” he once said. “Well, it stuck, but I realized it was very useful.” He used that anger to draw attention to a plague which ravished the gay community, but also to the innate bigotry of many Americans, especially those in power. “Too many people hate the people that AIDS most affects, gay people and people of colour,” he wrote, listing ten hard-learned lessons from the AIDS epidemic.

These lessons are still relevant today as Americans face the bleak truth that the president hates half the country and is literally willing to let them die. We must harness our righteous anger at a man and a movement which threatens our lives and sneers at our deaths. We must defeat not only Trump, and not only Trumpism, but a literal plague they are weaponizing against us. We must stand up and say, quite simply, “enough. Our lives matter.”

A sublot of “Killing All The Right People” is Mary Jo (played brilliantly by Annie Potts) reluctantly being forced to publicly advocate for birth control to be offered at her daughter’s school. In a moving speech towards the end of the episode, she chokes back tears as she speaks to a crowd of parents, and to her dying friend. “I think that it really shouldn’t matter what your personal views are about birth control, because you see, we’re not just talking about preventing births anymore,” she says. “We’re talking about preventing deaths. 85,00 Americans have died, and we’re still debating. Well, for me, this debate is over.”

For me, too, this debate is over. Donald Trump does not care about coronavirus deaths because he thinks the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat, and right now COVID-19 is disproportionately killing Democrats, or at least people who fit his perception of Democrats. We cannot allow this callousness, this hate, to continue to permeate our politics and our nation. We can’t argue over our right to life. Instead, we must do as Larry Kramer did and fight like hell for it, because the only good Democrat isn’t a dead one. The only good Democrat is an angry one.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Fortnight of 13 – 24 April 2020

Has the pandemic changed the way anyone else watches EastEnders? I used to watch every night, but lately I’ve been saving up four episodes (or what would be a week’s worth in normal times) and binging them at the weekend. In some ways this is nice—Friday night was spent in Walford, for example, and I made an event of it—but then I go two weeks without seeing my favourite show and dodging spoilers, which isn’t easy given how many EastEnders stars and fans I follow on social media.

I touched on the decision to move to two episodes a week in my last blog but didn’t discuss it in depth because I didn’t see much point. I still don’t—the producers were left with an impossible choice and are making the best of a bad situation, which I respect—but I do wonder how this change will affect future viewing habits. I don’t know if I’ll go back to watching every night or if I’ll continue to binge at the weekend. It might not matter; iPlayer has already revolutionised how we watch tv. Then, it might: will people used to getting only two episodes a week go back to demanding four? After all, our attention spans are getting shorter, not longer. Might two episodes a week be all people want to commit to once our hectic lives resume?

This was certainly seen as a justification for cancelling my favourite American soap opera, All My Children, back in 2011. Executives at ABC didn’t feel people wanted an hour-long drama five days a week anymore. Of course, British soaps are a different beast in so many ways so the analogy is far from perfect, and I don’t think any of the British soaps are in any danger of being cancelled. This is all idle speculation on my part. Still, if and how the pandemic changes our viewing habits will be interesting to see going forward.

Until then, there’s still a lot to unpack from the last fortnight in Albert Square.

From the moment Iqra convinced Ash to go to Vinny’s party, I knew it would be trouble. Nothing good comes from convincing your partner to go to a party they don’t want to attend, especially when it is thrown by a family member. It’s like Iqra has learned nothing from her year in Albert Square.

That party was very confusing to me. At first, I thought it was just a way for Vinny to show Ruby his sick beats. Turns out there were drugs there, though I’m still not entirely sure I understand why. Was Vinny selling the drugs? Were people just doing drugs (as they’re wont to do at a party/rave)? What was Dotty’s role in all this? I freely admit it might just be me who missed these things—the flashing lights and loud music made it difficult for me to follow what was happening, just as it would have in real life (I’m not a nightclub kind of guy). Still, I was left with more questions than answers.

Still, a couple things were clear to me—both regarding the Panesars. One is, as has been hinted before, this is not a family to mess with. So much has happened since last autumn that it’s easy to forget the Panesar brothers first came on the scene by kidnapping Lola in revenge for Ben stealing Kheerat’s car. This is a family of violent gangsters on par with the Mitchells. Now we know they also do, or sell, drugs (again, unclear on what was happening there). We know that they don’t keep this a secret, that it’s a family operation which even Ash was, if not involved with, okay with—she lied to the police and paid off the homophobic guy Vinny (understandably, if not rightfully) beat up with aplomb. I mean, in those moments I saw in Ash Panesar everything Louise Mitchell wishes she was.

So did Iqra, and that is bound to cause problems for the couple going forward. While their row over Ash’s behaviour was resolved with “I love you” this week, it’s clear that the Panesars and their seedy dealings are going to continue to drive a wedge between the couple. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—soap is nothing without conflict—but it does raise some questions in my mind, specifically regarding Ash. It made no sense to me that Ash would suddenly act like a stone-cold thug when that is not what we’ve seen before, and it made even less sense to me that she would subsequently warn Iqra not to make her choose between her and her family. This is a woman who spent years avoiding her family, to the point or changing her name—have they ever addressed why she was Ash Kaur, now Ash Panesar?)—so I felt like I got whiplash watching how quickly her personality changed. Was it the booze? Is something else going on with Ash? I hope the show explains this change soon.

Still, I’m glad to see Iqra and Ash getting screen time. They’re one of my favourite couples, and both Priya Davdra and Gurlaine Kaur Garcha are capable actresses and just a delight to watch. More of them, please.

The other big development to come from this party was Keegan’s arrest. After months of issues with racist coppers, his storyline has finally reached a rapid boil with his arrest in the melee outside. I’ve been very glad to see EastEnders tackling this storyline, and I think they’re handling it very well. Keegan is one of the most interesting characters of the past decade, and Zack Morris is such a talented young actor. I love seeing him front-and-centre where he belongs.

There’s a lot to unpack here, though, and frankly I could write an entire entry on Keegan. So, let’s start with the smallest. That near-riot outside the party escalated very quickly and was very clearly just a plot device to get Keegan arrested. That the police were called I understand—Ruby warned Vinny that Marsha (whom I have never heard of before now but want to know everything about) would call them—but that instead of dispersing the crowd threw bricks at them I don’t get.

Still, as a plot device it worked, and Keegan was arrested for something he didn’t do. Perhaps coincidentally, this all happened because of a party thrown by Vinny, who was the first character to mention to Keegan that the cops were targeting him because of his race. That is clearly what is happening here, even if the police officers themselves don’t seem to think so.

Too often we think of racism as only being outward projections of hate—burning crosses, racial epithets, violent hate crimes, overt discrimination—when in reality it is much deeper and more pernicious. People can be racist in little ways, ways they might not even be aware of. Ever cross the street when you see a Black person walking? Ever make an assumption about someone’s intelligence or education because their name or accent sounds “Black?” Ever hear about a violent crime and assume the perpetrator must be BME? These are just a few examples of subconscious prejudice. We live in a society which teaches us that Black people are danger, or less intelligent, or more prone to violent crime, and even if we don’t want to we internalise those messages.

Denise Fox understands this, which is why she was more sympathetic to Keegan than Jack. It is important that Denise is the one siding with Keegan here, too, because Denise has never been one to let Keegan’s shitty behaviour pass without comment. Keep in mind that in their first meeting Denise slapped Keegan for being a disrespectful brat. Denise now being one of Keegan’s allies—and, I suspect we’ll see, his fiercest—is telling. She understands what he’s going through better than almost anyone else in Walford. She also has, in the eyes of both the audience and her neighbours, moral authority. Denise is unflinchingly fair, so if she says “nah, this is some racist bullshit,” it carries an added weight. I’m not saying it should be this way, mind you; Keegan saying “this is racist” ought to have been enough.

No one wants to admit they might be even a little bit racist, though. Zack Morris himself tweeted earlier this month that “[t]this storyline isn’t about ‘racist police.’ [I]t’s about the unconscious bias that is imbedded within society when it comes to black people.” He’s right, and I think the story is even more interesting and relevant because they are tackling these subconscious biases. It would have been so easy to make these police officers foaming-at-the-mouth racists, but by bringing Jack Branning into it, we’re meant to see how even people we think of as “good guys” can have subconscious prejudice.

Full disclosure: I’ve never liked Jack Branning, even as I love Scott Maslen and the way he plays the role. He’s smug and self-righteous. But most viewers think of him as a “good guy.” His unwillingness to believe Keegan, then, indicates to the audience that even those of us who see ourselves as decent, non-racist people can, in fact, be unaware of our own racial biases. I am very excited to see how this storyline plays out over the coming weeks, especially as Keegan and Denise deal with their white partners’ inability to see their point-of-view, and I continue to commend EastEnders for tackling this important topic with sensitivity and nuance.

This feels like a good place to leave off, even though there is so much else to discuss. I’ll put some of it in my stray observations section, but most of them could do with much more analysis. There was just so much happening in the last fortnight, it is hard to narrow down what to write about in detail. The past four episodes are the best since the 35th anniversary, and everyone at EastEnders should be very proud of the work they’re doing. The show is in rare form, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Stray observations: I got a distinct 90s feel from these episodes, with the way that they went from one conversation to another in the Square and the market. I liked it. I really like the sense of community which has returned to the show. Chantelle’s scene with Kheerat in the caff felt forced. I know they’re going to end up having an affair, but I’m not yet convinced. Mikayla coming back was random enough, but for her to now be so upset about the son who tried to kill her (and who she said she never wanted to see again) feels like a heel-turn. She’s Leo’s mum, so I guess no matter what he did she would be sad he died, but Christ alive, this feels contrived. I also feel like Gray and Whitney are destined for an affair. It’s going to happen. Ugh, Whit really does have the worst taste in men. “Ugh, like at what point does Whit decide to become a nun or a political lesbian?” is literally a line from my notes. MORE RUBY PLEASE. Louisa Lytton is so sorely underused. Tiff getting the ring Keanu gave to Louise seems like a bad omen. Tommy’s dyslexia storyline will be interesting, and Davood Ghadami was very good in his scenes with Shay Crotty. Glad Sharon’s going away to see Michelle; her and Phil should not get back together. Where the hell was Bernie in all the Keegan drama? Tiff could have used her best friend and Keegan could have used his sister. Honestly, they need to use Clair Norris a lot more than they do. I feel like Oates and Sen just don’t know what to do with Bernadette, but I love Bernie and want more of her. Did anybody else notice the cups from the caff got a jaunty redesign? Love the Rainie and Stuart scenes. They’re so good together. Ricky Champ and Tanya Franks are so charming and imbue such humanity into two broken characters. It’s a pleasure to see them act together. Jean thinking Daniel was in the box had me howling with laughter!

Scene of the fortnight: Rainie asking Max for a divorce and not knowing Ruby’s name. I know I didn’t talk much about Rainie and Stuart, but they really were a highlight of the week.

Line of the fortnight: “I only blow on my husband’s dice.” – CHANTELLE!

Performance of the fortnight: Zack Morris as Keegan Baker. Just absolutely broke my heart. I love both Zack Morris as an actor and Keegan Baker as a character so, so much.

Character of the fortnight: Ash Kaur Panesar. She really surprised me this week and is clearly more complex (and messed up) than any of us realised. I’m looking forward to learning more about Ash and her crazy family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

 

Words on Walford: Weeks of 30 March – 10 April

 

It’s been almost a month since my last Words on Walford blog. The truth is, like the rest of the world, coronavirus quarantine had me a bit down. Rather than watching something as grim as EastEnders (and make no mistake—grim is why we love it), I’ve been tuning into cherished sitcoms like Are You Being Served? and The Golden Girls. In these dark times we all need a laugh.

However, just because Covid-19 has stopped the rest of the world doesn’t mean life in Walford has come to a halt—at least, not yet. Showing only two episodes a week in order to stretch out the remaining catalogue of new episodes as long as possible has slowed down the pace of drama, or at least the pace viewers are getting it. Obviously the episodes we’re seeing now were filmed months before the pandemic, so the writers and producers had little way of knowing how radically life would change for the rest of us and, presumably, the folks on Albert Square. I have found myself wondering how Sonia is coping as an NHS nurse, how Bobby is feeling stuck at home with miserable old Ian, and how Chantelle is coping being trapped with Gray.

Perhaps we’ll never know. One thing is for sure, though: the decision to air only two episodes a week, while understandable, does risk hurting the stories. For nearly 20 years the show has broadcast four times a week, and the last time it aired only twice weekly the cast was significantly smaller. That makes sense, because you have less time to tell the stories of a big cast. That, I suppose, is my concern with two episodes a week. It has been nearly three weeks since we’ve seen Jean, or Keegan, or Whitney. These are major characters with major storylines. How will not seeing them for possibly weeks on end effect how those storylines are received?

As I said, it’s entirely understandable why the BBC decided to cut back on the number of weekly episodes and there’s not much that can be done about it, so this isn’t a criticism so much as it is simple curiosity. Of course—and this is the uncomfortable elephant in the room—what happens when they run out of episodes? Will the story just pick up again where it left off? Will there be a time jump? Remains to be seen, but it seems impossible that this lockdown won’t affect future storytelling.

For now, though, let’s look backwards. The last fortnight saw the story of Dennis’ death get wrapped up (at least for now) with a neat, yet disappointing, bow on top. Dennis’ funeral was a letdown, not least because we really didn’t get to see much of his funeral. Jay leading the horse-drawn carriage through the Square was a moving scene, though the incidental music was unnecessary. This has become a hallmark of the Sen era, and it’s hit-or-miss. I was a big fan of “Stay Another Day” playing at the end of the Christmas Day episode, but EastEnders has never needed a score to stir our emotions and it doesn’t need one now.

Aside from giving Denny a final sendoff, the funeral ushered Phil (Steve McFadden) back to the Square. Exactly what I feared would happen has happened: Phil and Sharon have reconciled, or at least made peace. Their tryst was expected and just as disappointing as I imagined. I said weeks ago that if Denny’s death wasn’t the end of Phil and Sharon it would be wasted, and I was right. Sharon justifying her dalliance to Ian—that Phil loved Denny too and there was some comfort in being with him because of that—made sense, I guess, but it was still infuriating. These two have been toxic for nearly 30 years, and I hoped the final nail in Dennis’ coffin would be the final nail in their relationship’s coffin, too. No such luck.

If anything, it’s clear that Sharon is going to be used as a plot point in Phil’s broader redemption arc. First came Phil turning himself in, followed by forgiveness—or at least absolution—from Sharon. Then we saw Phil have a heartwarming scene with Ben, telling him he’s proud of him as Ben struggles with his hearing loss. Perhaps I was naïve to think that Phil Mitchell would finally get his comeuppance. Steve McFadden is a national treasure and Phil Mitchell is as iconic a character as soapland has to offer, so of course proper justice—prison—was out of the question. I had hoped Phil would get it some other way, though I was never sure how. That looks unlikely to happen, and Dennis’ death will be just another dastardly deed Phil gets away with. If that’s the case, his death will have been one of the biggest mistakes in EastEnders history.

Also, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind now that Kayden is actually Phil’s biological child? I don’t know how or when that secret will be revealed, but it will. It’s so obvious and such a shame. It looks like everything I hoped wouldn’t happen in this storyline is going to happen. Disappointing.

Another major storyline to play out over the past two weeks is Dotty’s continued blackmailing of Ian. Finally gaining the upper hand, Ian managed to steal back the phone with the incriminating voicemail in which Dennis unwittingly names him as his killer (even though Phil definitely remains man most responsible). It’s becoming clear that when—and it’s only a matter of time—Sharon finds out Ian locked Denny in that room she will blame Ian, not Phil, for his death. I’m not happy with this, and I think it’s really a stupid storyline, but it is what it is. Whatever. Phil must have a prosecco-flavoured dick or something because nothing will keep Sharon off it, not even her son’s death.

Whatever. Back to Dotty. The final scene on last Tuesday’s episode, in which she makes clear to Ian that she still plans to tell Sharon about the voicemail, was interesting. For a long time we believed Dotty was only blackmailing Ian because she wanted the Arches—like her dad, apple, tree, etc—but it turns out she wants justice more than payout. Dotty is shaping up to be a complex, interesting character whose motives aren’t always as dastardly (and, I imagine on the other side of that coin, altruistic) as we think. Nick Cotton was pure evil, a villain through and through, but Dotty is shaping up to be more like, dare I say, Phil Mitchell. That is, she could end up being one of soap’s great anti-heroines, a woman who does the wrong things for the right reasons (or vice versa at times). Played brilliantly by Milly Zero and written in a way that makes you love her then hate her then love her again, Dotty Cotton has the makings of an EastEnders legend.

The other major development over the past four episodes was Mick and Linda’s decision to sell the Queen Vic. Watching Linda fall off the wagon at Denny’s funeral was boring because it was so expected—though who can blame her the way Sharon had a go over those pepperoni pizzas?—but the payoff was worth it. Watching Kellie Bright and Danny Dyer play the scene where Linda talks about growing up in a pub and how that has influenced her relationship with booze was deeply moving, and anyone who has struggled with drink can relate to desperately wanting to be one of those people who can only have one. Seeing Shirley and Tina both support their decision to sell was heartwarming, too. The Carters are at their best when they come together as a family and seeing them rally around Linda has been nice.

So who will buy the Vic? That’s the question on everybody’s mind. The most obvious choice is Sharon. She can’t crash with Ian forever—and won’t want to once Dotty reveals the truth—and even though she slept with Phil, I don’t think they’ll reconcile quickly. Hearing Sharon talk about how happy she was growing up in the Vic might be some nice foreshadowing. Karen Taylor has also come into some money courtesy of Ian Beale bribing her to move away. It would be a very Karen Taylor thing to do to take that money and move just down the street. Ruby Allen—who got a line of dialogue last week!—could fancy owning a second business, possibly allowing her mate Stacey to run it once she returns. Ian could make a bid for it (Lord knows he’d consider it his crown jewel), or the Panesars. Sharon is the safe bet, but it really could be anyone—even someone not currently on the canvas.

Whoever it is, though, Mick and Linda selling up is the end of an era. I did the maths, and the Carters have the longest stretch of time as Queen Vic landlords in the shows history. Phil Mitchell has more time overall behind the bar, and Den and Angie Watts ran it for longer when you count backstory (pre-1985), but on screen, Mick and Linda have the longest tenure. It’s going to be weird seeing Linda’s flamingos painted over and not seeing Mick pulling pints. It’s also going to be strange seeing them adjust to life in Walford not running a boozer. What other discernable skills do either of them have? What will they do for money? Will they open a restaurant? It will be fascinating to see how they adjust to their new reality in the weeks to come.

Stray observations: I’m really not sure how I feel about Jags and Habiba, but I’m glad Habiba is getting a storyline. It’s good to see Sharon reclaim the Watts name. Callum sleeping in his pants and socks is weird. I can understand sleeping in pyjamas and socks when it’s cold, but how do people sleep in pants and socks? Is this a thing?  Ballum said “I love you.” That was sweet. Could there be a Peter-Bobby-Dotty love triangle? Or are they setting Dotty up for a romance with Vinny? Hard to tell. Vinny and Dotty have an interesting dynamic though. Wow, when’s the last time we saw Riley and Chatham?

Scene of the fortnight: Sharon going after Phil with a knife. Wish she’d shanked him. Alas and alack, as June Brown says.

Line of the fortnight: “A night with bad baby Banksy? Computer says no.” – Dotty with the jokes

Performance of the fortnight: Milly Zero really killed it as Dotty these past two weeks.

Character of the fortnight: Phil Mitchell. I mean, he’s going to get away with murder. Credit where it’s due.

How Modern Family changed American television

When Modern Family won the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, I was livid. A derivative show which mashed the mocumentary-style of The Office up with the formulaic family sitcom (a la Everybody Loves Raymond), I couldn’t see how it could it could possibly rank as more “outstanding” than Glee, another nominee in its first season which revolutionized what we thought television could be. Inclusive, ingenious, and in more than one way groundbreaking, Ryan Murphy’s dramedy about a misfit show was far more deserving than yet another show about a (mostly) white upper-middle-class family.

I still think Glee deserved the 2010 Emmy, but having watched Modern Family over the years, my opinion of it as “trite and derivative” has changed. As the sitcom aired its series finale last night, I began to consider its place in the annals of television history. Far from being just another boring sitcom about rich white people, I have come to appreciate that, in its own quiet yet hilarious way, Modern Family helped pave the way for more diverse representations of American families. Indeed, it challenged the notion of what “family” even is in modern America.

Back in 2009, when both Glee and Modern Family debuted, they were notable for including two types of characters up to that point rarely seen in American scripted television: gay me and Latinas. For Glee, this was central to the show’s identity from the very first episode. Inclusion became its raison d’etre. Sometimes that felt heavy-handed, but even when it was more subtle, the writers were loud and proud about their intention to make sure this show represented as many people as possible.

Modern Family took a more subtle, but no less effective, approach. The first episode centers in part around gay couple Mitch and Cam revealing that they have adopted a baby girl from Vietnam. The reveal—in which Cam (played hilariously by Eric Stonestreet) holds up his daughter, Lily, under a spotlight as “Circle of Life” blasts over his home sound system—is both gut-busting hilarious and incredibly moving. It is also very, very camp—a trope the show never shied away from but never exploited.

Herein lies the beauty of Modern Family. Mitch and Cam are not the sanitized Jack McPhees of Dawson’s Creek nor the one-dimensional stock character of Will & Grace’s Jack McFarland. These characters are gay—they’re written with gay sensibility, they have mostly other gay friends, their cultural references are familiar to any gay man (even if they aren’t always familiar to straight audiences)—but they aren’t defined exclusively by their sexuality. Like many real gay men, they both embrace some things which would be considered “stereotypical” (a love of show tunes, matching silk robes, Cam’s flair for the dramatic) but also defy them (Cam is an ex-football player and current coach; Mitch has a dry wit and low tolerance for tomfoolery).

The show was perhaps less successful in avoiding stereotypes with Gloria (Sofia Vergara), the beautiful Latina and second wife of Pritchard family patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill). Many jokes in the early years revolved around the other, white characters’ inability to understand her accent, her supposed criminal past in Columbia, and relied on objectifying her in some ways which, only a decade later, feel incredibly sexist and dated. Yet Gloria was mostly treated by the writers and therefore the other characters as an integral part of the family. When she was portrayed as an outsider, it was usually alongside Cam and Phil (Ty Burrell), the other characters who had married into the family.

She, too, developed into a more complex and interesting character than the stock character of the fiery Latina she might have been in less able hands. Because of this, Modern Family was able to explore the immigrant experience with compassion and heart, even as immigrants were being vilified by politicians and even the President.

What truly made Mitch, Cam, and Gloria—and by extension, Modern Family—so revolutionary, though, was that they were loved and accepted by their immediate relatives. That dynamic—an extended, blended family consisting of characters diverse both in demographics and personality—was as central to the show as inclusion was to Glee, and it is arguably just as important. It’s hard to quantify just what impact these characters had on American society, but as The Atlantic reported in 2015, some people who previously opposed gay marriage attributed their change of heart to Mitch and Cam.

In that way, at least, the Pritchetts and the Dunphys have left an indelible mark on American society.  They loved one another as much as any family. The show wasn’t always the most innovative, but it was warm, cozy, and often funny, like that Christmas sweater your grandmother knitted you which you pretend to sneer at but secretly wear when the winter is just a little too dark and cold.

The series finale was a fitting coda, as the family moved on, being split across continents and oceans as they all went their seperate ways. Though filmed months before the current pandemic, it felt incredibly prescient watching these characters struggle with the idea that their tight-knit family would be seperated, with no idea when they might again be together. At a time when we all wish we could—but can’t—be with our crazy uncles, uptight sisters, or grumpy grandpas, it was comforting to spend one last night with Family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 9 – 13 March 2020

Love in the age of coronavirus is brutal. At least, it is in Walford. This week EastEnders gave us to not one but two disastrous proposals as Lola socially distanced herself from Jay by jumping into bed with Peter and Stuart found out that Rainie did not want to self-quarantine with him in holy matrimony. Still, the good people of E20 seem utterly unbothered by the global pandemic sending the rest of us into utter panic. You know we’re living through dark times when the world seems grim compared to Albert Square, but life must carry on—as poor Sharon is struggling to realise—so let’s crack on with some Words on Walford.

Having mentioned Jay and Lola, they feel like as good a place to start as any, especially since this week felt like it centred around them. That is, in part at least, because seeing them featured so prominently is a rare treat. Jamie Borthwick has been chronically underused for years, despite being one of the most charming actors on the show and Jay being one of the most unimpeachably decent. Since her return as Lola, Danielle Harold has likewise been relegated to supporting player; at times it felt like she was only brought back so that Lexi could also return. It’s a nice change, then, to see both getting a storyline of their own.

It’s an interesting storyline, too, even if it feels a little contrived. If you had told me even a month ago that Lola would turn down a proposal from Jay I would have laughed in your face. But fear of COVID-19 and Lola’s sudden personal growth means no one is laughing now. And when I say sudden, I mean sudden. As I said, Lola has mostly been a prop since she returned, a static character meant to serve in Ben’s (and to a lesser degree Billy’s) stories rather than carry one of her own. Because of this, we haven’t seen any character development in her—whether achieved since she returned or in the four years she spent away from the Square.

It wasn’t until last week, with her conversation with Chantelle about her pregnancy, that we began to really explore who Lola is as an adult. We got more of it this week as she cried on Denise’s shoulder. Hearing Lola discuss the youth she might have enjoyed had she not had Lexi was revealing and went a long way to explaining why she is in no hurry to marry Jay and why she jumped in bed with Peter at the first opportunity. It was refreshing to hear Lola discuss how difficult being a young, single mother has been on her are and was a wonderful moment of insight into a character who, until this point, has been somewhat of an enigma since her return. Danielle Harold gave a convincing performance, really showing Lola’s doubts and insecurities and gaining our sympathy in the process—no mean feat considering she’d just cheated on the nicest boy in Walford.

I’ll be interested to see where the Jay and Lola story goes. I have high hopes that, with Peter, we could be in store for a very interesting love triangle (one I predicted last week). All three actors—Harold, Brown, and Dayle Hudson—are capable, and I can see it being very hard to decide which pairing to “ship.” I hope EastEnders continues to explore this dynamic.

The other disastrous proposal was a little more out-of-the-blue and a little more surprising. Stuart deciding at the spur of the moment to ask Rainie to marry him is a very Stuart thing to do, and Rainie publicly rejecting him is a very Rainie thing to do. I didn’t see it coming, though—either the proposal or the rejection. Stuart seems genuinely good for Rainie, who has never had anyone fight her corner the way he does. Watching the two of them crawl around on the floor of Walford East as they searched for the ring was hilarious. I just love them, and that’s all there is to say about that. I actually expected her to say yes—after some hemming and hawing—until Stuart mentioned Linda.
Honestly, Stuart should have known better. Rainie is ashamed of her past, as we saw when an old john showed up at the funeral home, but she internalises that shame and she owns it. She isn’t proud of her past, but she is proud. So, if there’s one thing Rainie Cross won’t abide it is someone sticking their nose up at her, and no one sticks their nose up better than Linda Carter. Hell, I’m surprised she doesn’t drown when it rains. Rainie giving Linda a few home truths about addiction was one of my favourite scenes so far this year, because Linda can sit on her high horse all she likes—and she really likes it—but in the end there is nothing separating her and Rainie (or Stuart or Phil). It was good to see Rainie give her what for, and good to see her get through to Linda who finally went to a meeting.

In fact, I have more hope for the Carters than I have in months. I honestly thought Linda’s drinking would be what finally tore her and Mick apart, but they seem to be getting back on a solid footing. I think I’m happy about this. For a while, I thought breaking Mick and Linda up would make for great story, but the more I think about it the more I like that there is one couple on EastEnders that always manages to make it work. While the rest of the Square is put asunder, Mick and Linda stand firm. Other than maybe Jim and Dot, I can’t think of another couple for whom that has been true.

Well, maybe Shirley and Jean. Their friendship is one of the best dynamics on the show, and watching Gillian Wright and Linda Henry is always a delight. Watching them expose Suki was exciting and vindicating. The  performances of Wright, Henry, and Balvinder Sopal were pitch perfect. I admit I’m surprised how quickly Suki’s cancer lie was exposed; I expected this storyline to drag on into the spring. One thing is clear, though: Suki Panesar is shaping up to be a great villain. Watching her manipulate her sons, even after she admitted to faking cancer, was enthralling. Sopal plays sociopathic Suki so deliciously that I always look forward to seeing her scheme. She has the making of an iconic Walford matriarch and villain, and I hope she sticks around for a long time. With this storyline resolving itself so quickly, though, I wonder where the Panesars go from here.

That is, I wonder where the Panesars go from here with one exception. It is clear Kheerat is going to play a pivotal role in the resolution of Gray and Chantelle’s domestic abuse storyline. This week he gave Chantelle a job at the call centre, but for months we’ve seen him take an interest in Chantelle, and I (and many fans) wonder if he doesn’t know, or at least suspect, that Gray is beating her behind closed doors. Mitch, too, seems to be inching closer to discovering the truth. As I’ve said before, this storyline needs to come to a head soon because there’s not much more I can take. Watching Gray abuse Chantelle is harrowing, and while Jessica Plummer and Toby-Alexander Smith continue to give it their all, it’s just very hard to watch. Seeing Chantelle try to get up off the floor at the end of Friday’s episode, while Gray was celebrated as a hero in the pub, reminded me of Trevor and Little Mo—and not necessarily in the best way.

Still, this is an important storyline. The number of British women killed by a male partner or ex-partner in the UK rose 28 per cent over the last year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be the victim of domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Earlier this month in the House of Commons, Jess Phillips MP read out the names of more than 100 women murdered by men in the UK over the past year, something she has done in years past. I’m glad EastEnders is addressing the issue, but this storyline has been going on for the better part of a year. Gray needs to get his comeuppance soon, because it’s just very difficult viewing.

Whitney’s storyline is also difficult viewing. There isn’t a lot I want to say about it, as I’m still not a fan of this storyline (for the reasons I’ve mentioned in previous blogs), but I do want to commend Shona McGarty for an incredibly powerful performance. It isn’t easy acting by yourself, especially when you’re playing someone suffering from delusions and starvation. McGarty is absolutely nailing it, though. Every time I see Whitney my heart breaks just a little bit more. Honestly, her having a mental breakdown over the abuse she has suffered is a long time coming.

Stray observations: I am a little surprised EastEnders didn’t insert a special scene addressing coronavirus. It seems like a missed opportunity to do some public education, but looked at another way, maybe people just need an escape from the sheer terror we’re all living in so best not to mention it. A week without Ian or Kathy and only one scene with Sharon was weird but refreshing. I know I’ve said we need more Sharon, but honestly, I’m glad Jon Sen focused on some of the other characters instead of Ian. There’s more going on in Walford than Denny’s death. Jean Slater not taking her medication is not a storyline I’m looking forward to. I assume this is meant to help usher Stacey back to Walford after Lacey Turner’s maternity leave ends, but it’s so predictable and so derivative. Been there, done that. I was glad to see a small scene between Mitch and Bailey. More Kara-Leah Fernandes please. #Ballum barely featured this week and… I didn’t miss them. I’m glad Patrick is back. That scene in the Prince Albert with him, Isaac, and the other men playing air hockey reminded me of the sort of community “hang” we saw more of on the show in the 1990s, and I enjoyed it. I like it when random characters hang out. Denise playing agony aunt to Lola and Jay was a nice and natural fit for her. Denise needs a big storyline. She hasn’t had one in three years—since her GCSE/homelessness storyline.

Scene of the week: Rainie giving Linda some home truths at Walford East. Read Lady Muck for filth, Rainie!

Line of the week: “They’re called hundreds and thousands, Shirley, not ones and twos!” – Jean teaches Shirley how to properly decorate a cake

Performance of the week: Shona McGarty – she’s breaking my heart as Whitney

Character of the week: Suki Panesar – She’s a character you just love to hate. She’s made such an impact already, despite only debuting about a month ago. I cannot wait to see what trouble Suki causes in the months to come, and Sopal plays her so deliciously evil watching her is like biting into a rich and decadent Belgian chocolate—you know it’s bad for you, but it’s just so good.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 2 – 6 March 2020

Farewell, Bex. The departure of Jasmine Armfield as Martin and Sonia’s daughter is the biggest development on EastEnders this week, though it is hardly the most interesting. That kind of sums up the character of Bex, though. When you think about it, she has been through a lot over the past few years—being bullied, having her boyfriend sleep with her aunt, a suicide attempt—but every storyline the writers gave her withered on the vine. That’s a shame, because Armfield is a capable actress and Bex could have been an interesting character. Instead, she was the perennial damp squib, her storylines never really climaxing into anything interesting.

The writers never seemed invested in her character, using her mostly as a plot point for other characters. I mentioned the bullying storyline, which came to a climax with Louise’s burns. The Preston storyline was always about Michelle, not Bex. The best (by which I mean worst) example, though, is Bex’s suicide attempt, which had the potential to be a compelling, issue-based storyline but instead was used to further Martin’s and Sonia’s plot. Despite being the one who tried to take her own life, Bex factored little into her suicide storyline.

Because of this, I doubt fans really notice Bex’s absence. I don’t know why Armfield left, but I can’t blame her. She never got the material she deserved. I’m glad they didn’t kill Bex off, though. The door is left open for her return, and maybe in a few years’ time the character can come back to Walford (whether played by Armfield or a recast) and make a bigger impression—one due a legacy character like Rebecca Fowler.

Speaking of legacy characters, let’s talk about Denny Rickman. It’s been two weeks since he drowned on the boat, yet it feels as though he has already been forgotten. Sharon is still grieving, and we got a few very good scenes played by Letitia Dean. Just, not enough. So far Denny’s death has been more about Ian’s guilt and now Dotty’s blackmail. It’s frustrating, because the death of a legacy character like Denny ought to at the very least put Sharon—one of the most iconic characters in the show’s history—front and centre. Maybe it will as we near the funeral, but until then I’m left wondering why we’re not exploring Sharon’s grief over the loss of her son and her relationship with her newborn son more. Instead, Denny’s death has been made about Ian sodding Beale.

Part of this is, no doubt, that Phil Mitchell isn’t around. I’m not sure if Steve McFadden is on holiday or what, but Phil’s absence in the aftermath of the boat crash is jarring. He caused the accident which killed Denny, yet he’s nowhere to be found. I’m certain we’ll get the payoff we’re all waiting for when McFadden returns to our screens, but in the meantime we’re left with no real resolution—to the boat sinking, yes, but also to the Sheanu affair, which is the storyline that just won’t end.

Even Ben, who played a massive role in Denny’s death, isn’t really grappling with that thanks to his hearing loss. It’s an important storyline and I’m glad EastEnders is exploring it, but I would like to see some acknowledgement from Ben that his stepbrother is dead because of his actions. Ben can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time, and the writers ought to be able to as well. The announcement that Paul Usher is returning as gangster Danny Hardcastle doesn’t inspire confidence, though. The last thing Ben needs is another gangster storyline, but Kate Oates and Jon Sen just can’t help themselves.

That’s a shame, because pulling Ben out of the thug life and into family life could make for some amazing stories. Some of the best scenes this week were between Ben, Jay, Lola, and Lexi. Seeing the four of them, with Callum, at the end of Friday’s episode was sweet. I want to see more of it. It’s an interesting family dynamic—mum and boyfriend, dad and boyfriend, all living in harmony and raising little Lexi. I want to see the show explore it further.

We might get that now that Jay and Lola seem to finally be getting a storyline of their own. Lola’s pregnancy wasn’t exactly shocking to anyone but her. Lola’s decision to terminate it, though, was. We didn’t get as much of Jay and Lola as I would have liked this week, but Lola’s uncertainty about starting a family with Jay so soon was an interesting development.

The couple has long been written as endgame, and the writers wasted no time splitting up Jay and Ruby to get them back together. Listening to Lola talk to Chantelle about her pregnancy, though, I was struck that she said she “likes him a lot.” She didn’t say she loved Jay, just that she likes him. Later, when talking to Jay, Lola said they hadn’t been together that long. And it’s true, they haven’t. But it’s hardly like they just met. There’s a lot of history there, so the words Lola chose are perhaps telling. I don’t think she’s as invested in this relationship as Jay is.

Which brings me to Peter. Lauren and Peter had so much drama it’s easy to forget that Lola and Peter have a history together, too. Yet the writers made a point of acknowledging that the week before last. Could they be gearing up for a Peter/Lola/Jay love triangle? It has occurred to me that could be where this is heading, though it’s just idle speculation. (I’m interested to hear what you think—chime in in the comments below.)

It’s understandable that Jay wants a child, though. To start, he loves Lola. But beyond that, Jay has never really had a family of his own. He has the Mitchells, who have mostly been good to him (not always, but mostly), but Jay is the epitome of the poor little orphan boy. It often shows in the stories he gets—or more accurately, doesn’t get—so no doubt the chance to start a family of his own is incredibly exciting. Jay might not have even realised he wanted it, but now that he has I doubt he lets it go. For someone who has never had a family, the chance at one will be strong.

That being said, Lola’s reasons for not wanting a baby are valid. Ben’s struggling, and whether it’s fair or not for Jay to accuse her of putting Ben before him, it’s at least understandable. Ben is the father of her child. Lexi nearly got ran over by a car because of Ben’s inability to hear. Putting Ben first is, in a way, putting Lexi first, which is exactly what a good parent should do.

The question of what makes a good parent is one no doubt troubling Mitch Baker. Once again the most impressive scenes of the week involved Mitch and Keegan. Keegan’s arrest and his frustration over his long wait at the hospital was tough to watch, especially considering Keegan was very clearly being racially profiled in the former. The latter is harder to say—it was clever to have a Black nurse be the one to routinely tell Keegan he had to wait to be seen by a doctor, and to be fair it’s understandable for an A&E to take more critical cases first.

What is also understandable, though, is Keegan’s frustration in that moment. For weeks we’ve seen Keegan being racially profiled and harassed, so it’s not surprising he felt—rightly or wrongly—that it was happening again at hospital. Zack Morris is one of my favourite actors currently on EastEnders, and I’m glad to see him getting another hard-hitting storyline. I was worried that the show wouldn’t do this storyline justice, but after this week I’m hopeful they will. I’m so glad, because as I’ve said before, this is an important storyline that has the potential to change the public perception of racism and policing, which at is best is what EastEnders does.

While we’re talking about race and the Taylor family, let’s talk about Chantelle and Gray Atkins. Feeling the pressure at work, Gray began spiraling out of control (again) this week. We saw him nearly attack Chantelle on Monday, but it was his scenes with his boss which gave us the most insight into Gray’s mind and motivation. A mate of mine texted me, pointing out that the fact that it was a Black woman who was piling on the pressure at work might speak to why Gray treats Chantelle the way he does—that is, he abuses his Black wife because of his anger at his Black boss. I’m sure my mate would agree it’s more complicated than that (abuse always is), but it does introduce an interesting point: what role does race play in the way Gray treats Chantelle, his boss, and others? Chantelle’s and Gray’s domestic violence storyline has, without even trying, explored the power dynamics between men and women, but Chantelle is Black and Gray is white, so there’s another power dynamic in their relationship, too. How does that influence how Gray sees his wife?

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out, especially as the show continues to subtly explore the dynamics of race in Keegan’s marriage to Tiffany, who very clearly does not understand what it is like to be a Black man in modern Britain. Again, this is just speculation, so it may be that race is never addressed when it comes to Gray and Chantelle. But if you want to explore race in modern Britain, the Taylors are the perfect family to do it. Despite having two mixed-race children, Karen Taylor has already shown she can be racist (remember her sparring with Masood over the launderette?). If this is the direction EastEnders is taking this, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

One thing is for certain, though: Gray needs to get his comeuppance soon. This abuse storyline has been going on since last summer, and it’s very disturbing to watch. I appreciate that the show is trying to raise awareness of an important issue, and I think they’ve done it well so far. I just don’t know how much more of Gray attacking Chantelle I can handle watching. It’s difficult viewing.

A few more stray observations: Milly Zero is a diamond and I’m so glad she’s there. I’m not just saying that because she followed me on Twitter, either. Her scenes with Ian and Peter were riveting. Jean’s farewell to Daniel was touching and comical; Mo falling into the hole was incredibly fitting. I loved the scenes between Gillian Wright and Linda Henry this week. Jean and Shirley have such a lovely friendship, and I’m glad the show is exploring it again. I can’t wait for Jean to confront Suki over her cancer lie, as it’s clear Jean knows she’s faking. Whitney’s storyline is still boring me. I want to care, but I just don’t. If Kush only got community service for his GBH charge, why didn’t he just plead guilty to begin with? Where the hell is Ruby Allen? Seriously, I’m so annoyed at how the show is wasting Louisa Lytton.

Scene of the week: Jean, Suki, Shirley, and Mo burying Daniel’s ashes in the Square. When Jean threw Daniel onto the other three I SCREAMED! Comedy at its best.

Line of the week: “Why are you so surprised, Dad? It’s just the way it is!” – Keegan throwing Mitch’s words back in his face was chilling.

Performance of the week: Toby-Alexander Smith. Gray is an abusive bastard, but somehow Smith finds a way to make him almost sympathetic at times. Seeing him struggle with the pressures of work (and the expectations of the community) was fascinating. A very nuanced performance by Smith, who conveyed both the insecurity and pressure Gray feels with the rage bubbling just under the surface.

Character of the week: Jay Brown and Lola Pearce – I can’t pick just one, because both really shined this week.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 24 – 28 February 2020

The week after an epic stunt like what I call “Boat Week” – that is, the 35th anniversary episodes – is always a bit of a comedown. It’s like getting back from a long holiday, when your mind is still firmly on the sun and sand but you’re back in your drab, fluorescently lit office. Considering this, my expectations for this past week were minimal. I wanted EastEnders to carry the plot forward while also dealing with the repercussions of the previous week’s events. Denny’s death was sure to send ripples around the Square, as was Whitney’s arrest and, to a lesser degree, Keanu’s (final) departure.

Yet throughout the four episodes following what was a successful anniversary week, I felt the show was muddled in its storytelling. Certain character arcs we would have expected to see continued screeched to a halt, while others were continued trucking along, becoming lost in the aftermath of the boat tragedy. Some weren’t even mentioned at all (where is Patrick Trueman?). Let’s look at what worked, and what didn’t.

This week was always going to be about the Beales. Ian’s guilt over Denny’s death, Peter’s return, Bobby’s recovery, and Kathy’s presence right at the centre of it all forced the family to the forefront. That’s not a bad thing—the Beales are if not the most important family in EastEnders history, certainly the show’s oldest family—and Adam Woodyatt and Gillian Taylforth rose to the occasion, giving moving, powerful performances. Watching Ian wrestle with his guilt could have been maudlin and tedious, but Woodyatt has dug beneath the material to find a pathos in Ian that is truly compelling. Meanwhile, Taylforth is excelling at the role Kathy was always destined for—put-upon matriarch trying to corral her unruly brood. The show hasn’t done enough with Kathy Beale since they resurrected her five years ago, but having Bobby, Peter, and Ben all back on the Square (where they should have been all along) has the potential to do wonders for her character and give Taylforth something to sink her teeth into.

Another standout of the week has been newcomer Dayle Hudson as Peter Beale mark seven. Leaving aside the jarring height difference between Hudson and his predecessor in the role, Hollywood hunk Ben Hardy (Hudson is seven inches taller than Hardy), he has already made the role his own. Stepping into Ben Hardy’s shoes was going to be tough considering both the stellar performance he gave during his two years on the show and his skyrocketing film career, but Hudson has done it not only ably but with gusto. His presence feels natural and familiar, and his chemistry with Woodyatt and Taylforth is palpable. I can’t wait to see what Peter gets up to next.

The same can’t be said for Whitney. A week in jail and I am already bored with this storyline. Obviously Whitney had to be arrested for killing Leo (not that she deserves it, but the story wouldn’t strain credibility if she wasn’t), so I am cutting EastEnders some slack here. This is a necessary development in an ongoing storyline. Still, it’s not one I am particularly interested in. EastEnders has a long history of sending its characters to the slammer, from the Dickens Hill storyline with Den Watts in the 1980s on up to Mick Carter’s incarceration in 2018.

The problem is I don’t think the show ever gets them right. I’m not talking about the societal commentary on the prison system or British justice—though someone more knowledgeable on the topic could no doubt write an essay on it—but simply the stories themselves. It’s always a challenge when you remove a character from the setting in which the story is overwhelmingly taking place (that is, Albert Square), as it doesn’t easily jive with the rest of the show. I care about Whitney’s plight because I care about Whitney as a character, but I haven’t found these scenes particularly interesting. Lying to Gray about Mick’s involvement, swearing she killed Leo in self-defence; it’s all a bit predictable and derivative. Procedurals like The Bill and mysteries like Broadchurch work because the entire show is based around that particular premise. Soap makes it a bit more tricky, because part of what makes soap great is characters interacting with one another. Throwing Whitney into jail removes her from that.

Like I said, though, it had to happen. I trust that Jon Sen and Kate Oates know what they’re doing and where this storyline is going, so we could end up with a riveting arc for Whitney. It’s too early to say, though these first scenes do not inspire confidence.

The Whitney saga seemed to take up most of the first couple episodes, while Sharon’s grief was relegated to B-plot. This felt like a mistake. Watching Sharon walk around in a daze felt real and hit me in the gut. When I was in high school a friend passed away in a car accident, and I remember that almost zombie-like look and demeanor in her mother. Letitia Dean nailed the way grief knocks everything out of you. Far from over-the-top melodrama, we got an understated, nuanced performance (I think I used that same phrase to describe Dean’s acting last week, but it bears repeating). The scene between Sharon and Shirley, in particular, was heart-wrenching. It was the first time we’d seen Sharon properly break down, and it was a nice scene that highlighted the shared humanity between two longtime foils, if not outright foes.

I would have liked to have seen more of Sharon’s journey, though I suspect we will be watching that unfold in the weeks to come. Denny’s funeral, in particular, will offer Dean a chance to flex her muscles. I can’t wait to see what happens as she continues to find out more about Ian’s role in Denny’s death and finally confronts Phil over the fact that his machismo and wounded pride—and not Sharon’s affair—are what ultimately lead to the loss of her son.

Sharon won’t be the only Walford woman grieving, though. Daniel’s death was not exactly a surprise—we all knew he had terminal cancer, and what that meant—but I wasn’t expecting it so soon. Ade Edmondson was a gift as Daniel Cook. His departure, though always inevitable, is nonetheless a loss for the show. Daniel’s romance with Jean is one of the great love stories in EastEnders history, a touching look at life, love, loss, and ultimately mortality. Gillian Wright gave a beautiful performance as Jean discovers Daniel’s corpse in the Square, quietly conveying the pain of a woman who knew this was going to happen but is nonetheless heartbroken.

It was a powerful and poignant moment. I wish the show had waited a little longer for it, though—not because I wanted to see more of Edmondson’s performance (well, not only because of that), but because Jean’s and Daniel’s final moments seemed to get swallowed up in the aftermath of the boat tragedy. DigitalSpy pointed out that Jean didn’t even get the duff duff for Daniel’s death, which shows just how overwhelmed this scene was by events elsewhere in Walford.

Another storyline that seems to be swallowed up by events, not just this week but generally, is Keegan’s continued harassment by the police. I understand from spoilers that we’ll be revisiting that soon, but it’s worth pointing out that since their elopement back in the autumn, neither Keegan nor Tiffany have had much screen time. This is a shame, because Zack Morris and Maisie Smith are two of the brightest young stars on the show, and they are endlessly delightful to watch, as evidenced by the “wedding-ring-in-a-cupcake” scenes this week. It was a welcome point of levity in an otherwise bleak and depressing episode, and Morris and Smith played it with such charm and warmth. I hope to see more of them.

On the other hand, I hope to see less of Ben and Callum. I have never exactly warmed to #Ballum the way many other fans have, finding their entire relationship to be both contrived and toxic. This push-and-pull between them, with Ben blowing hot or cold depending on the day, is exhausting and uninteresting. No one seriously thought Ben wouldn’t find Callum, and their interactions afterwards felt more like bad fan fiction than it did good soap. Callum tracing “I ❤ you” on Ben’s back was cute, but them jumping in the sack five minutes after Callum has been rescued from spending days in a skip rang untrue and felt as though it was written to please horny #Ballum fans rather than stay true to the characters and ground the show in reality. Fans love #Ballum, though, so clearly I’m missing something. I fully admit that. I just wish I knew what it was.

I do want to commend EastEnders for tackling a storyline about deafness and for casting a deaf actress as a deaf character (to be debuting soon). Disability isn’t often addressed on soap, so it will be interesting to see how the show handles this and whether Ben’s hearing loss is permanent or temporary. The sound effects really show how Ben is hearing the world and the extent of the damage done on the boat. This has the potential to be an informative, issue-based storyline. I hope the show does it justice. I suspect it will.

A few more stray observations before we go. Where is Linda? We saw her in Monday’s episode, but if I recall that was it. Her alcoholism was such a big part of Boat Week that it seems odd we wouldn’t be dealing with the aftermath of her decision to get sober. I’m sure that’s coming, but her absence glaring. I also would have liked to have seen a scene or two between Iqra, Habiba, and Bobby. It got mentioned that the Ahmed sisters were visiting him in hospital, but their friendship is so sweet it felt like a missed opportunity. Ricky Champ gave a comedic turn as Stuart Highway, and I couldn’t help but to laugh as he mimed whilst trying to communicate with Ben. Karen naming the baby Kayden was nice, and as many pointed out it has “Den” in it. Overall, though, I felt Karen was all too nonchalant about Keanu’s exit again. Perhaps she had come to terms with it, having said goodbye to him in early January, but it still felt like the show was happy to move on as though he never existed. Also, can we please get Bernadette a storyline? Ruby Allen, too. Louisa Lytton is too talented to be relegated to the role of a speaking extra. I didn’t mention this earlier, but yay, Jean is cancer free!

Scene of the week: Jean going to get them each a cocoa only to come back and find Daniel dead will stick with me for a long time.

Line of the week: “Apart from when Bobby nearly set the house on fire or the other day when Uncle Ian threw him out.” Lexi dropping truth bomb after truth bomb on Peter, dispelling Kathy’s notion that the Beales are on solid ground, was hilarious. Isabella Brown is adorable, and I hope she sticks around for a very long time.

Performance of the week: Letitia Dean. It could be no other. Every time she was onscreen my heart broke for Sharon.

Character of the week: Keegan Baker, if only because he had me howling with laughter and he got his kit off.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

Words on Walford: Week of 17 – 21 February 2020

Over the past decade, EastEnders anniversaries have come to be known for their epic nature. For the 25th anniversary in 2010 we had the first live episodes as Bradley Branning fell to his death and Stacey Slater admitted to killing Archie Mitchell. In 2015, the 30th anniversary saw Kim Fox gave birth, Kathy Beale returned from the dead, and after ten months of wondering, fans finally learned that Bobby Beale killed his sister, Lucy. Oh, and the episodes were live again.

Both the 25th and 30th anniversaries were widely praised by critics and fans alike, so expectations were high going into the 35th anniversary episodes, which aired last week. Eschewing the live format of the previous two milestones, Kate Oates and Jon Sen – the creative bosses currently at the helm of EastEnders – opted instead for a major stunt, sending many of our favourite characters on a party cruise and one of them to a watery grave.

Spoilers lurk below, so if you haven’t seen EastEnders recently read ahead at your own peril.

We’ll get to that death later, because it is a gamechanger. Sen and Oates deserve credit for being brave enough to kill off Dennis Rickman, Jr, because it took guts. But what they also deserve credit for is changing up the entire format of EastEnders. Traditionally married to linear storytelling with few sound effects and nearly no incidental music, Sen and Oates have not shied away from tinkering with the format that viewers have come to know. This was evident during the festive season, which saw an episode told entirely from drunk Linda Carter’s view and the New Year’s Day episode a flashback to Christmas Day, showing events we hadn’t seen before and filling in several plot holes.

At the time, many fans were unimpressed with the changes, particularly the flashback episode and the cheesy drumbeats used throughout the Christmas Day episode (such as when Louise “feels” Keanu get shot). I was and remain one of them. The sound effects are utterly unnecessary and distracting, not just because they’re tacky but because they are not something EastEnders viewers are accustomed to, making them even more jarring and taking us out of the story. They were, mercifully, forsaken during boat week. As for the flashback episode—I’m not opposed to a flashback episode in principle, but the New Year’s episode felt utterly unnecessary, as every bit of it could have been told in a linear Christmas Day episode.

Not so with boat week. Seeing the day’s events from different characters’ perspectives was fascinating. Sticking with one family—whether the Carters, the Beales, or the Mitchells—allowed us to more fully invest in their storyline, devoting our attention entirely to those characters in that moment. In a way, it felt as though the stakes were raised because our minds weren’t constantly casting back to what was happening elsewhere on the boat. Being left entirely in the moment—such as when Mick tried in futility to rescue Linda on Monday—led to some edge-of-the-seat viewing, and the anguish of having to wait days to find out why the boat crashed and whether certain characters survived made the show unmissable. It was a brilliant choice by the production team.

Still, I wouldn’t want this sort of storytelling to become the norm. Like cumin, a little goes a long way. The same can be said for incidental music. The scene at the end of the Christmas episode, where Martin burns Keanu’s belongings as “Stay Another Day” swells to a climax, was incredibly gripping. Similarly, the montage at the end of Friday’s episode—showing the denizens of Walford coming to terms with Denny’s death—was particularly haunting. I would have used Julia’s Theme or some other version of the iconic theme tune (maybe not Pat’s Theme—the dark, melancholy version used when Pat Butcher died, but something like it), as it’s more familiar to fans and has a long legacy of being used at particularly poignant moments in the show’s history.

Even with an unfamiliar tune, though, the poignancy of those moments following the tragedy on the Thames was only increased by the music. Now, I don’t want to see EastEnders go full on American soap opera and have every scene scored, but music definitely added to the atmosphere of two of the finest moments of boat week, both in Friday’s episode—the aforementioned closing montage and the montage of the characters following their rescue from the river.

Well, almost all the characters. Poor Denny Rickman, aged only 13, did not make it off the boat alive. The decision to kill off Sharon’s only oldest son was, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, a bold one. Denny is the epitome of a legacy character, the only biological descendant of one of the show’s original and most iconic characters who was, until Friday, still on the canvas. Some fans have complained that he wasn’t a “major” character (as the producers had promised), but it’s hard to get more “major” than the son of Sharon Watts and the grandson of Den Watts.

Was it the right decision? I don’t know. On the one hand, it isn’t an obvious colossal mistake the way killing Roxy and Ronnie was in 2017. While Denny certainly rises to the level of “major” character, those fans who feel cheated are right in that he hasn’t driven any storyline or been front-and-centre, well, ever. Most of that is down to age; for a number of reasons it is hard to give child actors major storylines. I, for one, find myself mourning the Denny storylines we’ll never get. He had the makings of a proper little villain, a chip off grandpa Dirty Den’s old block. That we won’t get to see Denny (as well as actor Bleu Landau, who is one of the most compelling young actors working in British television today) grow up is a real loss for the show. There is a lot of squandered potential there.

The show seems to think it’s worth it. Scriptwriter Pete Lawson tweeted that even six years after Lucy Beale’s death, we’re still feeling the repercussions. In some ways this is true—there’s still conflict between Bobby and Ian over Lucy’s murder, and in many ways that moment in 2014 defines Bobby Beale as a character. And then, of course, there’s Peter, who only just returned and will have to deal with his own anger towards Bobby. It drove storyline for other characters, too—Max’s revenge plot, Lauren’s eventual relationship with Steven—so, I can see where the production staff would think it was a rousing success.

https://twitter.com/petelawson68/status/1231156226219745280?s=20

There is one major difference between Lucy Beale and Denny Rickman, though: Lucy wasn’t an only child. Now, I know technically Denny isn’t an only child either—he has a little brother now, born the same day he died in what must be the most soapy twist of all time—but he was the only biological grandchild of Den Watts. That made him a unicorn. Killing a unicorn is a risky move. As a writer, I don’t think I would have done it. Kate Oates herself has said that having those iconic families represented on the canvas is important, making it even more puzzling why she and Sen would greenlight the death of a character with such deep and rare connections to the show’s past. As of the time I’m writing this, I do not agree creatively with the decision to kill Denny.

That might change. Lawson is right that this has the potential to drive story for years. Phil and Ben caused the boat accident that killed Sharon’s son. Ian tried to rescue him, but Denny was only in need of rescue because Ian locked him below deck. This puts three of the longest-serving and most iconic characters right at the forefront of the show, which is exactly where they should be. There’s so much potential for compelling story. How does Sharon react to her best friend’s role in her son’s death? How does she react to her estranged husband’s role? How does Phil react when he finds out Ian locked Denny up? How does Callum react to Ben’s involvement in a boy’s death? (That is, assuming Callum survives being trapped in a skip.) And how does Ian look at Bobby now that Ian himself is wracked with guilt over his role in another’s death?

The answers to these questions will determine whether the Denny’s death was “worth it.” The one thing I’ll say is, for me, if Sharon and Phil reconcile then it absolutely was not. Nothing short of all-out war between Sharon and Phil, with Phil eventually getting his comeuppance (however that looks) will satisfy me as a viewer. Phil and Sharon have had a destructive relationship for going on 30 years, and it ultimately lead to this unspeakable tragedy. To have them reconcile now would be to not only insult Denny’s memory but to insult the viewers. It should not happen.

There’s so much more to talk about, including Sharon’s funeral home birth (who saw that coming?), Mick and Linda’s reconciliation (as of now that storyline has been tied up too easily, but I suspect it won’t be smooth sailing—no pun intended—going forward), Halfway in a skip (escaping your kidnapper only to end up in a skip is such a Halfway thing to do), Bex’s drugs (I’m glad she wasn’t the boat death for so many reasons), Bobby’s brain bleed (I hope they explore the Islamophobia storyline further, but with the attention and care it deserves), Peter’s return (blimey, he is quite the dish), and just where exactly is Patrick Trueman. For now, though, we’ll leave it here. I have a feeling we’ll be able to discuss all this next week.

Scene of the week: The aftermath of the boat crash, including the attempts to resuscitate poor Denny

Line of the week: “I played my trumpt, what do you think?” – Sonia, sarcastically explaining to Martin how she got rid of the police

Performance of the week: Kellie Bright as Linda broke my heart when she was pleading with Mick to save himself so their children would still have a parent alive

Character of the week: RIP Denny Rickman – you deserved better, even if you were a dick

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

The 35 most compelling characters in EastEnders history

As EastEnders celebrates its 35th anniversary, I thought it would be fun to look back at 35 of its most compelling characters. These characters helped shape the course of the show’s history, providing some of the most interesting, timely, and memorable storylines. Some of them were on our screens for years, others for a very short time. Regardless, they made a mark, telling stories that riveted us, moved us, or even made us think.

These are the 35 most compelling characters in EastEnders history.

35. Bobby Beale (2003 – 2016; 2019 – present)
Best known for killing his sister, Lucy, when he was only 11-years-old, Bobby Beale returned to Walford after being locked up for the crime. Since then, Clay Milner Russell has brilliantly portrayed the pathos and conflict of a still-young boy grappling to come to terms with what he did. Rather than going the easy route and making Bobby a cartoon villain, the writers and Milner Russell have created a character who is sensitive, kind, yet tortured by what he did and still wrestling with the temper which drove him to do it. Throw in his conversion to Islam—a brilliant storyline and character development—and Bobby has easily been the most fascinating character of the past year.

34. Debbie Wilkins (1985 – 1987)
Debbie Wilkins was Walford’s first snob. Upwardly mobile, she and her boyfriend, fellow Yuppie Andy O’Brien, moved to Albert Square in March 1985. “Debs” and Andy set the standard for class conflict in Walford and blazed a trail for later characters, right on up to Gray and Chantelle Atkins today. It’s Debbie’s character growth, though, that really sets her apart—beneath that cold exterior was a warm, compassionate heart. Her friendship with Naima Jeffery was a highlight of her time on the Square, but it’s the episode where she finds out Andy has been killed that actress Shirley Cheriton really shines.

33. Mary “The Punk” Smith (1985 – 1988; 2019)
Like Debs, Mary is one of the original characters created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland. Walford’s original rebel, Mary arrived in March 1985 as an unwed, illiterate teenage mum. Her time in Albert Square was marked with trouble, including being bedded by Mehmet Osman on a dare only to be later pimped out by him when she was on the game with Pat Wicks. Mary’s friendship with pensioner Dot Cotton was a highlight of her time on the show, but it was Linda Davidson’s portrayal of Mary—as a scared, struggling young woman trying to make a life for her and her daughter—that makes her stand out. Mary returned in 2019 for the funeral of fellow original EastEnder Dr Legg. The punk was gone, but the spunk was not.

32. Joe Wicks (1996 – 1997)
It’s a shame Paul Nicholls didn’t stick around EastEnders for more than 18 months, because Joe Wicks had the potential to become one of the all-time great characters. The show handled his schizophrenia with compassion and aplomb, setting the standard for an even deeper look at mental illness with Stacey Slater. Joe’s relationship with Sarah kept fans interested—that is, until he slept with his cousin—but it’s how deftly Nicholls and the writers and producers handled mental illness which makes Joe memorable all these years later.

31. Martin Fowler (1985 – 2007; 2014 – present)
The first baby born on EastEnders, viewers have literally watched Martin grow up. An arrogant, stubborn boy as a teenager (wonder where he got that from, Pauline?), Martin started out as someone you just wanted to slap. Becoming a father with fellow teen Sonia Jackson helped grow him up a little, and as time progressed Martin (then played by James Alexandrou) became less a caricature of your typical teenage jackass and more like his father—a decent, ordinary man just trying to make ends meet for his family. Since his return in 2014 (now played by James Bye), Martin’s friendship with ex-wife Sonia and devotion to current wife Stacey have made him one of my personal favourites. Even his recent turn as a mobster for the Mitchells has been an interesting development that, nonetheless, is still very much in character for someone who tries to do the right thing but, deep down, is a bit of an arsehole—just like his mum.

30. Aidan Brosnan (1993)
Before there was Joe Wicks, there was Aidan Brosnan. Mandy Salter’s Irish boyfriend, Aidan spent less than a year in Walford yet had one of the most interesting journeys any character has taken. Originally a talented footballer with Walford FC, an injury ended his dreams. Getting involved in drugs and drink with Mandy, Aidan’s mental health slowly deteriorated as he found himself sleeping rough and grappling with the pressures his parents put upon him. It all culminated with Aidan preparing to take his own life on Christmas Day, only to be literally talked down from a ledge by Mandy. Aidan went back to Ireland, but the layered, moving performance of Sean Maguire stands out as one of the show’s greatest.

29. Keegan Butcher-Baker (2017 – present)
From his initial introduction as one of Bex’s bullies (who can forget Louise Mitchell calling him a “total toenail” or Denise Fox slapping him silly?), Keegan has grown into a fascinating and complex character. Indeed, Keegan Butcher-Baker might be the most interesting character in Walford right now. Watching him deal with the murder of his best friend Shakil—a storyline in which EastEnders deftly took on knife crime and forced Keegan to reckon with his own role in Shakil’s death—was gripping. Even his love story with Tiffany Butcher is infinitely watchable. I can’t wait to see how Keegan develops over the coming years. If his latest storyline—about the racism of stop-and-search and only just beginning—is any indication, he will continue to be one of the most enthralling characters on the show.

28. Shirley Carter (2006 – present)
Shirley should be higher on this list and the only reason she isn’t is because producers woefully underuse the talented Linda Henry. Still, tough-as-nails Shirley steals every scene she’s in. Equally adept at comedy (pretty much any scene with her and dearly departed best friend Heather) and drama (she’s knocked it out of the park with Linda’s alcoholism storyline), Henry sinks her teeth into whatever she is given. Shirley has come a long way since we first met her, when she was but the deadbeat mum of Dean and Carly, and it’s hard to imagine Walford without her.

27. Billy Mitchell (1998 – present)
When first introduced, Billy Mitchell was the guardian of his nephew, Jamie Mitchell. Since then, we’ve seen Billy transform from child abuser (he was beating Jamie) to dopey everyman. Indeed, that journey from villain to well, not hero, exactly, but at least a lovable oaf has been fascinating to watch. Whether falling in love with Little Mo Slater, struggling as a single father when Honey left him (the first time), or dealing with the guilt of cheating on Honey with Tina Carter, Perry Fenwick has created one of the most complex—or at least, certainly one of the most tenured—characters in EastEnders history. It’s no surprise, then, that Billy was chosen to run the Olympic torch through Walford in 2012.

26. Michelle Fowler (1985 – 1995; 2016 – 2018)
It’s hard to think of a character who has had more of a journey than Michelle Fowler. Starting out as a teenager pregnant with her best friend’s father’s baby, Michelle refused to be defined by it. She worked her way through university, becoming a teacher and moving to America. In the meantime, she fell in love (memorably with Grant Mitchell) and stood by her brother Mark through his HIV diagnoses. The character of Michelle stands out as an example of why soap opera is such a great medium—the longevity of the show means that you can really tell a complex, character-driven narrative. She epitomises everything that is good about soap. Her return to Walford (with another actress in the role) was not well-received by fans, but personally I found her relationship with Preston Cooper—the American high school student she’d seduced—as compelling as it was repulsive.

25. Whitney Dean (2008 – present)
Has there every been a character with worse luck than Whitney Dean? I’m trying to think of a time when Whitney got a happy ending and I can’t. Shona McGarty shines as the eternally put-upon ward of Bianca Jackson, and her potential was immediately apparent in her first big storyline—in which Whitney was groomed and molested by Bianca’s fiancé, Tony King—which still ranks as one of the best in EastEnders history. From her relationship with Lee Carter to discovering Callum Highway was gay right before she was to marry him on up to her terrifying scenes with stalker Leo King (son of the man who molested her), for twelve years we’ve watched Whitney battle against the odds in a quest to just be happy. I hope we get to watch her for another twelve.

24. Zainab Masood (2008 – 2013)
I love Nina Wadia. I love Zainab Masood. I really love Nina Wadia as Zainab Masood. To me, Zainab is one of the great matriarchs in Walford history—a Pauline Fowler for our times. Watching her marriage to Masood disintegrate and then watching with horror as she was abused by evil Yusef was heartbreaking. Wadia always brought a humanity to Zainab so that even when you weren’t rooting for her—such as when she reacted horribly to her son Syed coming out—you could sympathise with her. Watching Zainab reconcile her belief in the way her life and family should be with how both turned out was endlessly fascinating, and Wadia really brought to life a complex, nuanced, modern Muslim British woman.

23. Sonia Jackson (1993 – 2007; 2010 – 2011; 2014 – present)
Like her ex-husband/current paramour Martin Fowler, Sonia is a character we’ve watched grow up. Unlike Martin, Sonia has been played by the same actress (Natalie Cassidy) since her inception. Watching Sonia grow from insecure little girl to independent woman has been a real treat, and Cassidy has given us plenty of memorable scenes along the way, from busking with her trumpet to giving birth to Bex to pushing Sharon in a pool. Watching Sonia balance her nursing career with the demands of family has been endlessly interesting, especially early on when it caused tensions with her and Pauline. One of only a handful of bisexual characters on British soap, Sonia’s relationships with Tina Carter and Naomi Julien were fun to watch. It is her teenage romance with Jamie Mitchell, though, that remains one of the sweetest and most tragic couplings in the show’s history.

22. Ronnie Mitchell (2007 – 2011; 2013 – 2017)
You could write an entire essay on why Ronnie Mitchell is one of the greatest characters in EastEnders history. Her push-and-pull romance with Jack Branning was popular, but it is her relationships with the other women on the square that makes Ronnie so compelling. With sister Roxy—the fire to Ronnie’s ice—Ronnie formed half of one of the show’s most iconic duos. The scene where she discovers Danielle is her daughter, only for Danielle to die moments later, will never not make me cry. Watching her grief and guilt after giving Tommy back to Kat at the end of the baby-swap storyline is heartbreaking. What makes Ronnie truly iconic, though, is that even though we root for her she is, in the end, a Mitchell. Whether killing Carl White or sending Fatboy to be crushed to death, Ronnie proved she was every bit as stone cold as cousins Phil and Grant.

21. Ricky Butcher (1988 – 2000; 2002 – 2004; 2008 – 2012)
I’m not sure there has ever been a more decent man in Walford than Ricky Butcher. From eloping with Sam Mitchell to his unexpected friendship with her brother Phil—who was in many ways as much a father figure to Ricky as his own dad Frank—Ricky grew from awkwardly charming teenage boy to a good man who always tried his best. His relationships with father Frank and sister Janine were complicated and fascinating to watch, but his romance with Bianca Jackson is the stuff of legend, forming half of one of the most iconic couples in the show’s history. Fans spent years rooting for those two crazy kids, only to be left heartbroken when in the end they just couldn’t make it work.

20. Denise Fox (2006 – present)
I love Denise. I love her because she’s level-headed (a rarity in Walford). I love her because she’s loyal and protective of her loved ones. I love her because she’s always on a mission to do better, to be better. Sure, she’s sometimes a stick in the mud, and yes, she moans a lot. But if you lived in Albert Square you’d moan a lot too; the neighbours are bonkers. Denise has grown so much from her early days as Chelsea’s fussy mum. Whether her heartbreaking goodbye to dead husband Kevin Wicks, or being kidnapped by her next husband Lucas Johnson, or grappling with whether to give her late-in-life son up for adoption or struggling with homelessness and completing her GCSE at 50, Denise has held our attention for 14 years. This is in no small part thanks to the tender and thoughtful performance of Diane Parish, who along with Linda Henry remains one of the most sorely underutilised actors on the show today.

19. Angie Watts (1985 – 1988)
Angie was a hot mess and we loved her for it. Walford’s original drunken landlady, Angie was a spitfire. With Den Watts she formed one-half of Walford’s most popular 1980s couple, and the sparring between Anita Dobson and Leslie Grantham was impossible not to watch. Watching as poor ole’ Ange tried to reconcile her life as it was with the life she thought she deserved was riveting, and we were always left wondering just what she would do next. Faking cancer to keep Den around is still one of the most conniving things we’ve seen in Walford—and their confrontation on Christmas Day 1986 remains one of the show’s most iconic moments.

18. Max Branning (2006 – present)
The frustrating thing about Max Branning is that you know that deep down he’s a decent man. You see it in the way he forgives and supports Bobby—despite Max being framed for Bobby’s crime—and the way he tries to support the people around him. The problem with Max is that, too often, he listens to the devil on his shoulder. His affair with daughter-in-law Stacey remains one of the most memorable in the show’s history and watching his complicated relationship with daughters Lauren and Abi evolve over the years made for some great television. What makes Max truly compelling is the constant internal struggle between good and evil which is happening just below the surface, a pathos brilliantly portrayed by Jake Wood.

17. Frank Butcher (1987 – 2000; 2002; 2005)
Mike Reid is one of the greatest actors to ever appear in EastEnders, and Frank Butcher is one of the most iconic characters in soap opera history. Walford’s original wide boy, viewers couldn’t wait to see what kind of scheme Frank cooked up next. His love triangle with Pat and Peggy was endlessly fun to watch play out (who can forget Frank’s bowtie!), but Reid was just as adept at drama as he was comedy. His performance following the fire at the car lot, which unintentionally killed a man, is still one of the most moving I have ever seen as Reid adeptly conveyed the anguish and guilt Frank felt.

16. Bianca Jackson (1993 – 1999; 2008 – 2014; 2019)
One of my favourite moments in EastEnders history is when David tries to teach Bianca to drive. It’s such a simple, everyday thing—but Patsy Palmer is hilarious. It’s down to her that Bianca is one of the all-time Walford greats. Whether making us laugh with witty one-liners or breaking our hearts with moving performances, Palmer created a fully-realised character. Bianca’s heart is usually in the right place, even if more often than not she makes the obviously wrong choice. Her heart is always in the right place, though, and because of that you can’t help but love her.

15. Grant Mitchell (1990 – 1999; 2005 – 2006; 2016)
Is Grant a hero or a villain? I’d say the latter, but many would argue the former. Either way, watching his growth over nine years on the show—and two short stints in subsequent years—makes him one of the most fascinating figures in Walford history. Originally hot-tempered and bull-headed, Grant mellowed as time progressed, no doubt in part because of his heartbreak over wife Sharon sleeping with his brother Phil. Still, you can’t watch Ross Kemp’s performance and not feel just a little bad for Grant, as it’s clear underneath the gruff machismo that he’s a sensitive, wounded man. It’s this complexity that makes Grant such a great character.

14. Stacey Slater (2004 – 2010; 2014 – present)
Few could have expected that Stacey would become one of the most iconic characters in EastEnders history when Lacey Turner arrived on screens in 2004. A plucky teenager turning to her great uncle, Charlie Slater, for help, Stacey immediately made her presence known, mixing it up with cousin Zoe and befriending Ruby Allen. Watching Stacey care for bipolar mother Jean, and then deal with her own mental illness (both bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis) made for some of the best scenes the show has ever done, and Turner has rightly won boatloads of awards for her tender, nuanced portrayal. Stacey’s growth over the years—from bubbly teenager to budding matriarch—has been a joy to watch, and I look forward to Turner returning from maternity leave later this year.

13. Janine Butcher (1989 – 1993; 1993 – 1996; 1999 – 2004; 2008 – 2014)
Janine is the greatest villain in EastEnders history. At current count, she’s directly responsible for at least two deaths (Barry Evans and Michael Moon) and, one could argue, somewhat responsible for Laura Beale’s death, too. Charlie Brooks is brilliant the cold-hearted, self-centered, Janine as just evil enough to be despicable but not so evil that she isn’t redeemable. Indeed, it’s that Janine isn’t entirely evil that makes her such a compelling character. You always hope Janine will do the right thing and if you know you’re likely to be disappointed. It doesn’t hurt that Brooks doesn’t take herself too seriously, which adds a zany, almost camp element to Janine’s villainy.

12. Ian Beale (1985 – present)
The only original character with a continuous run, Ian is a Walford stalwart. A sniveling weasel of a man, thanks to Adam Woodyatt’s performance Ian is still someone you can’t help but to root for. Ian has always thought himself better than the rest of Walford, a smug conviction that has only gotten worse with age. But watching him build a business empire, then lose it, then build it again has been fascinating, and Ian himself serves as an extended commentary on class—and upward mobility—in modern Britain. It’s hard to pick a “greatest moment” for a character who has been on our screens for 35 years, but Woodyatt’s moving performance when Ian finds out Lucy was murdered is unforgettable.

11. Linda Carter (2013 – present)
For reasons I can’t understand, Mick seems to be the more popular of the Carter couple. Linda, though, is by far the more interesting of the pair. It was clear early on that Kellie Bright was going to be a wonderful addition to the cast, but the way she’s portrayed Linda—a woman who struggles to reconcile her high expectations with reality—has been remarkable. Bright’s performance as Linda struggled to accept Johnny’s sexuality was at turns moving and infuriating. That’s what makes Linda such a great character, though. She is so many things at once—spiteful, vindictive, cruel; sensitive, vulnerable; compassionate. Linda Carter truly is one of the most complex women in Walford history.

10. Pauline Fowler (1985 – 2006)
A working mother who was endlessly put upon by her children and her husband, Pauline Fowler is the original Walford everywoman. Uptight and judgmental, Pauline had an opinion on everyone and everything and never shied away from letting people know. Yet she was also kind—such as when she comforted Pat after the latter accidentally ran over and killed a little girl—and a pillar of the community. Yes, it took Pauline a while to come to terms with things (such as Mark’s HIV status), but you knew that she always would. Her final row with daughter-in-law Sonia over the role of a wife and mother summed up the character most succinctly and beautifully. Pauline was, like so many people, a decent, salt-of-the-earth woman who, though struggling with the pace of change in her community, truly meant well.

9. Kathy Beale (1985 – 2000; 2015 – present)
I fear Kathy will be most remembered for coming back from the dead. That’s a shame, because Kathy is one of the most interesting characters to ever come through Walford. Originally defined by her role as a wife and mother, it soon became clear that Kathy wanted to be more than Mrs. Pete Beale. Watching her as she slowly began to assert her independence was refreshing in the 1980s. Gillian Taylforth’s performance following Kathy’s rape by James Wilmott-Brown remains one of the most haunting in the show’s history, and her chemistry with Steve McFadden made Phil and Kathy’s relationship riveting to watch. (I’ll never forget Kathy throwing her wedding ring in the Seine when Phil confessed to again cheating.) Now sadly relegated to the role of exasperated mother of dickheads Ian and Ben, Kathy remains one of the greatest female characters in the show’s history.

8. Den Watts (1985 – 1989; 2003 – 2005)
Another back-from-the-dead character, Den was the show’s original gangster. There would be no Phil or Grant Mitchell without him. Den was a villain, to be sure, but he was also an endlessly decent man. Den often did the wrong thing for the right reasons, which made him endlessly watchable. Let’s not forget that he ended up “dead” the first time only because of a chain of events which started with him getting revenge on Wilmott-Brown for raping Kathy. Beyond that, he was genuinely good to Michelle Fowler (well, as good as Den could be) and no daughter has ever been as loved by her father as Sharon Watts.

7. Patrick Trueman (2001 – present)
One of the things I noticed when I sat down to write this list and the 35 most iconic scenes list is that, truly, there is a dearth of BME characters on EastEnders. That’s a shame, because East London is one of the most diverse places in the world. While the show has not always done characters of colour the justice they deserve, Rudolph Walker’s Patrick Trueman might be an exception. When he first stepped onto the Square in 2001, Patrick was a bit of a lothario—a father who hadn’t seen his sons in years and an unrepentant ladies’ man. Over the course of two decades, though, Patrick would grow to become a pillar of the community. Walker’s performance as a grieving Patrick following Paul Trueman’s death was heartbreaking, and the father-daughter relationship between him and Denise has been one of the highlights of the show in recent years. I’m so glad to see Patrick being put front-and-centre again as we learn more about his secret son, Isaac in the weeks to come. It’s only right that he plays a central role in the 35th anniversary episodes, as Patrick Trueman is the most iconic Black character in the show’s history.

6. Kat Slater (2000 – 2006; 2010 – 2016; 2018 – present)
When the Slater family first arrived in Walford way back in 2000, it was impossible to know the impact they would have. Loud and disruptive, it’s now impossible to imagine Albert Square without a Slater on it. Of all that unruly brood—and there have been many throughout the years—none is more iconic than Kat. Jessie Wallace solidified her place in the pantheon of EastEnders stars with her gripping performance opposite Michelle Ryan as Kat tearfully admits she is Zoe’s mum, the result of Kat’s rape by her uncle years before. Since then, Wallace has gone from strength to strength, giving us both heartbreaking dramatic performances and hilariously comic moments. Whether tearfully realising her son is alive or walking into her own wake, there is never a dull moment when Kat Slater is around. It’s no surprise that the BBC gave her and on-again, off-again husband Alfie their own spinoff (which is, I have to say, incredibly underrated).

5. Peggy Mitchell (1991; 1994 – 2010; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016)
The quintessential Walford matriarch, Peggy Mitchell is legendary, and Barbara Windsor is a national treasure. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine another actress playing Peggy—yet Windsor was the second performer to step into her kitten heels. Watching her try to corral her unruly brood of children—whether brokering peace between Phil and Grant or trying to sort out Sam’s latest mess—was tv at its finest, and her friendship/rivalry with Pat Butcher is unlikely to ever be surpassed. Right up until the very end, when Windsor movingly portrayed Peggy’s decision to end her own life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Peggy kept us riveted, giving us consistently moving performances and one of tv’s all-time greatest catchphrases in “Get outta my pub!”

4. Sharon Watts (1985 – 1995; 2001 – 2006; 2012 – present)
“We must all bow down to Sharon of House Watts, First of Her Name, Bringer of Justice, Puller of Pints, The Countess of Clapbacks, The Thick-Lashed, The Undefeatable, the rightful Lady of the Vic and one true Queen of Walford,” I tweeted last month—and it’s true. There is no contest—Sharon is the undisputed queen of Walford. Played brilliantly by original cast member Letitia Dean on and off since 1985, Sharon has grown from naïve teenage girl to a strong, independent woman. Whether having an affair with her husband’s brother or falling in love with her father’s son (long story), Sharon has given us some of the most memorable moments in the show’s history. Indeed, who but Sharon would have an entire Twitter account dedicated with keeping up with how she’s doing? She is truly the Queen in the East(End).

3. Pat Butcher (1986 – 2012)
Pat is my favourite character of all time, the original tart-with-a-heart. A prototype for characters to come, from Mandy Salter to Bianca Jackson to Kat Slater and even Kim Fox, Pat was brash, bold, and unbothered. Beginning her time on the Square as a troublemaker and prostitute, Pat grew to become one of the greatest matriarchs and most iconic characters in soap opera history. Her earrings are the stuff of legend, rivalled in size only by her heart. Sweet and gentle sometimes, piss and vinegar others, Pam St Clement’s performance was layered and sublime. Her friendship and rivalry with Peggy Mitchell is the best the soap has ever portrayed, and her romance with Frank is one of the greatest in soap history. Pat was vital to the continued success of EastEnders through the 1990s and 2000s, anchoring the show in its past while always helping to move it forward. I feel I would be remiss not to mention the amazing chemistry between St Clement and Charlie Brooks, and the two of them made Pat and Janine possibly the most compelling mother-daughter duo in the show’s history, which is no small feat considering Pat wasn’t Janine’s actual mother!

2. Phil Mitchell (1990 – present)
It’s difficult to overstate just how important Steve McFadden’s Phil Mitchell has been to the history and success of EastEnders. His arrival in 1990 revitalised the show, but I don’t think anyone at the time could have realised just how iconic Phil Mitchell would become. A gangster with a heart, Phil has committed some unspeakable acts in his time—most recently organising a failed hit on Keanu Taylor—yet can’t be described as an outright villain because under that gruff exterior beats a giant heart. Indeed, in his own way, Phil is a man who believes in justice and fairness, even if he doesn’t always act just or fair. His relationship with godson Jamie, his guilt over Vincent’s murder and subsequent support for Kim, his support for Sonia when she was accused of killing Pauline all point to a man who knows what is right, even if he doesn’t always listen to himself. Phil’s struggles with alcohol and drug addiction have become something of a joke among fans, but they are relevant and timely stories which McFadden has repeatedly sank his teeth into. Imagining Walford without Phil Mitchell is just impossible, and after three decades Phil is possibly the most iconic male character in British soap opera history.

1. Dot Branning (1985 – 1993; 1997 – present)
It had to be Dot. Walford’s original busybody, June Brown has played the devout Christian since 1985, debuting only months after the show itself premiered. Since then, Dot has become a pillar of the community, the one person Walford residents know they can turn to for a bit of advice or even just to listen. Her development over the course of 35 years—from a sort of caricature of the meddling, gossipy pensioner to a woman of remarkable compassion who struggles to reconcile her deep faith with her love of those it condemns—has been the most compelling journey of any character. Her relationship with her evil son Nick was always gripping, but Dot is so much more than a distraught and dismayed mother. There’s no better example than Dot’s evolution on gay rights from her early homophobia to eventually attending her dear friend Collin’s gay wedding nearly 30 years later. Whether wrestling with her conscience over whether to help best friend Ethel end her life, or supporting Dr. Legg as he both faces antisemitism and faces his impending death, Dot has provided us with some of the finest moments in British tv history. June Brown was nominated for a BAFTA for her one-hander—the only in the show’s history—and has solidified Dot’s place as the most iconic character in EastEnders history.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

The 35 most iconic scenes in “EastEnders” history

Next week, EastEnders celebrates its 35th anniversary. While producers have promised some amazing and gripping scenes as the citizens of Walford take to the Thames for a death cruise, there are plenty of great moments to look back on.

As a lifelong EastEnders fan—I began watching from America on PBS when I was about 8-years-old—I decided to look back at 35 years of action in Walford, ranking the 35 greatest scenes in EastEnders history.

35. Linda and Martin “kill” Keanu (2020)

It’s not even been two months since Martin Fowler, on the orders of Ben Mitchell, was meant to kill Keanu Taylor. A drunk Linda Carter stopped that from happening, instead orchestrating a coverup. The convergence of two of EastEnders’ major storylines—Sharon and Keanu’s affair and Linda’s alcoholism—this was a return to form for the show and will be remembered for years to come.

34. Reg Cox’s body is found (1985)

Keanu might have survived, but the same can’t be said for poor ole Reg. EastEnders debuted on 19 February 1985 with the murder of pensioner Reg Cox. Arthur Fowler, Den Cox, and Ali Osman find him murdered in his flat (by Nick Cotton, as we later find out). Putting us right in the middle of the action from the very first scene, EastEnders showed from the very beginning it was unlike anything British tv had seen before.

33. Mark tells everyone his is HIV+ (1996)

When Peggy Mitchell found out Mark Fowler was HIV+, she orchestrated a hate campaign against him. In these scenes, Mark confronts her prejudice—and the prejudice of the community—by giving them the facts and insisting that he be served in his local. The are moving scenes proving that throughout its run EastEnders has never shied away from tackling controversial and topical issues, always with compassion and care.

32. Sonia has a surprise baby (2000)

“Well if your school had a sex education teacher they should sack him!” is still one of my favourite lines in EastEnders history. After a brief liaison with Martin Fowler, teenaged Sonia Jackson—who had no idea she was pregnant—went into labour. With the help of Mo Harris, Sonia gave birth to daughter Bex in this dark but comical scene that served to both continue the Fowler/Jackson families and establish Laila Morse (who plays Mo) as one of the greatest comic actors the show has ever seen.

31. Lou Beale’s home truths (1988)

Lou Beale knew she was dying, but she wasn’t going to go quietly into that gentle night. Rather, she gathered her family around to give them a piece of her mind (and a few heirlooms). It’s a classic scene in which Anna Wing shines as Lou, and reminds us that EastEnders is always at its best when it centres strong, smart women.

30. Pat and Peggy get drunk in an ice cream van (2009)

The friendship between Pat (Pam St Clement) and Peggy (Barbara Windsor), two of the most iconic characters in EastEnders history, is enough to make this scene stand out. Throw in a bottle of vodka, a bunch of sweets, and a peeved Shirley Carter and Phil Mitchell and you’ve got one of the funniest scenes the show ever did.

29. Nick Cotton kills Eddie Royle (1991)

It’s hard to pick out Nick Cotton’s most evil deed, but murdering Eddie Royle has to be near the top. The greatest villain in the soap’s history murdered poor Eddie and then framed Clyde Tavernier for the crime. It was the start of one of EastEnders’ most compelling stories to date, exploring racism in the criminal justice system and the perceptions of Black boys in modern Britain.

28. Syed admits he’s gay (and in love with Christian) (2011)

EastEnders has never shied away from telling compelling stories about LGBT people, and the journey of Syed Masood is one of the best in the show’s history. Syed didn’t expect to fall in love with Christian, but their connection proved too much for him to ignore. It’s hard to pick just one scene from this story of faith, family, and acceptance – but this, when Syed finally admits the affair to his family and friends, stands out.

27. Jim Branning proposes to Dot Cotton (2001)

I love a good romance, and it’s hard to beat the love story between pensioners Jim Branning and Dot Cotton. Neither one of them expected to find love again at their age, but find it they did, beginning one of the greatest partnerships in EastEnders history. Jim’s proposal to Dot on the London Eye is the most romantic scene the show has ever aired.

26. Johnny Carter comes out to his father, Mick (2014)

EastEnders has had many gay characters over the years, but never has a parent’s response to their child’s coming out been as pitch perfect as Mick Carter’s was when his son Johnny came out to him. Letting Johnny know that Mick loved him unconditionally, he gently coaxed his son into finally opening up. It’s still hard to watch this with dry eyes, and that’s down in no small part to the brilliant, compassionate performances of Sam Strike and Danny Dyer.

25. Phil sets fire to Frank’s car lot (1994)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Phil Mitchell is a bit of a pyromaniac. He famously set fire to the Queen Vic in 2010, but before that, he set fire to Frank Butcher’s car lot in 1994. Frank wanted to burn down the car lot for the insurance money, but what neither expected was that there would be a man there sleeping rough. That man died, and the guilt of his death has haunted Phil ever since.

24. “Hello, princess” (2003)

We all thought we’d seen the last of Den Watts when he died in 1989. No so! Despite having identified his body years before, Sharon was stunned when her father showed up in Walford very much alive. He’d be dead again soon enough (thanks to wife Chrissy and Pauline Fowler’s doorstop), and years later Kathy Beale would pull her own Lazarus stunt. But few things have surprised us more than the resurrection of Dirty Den.

23. The fire at the bed and breakfast (2011)

There’s so much going on here it’s hard to know where to begin, but what makes this scene truly iconic is the stellar performances by Nina Wadia and Ace Bhatti. Evil Yusef had been abusing Zainab for months, even threatening to kill her son. Plotting her escape with ex-husband Masood, Yusef caught them and set fire to the B&B in an attempt to kill him. Turning the tables on her abusive husband, Zainab convinced him his daughter Afia was in the burning building. The look on Yusef’s face when he finally realizes Afia is outside—right before he dies—is one of the most haunting yet satisfying moments in the show’s history.

22. Ronnie and Roxy drown in a pool (2017)

I hesitated to include this moment at all because I know how much people hate it. To be fair, I understand why. Killing off Ronnie and Roxy (and on the night of poor Ronnie’s wedding, at that!) is one of the greatest mistakes in the show’s history, and this scene is certainly one of the most controversial, at least among diehard fans. But it’s specifically because of that controversy that this scene belongs on this list. It was the end of an era as the Mitchell sisters bowed out and a lesson to future producers in thinking twice before you kill off one (let alone two) fan favourites.

21. Cindy Beale flees with Peter and Steven (1996)

Dastardly Cindy never took to married life or motherhood, cheating on Ian not once but twice—including with his half-brother, David. When Ian found out, he threatened to sue for custody of their children. Not having that, Cindy hired a hitman to take Ian out. She had a chance of heart at the last minute, but it was too late, and Ian was shot. Panicking—and realizing the police were hot on her tail—Cindy kidnapped her two sons but was unable to get her daughter, Lucy, instead leaving with her ragdoll. Cindy would later die giving birth to Cindy Jr, and both Lucy and Steven would meet grizzly fates of their own.

20. Whitney confesses that Tony has been grooming her (2008)

One of the most distressing but relevant storylines of the 2000s, Whitney’s confession that Tony has been sexually molesting her from the time she was 12 was difficult viewing in 2008. Shona McGarty and Patsy Palmer have a real chemistry that really sells the stepmother/stepdaughter relationship between Whitney and Bianca, and Shona especially gives a moving performance as Whitney comes to the realization that Tony didn’t love her, he abused her.

19. Jane admits that Bobby killed Lucy (2015)

The culmination of a nearly year-long mystery, on the 30th anniversary we finally learned who killed Lucy Beale. In one of the most shocking twists in EastEnders history, Lucy’s murderer turned out to be none other than her 11-year-old brother Bobby. Laurie Brett gives a heartbreaking performance as Bobby’s mum Jane—who kept his involvement a secret for months—and Adam Woodyatt really conveys Ian’s shock as he realises the truth. All this is made even more remarkable by the fact that it went out live.

18. The first gay kisses (1987/1989)

EastEnders—and Sir Michael Cashman–made history with the character of Colin Russell, the show’s first gay character and one of its most popular in the late 1980s. In 1987, the show broke new ground when it showed Colin kissing his boyfriend Barry on the forehead—the first gay kiss in soap history. They went a step further in January 1989, airing a kiss on the mouth between Colin and his new boyfriend Guido. Looking back, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about—but it was one of the riskiest and most controversial moments in the show’s 35-year history.

17. Ronnie realizes Danielle is her daughter (2009)

Ronnie Mitchell never could catch a break. Having given birth to a daughter just a teenager, Ronnie’s evil father Archie told her that the baby had died. Instead, Archie gave the girl up for adoption. Years later, Ronnie’s daughter, Danielle, turns up in Albert Square looking for her mother. Ronnie finally learns the truth and accepts Danielle—only for Danielle to be mowed down by Janine Butcher moments later. Samantha Womack’s piercing cries of “she’s dead!” still give us chills after all these years.

16. Trevor attacks Little Mo on Christmas Day (2001)

Warning: these scenes are very distressing. One of the most harrowing storylines EastEnders ever attempted was the abuse of Little Mo Slater by her husband, Trevor Morgan. For a year we watched as Trevor abused and tortured his poor wife in some of the most difficult viewing in the show’s history. This scene—which transmitted on Christmas Day 2001—is among the most memorable ever because of its sheer brutality. Viewers watched in agonizing horror as Trevor humiliated Little Mo, violently shoving her face into her Christmas dinner. He got his comeuppance the next year, I’m happy to report.

15. Mel leaves Ian after their wedding (1999)

If there is one consistent truth that runs through all 35 years of EastEnders, it is that Ian Beale is a wanker. He lied about daughter Lucy having cancer in order to get Mel to marry him. She found out mere minutes after their wedding on New Year’s Eve 1999, and in one of the greatest lines ever “Well guess what, Ian? I don’t love you, and I never have done,” Mel told Ian to bugger off as Walford rang in the new millennium.

14. Frank’s bowtie (2000)

Pat and Peggy spent a lot of time fighting over Frank, but you can hardly blame them once you see this scene. Charming wide boy Frank Butcher showed up on Pat’s doorstep wearing nothing but his birthday suit and a spinning bowtie. Of course, his wife Peggy didn’t know where he was, but that didn’t matter. This scene is instantly iconic and provided the internet with one of the greatest gifs ever – nothing screams “I quite fancy that” like Frank’s spinning bowtie.

13. Tiffany Mitchell dies (1999)

It’s hard to explain just how popular Martine McCutcheon’s Tiffany was in the late 1990s. When McCutcheon decided to leave to pursue her music career, producers killed her character off—a real shame, because who only knows what could have happened with Tiffany had she ever decided to return. Her death on New Year’s Eve 1998—run over by Frank Butcher (father of Janine, who herself enjoys a bit of automotive homicide) at the stroke of midnight following a fight with husband Grant Mitchell over their daughter Courtney—is one of the most tear-jerking in the show’s history.

12. Hassan Osman’s cot death (1985)

In the show’s first hard-hitting, topical storyline, Sue and Ali Osman’s infant son Hassan dies unexpectedly. Sue’s struggles to come to terms with her son’s death would be a central focus of early episodes, and baby Hassan’s death was itself a shocking moment. It set the standard for EastEnders storytelling—focusing on real issues real people face, but doing so with such compassion and humanity.

11. Phil and Grant crash into the Thames (1999)

No two Walford siblings have a more complicated relationship than Phil and Grant Mitchell. When Grant slept with Phil’s wife Kathy to get revenge for Phil having, years before, slept with Grant’s wife Sharon (who is now Phil’s wife, though he’s probably going to divorce her—like I said, complicated), Phil confronted him. It resulted in a car chase through East London, Phil trying to shoot Grant, and a crash into the Thames. Both brothers survived, though, and eventually made up—well, sort of.

10. Bradley falls off the roof of the Queen Vic (2010)

EastEnders doesn’t shy away from big, flashy stunts, but few can compare to the 25th anniversary episode. The culmination of the “Who killed Archie?” storyline, chief suspect Bradley Branning fell to his death from the roof of the Queen Vic while on the run from police. As it turns out, Bradley didn’t kill Archie—his wife, Stacey did. It remains the gold standard in live episodes and murder mystery reveals, and Lacey Turner and Jake Wood deserve special praise for their performances as Stacey Slater and her father-in-law Max Branning.

9. Phil is shot (2001)

In March 2001 the nation was asking itself one question: “who shot Phil Mitchell?” It was a gripping storyline precisely because most of Walford had a motive to shoot the hardman. The storyline dominated tabloids and was even covered by the evening news. In the end, it was revealed that Phil’s estranged partner Lisa was the culprit, though Phil eventually forgave her and, in 2019, they were even able to laugh about it. Good times.

8. Den Watts “dies” (1989)

The Mitchell brothers weren’t the first gangsters on Albert Square. In the late 1980s “The Firm” reigned supreme. Den Watts, the archetypical Walford bad boy, incurred their wrath when he used one of their cronies to burn down the Dagmar (in revenge for James Willmott-Brown raping Kathy Beale). Den was sent to prison for arson, but The Firm still thought he was a liability so orchestrated his “murder” in early 1989. Fourteen years later, of course, we’d learn that he had faked his death—but at the time, we all thought we’d seen the last of Dirty Den, the undoubtable breakout character from the original cast.

7. Dot helps Ethel die (2000)

Few soap characters are as beloved as Ethel Skinner. A cantankerous pensioner who lost her family to a doodlebug in the war, Ethel and Willy (a dog, not a penis) were two of the most delightful creatures to ever trot across Albert Square. With her health failing, though, Ethel decided to go out on her own terms. What transpired was some of the most touching scenes and most compelling story in EastEnders history as Ethel’s best friend, devout Christian Dot Cotton, wrestled with whether to help her friend end her own life. Dot eventually does agree to help Ethel, and it is perhaps the most moving scene in the show’s history.

6. Max’s and Stacey’s affair is revealed (2007)

Max and Stacey have such an exhausting history now that they’re a bit of a punchline, but back in 2007 their affair had viewers gripped. Stacey married Bradley Branning while carrying on an affair with his father, Max. It all came to a head on Christmas Day 2007 when Max’s daughter, Lauren, put on a DVD that ostensibly showed Bradley’s and Stacey’s wedding but which had also caught Max and Stacey doing the dirty. The look of horror on Jo Joyner’s (Tanya’s) face as she realizes what she is watching is both heartbreaking and riveting. Watching this unfold was a bit like watching a trainwreck—cringey and uncomfortable but impossible to look away.

5. “You bitch!” “You cow!” (1998)

Pat and Peggy might have wound up great friends, but they weren’t always so chummy. In 1998 they were fighting over—who else?—Frank Butcher, and in the process gave us one of the greatest rows in television history. Pat taunts Peggy about how Frank loves her more, Peggy taunts Pat about how she can’t arouse her own husband, and then they physically attack one another. If you say “you bitch!” in the right tone of voice, chances are someone around you will respond with “you cow!” – proving just how iconic this scene is.

4. Janine pushes Barry off a cliff (2004)

Look, I could an entire list of 35 of Janine Butcher’s finest moments. Stabbing herself to frame Stacey? Killing Michael and then blaming Alice? Her row with Laura right before Laura took a tumble down the stairs? All great moments. But Queen Janine’s finest—read: worst—moment is undoubtedly her first kill. Janine married poor Barry Evans for his money, thinking he was dying. When it turned out that Barry wasn’t dying, Janine took matters into her own hands and shoved him off a cliff on their honeymoon. While I always maintain that Janine didn’t mean to kill Barry, she certainly sat by and watched him die.

ICE. COLD.

3. Den serves Angie with divorce papers (1986)

“This, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor telling you your husband has filed a petition for divorce.” Those words still give me chills. Feeling that her marriage was about to fall apart, Angie Watts faked cancer to keep husband Den around. Of course, he found out because that’s a dumb plan, and he was not at all happy when he did. On Christmas Day 1986 Den served Angie with divorce papers – and more than 30 million people tuned in to watch.

2. Sharongate (1994)

There will never be another soap opera storyline quite like Sharongate. Certainly there will never be one as popular and gripping. Playing out over the course of not months, but years, Sharongate centered on the love triangle between brothers Phil and Grant Mitchell and the woman they’d both end up marrying, Sharon Watts. Sharon initially fell in love with Grant and went on to marry him, but in 1992 she had an affair with Phil. This continued to play out for another two years, coming to a head in 1994 when Grant discovered a recording of Phil and Sharon together—playing it at the Queen Vic for all of Walford to hear. It’s a legendary moment, one that still gets mentioned in casual conversation and even on the show.

1. “You ain’t my muvva!” (2001)

It’s hard to think of a more shocking moment in soap history than when Kat Slater revealed that sister Zoe was actually her daughter. Conceived when Kat’s uncle raped her as a young girl, Zoe grew up thinking her grandfather was her father. The truth came out when Zoe decided to move to Spain with her mother’s rapist uncle—and with that “You can’t tell me what to do, you ain’t my muvva!” became an iconic phrase. Michelle Ryan (as Zoe) and Jessie Wallace (Kat) convey the depth of pain, shock, and urgency these characters are experiencing. Nearly 20 years later, it remains the single greatest scene in EastEnders history.

 

Do you agree with my choices? Or do you think there are some glaring omissions? Leave your favourite scenes in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.