Can you spot the difference between these two recent events:
- Recently Eastenders 'star' Ray Panthaki was almost blinded in an unprovoked attack in a nightclub.
- In Eastenders, Panthaki's useless fictional family, the Ferreiras, recently lost a lucrative mini-cab contract. However, a chance meeting with a feisty blonde pole dancer enabled them to win the contract back, because the businessman who cancelled the contract was one of the pole dancer's 'regulars', and she threatened to tell his wife.
Yup, you guessed. One happened in real life, the other in Walford. It's a measure of how ridiculous Eastenders has become when the real-life travails of the show's well-paid cast of actors are more realistic than anything that's happened in Albert Square.
Eastenders has taken a very traditional soap opera trajectory. Like Brookside and Coronation Street, it started out with the good intention of portraying Real People leading Real Lives with Real Problems, but eventually the realistic ideas started running out. It's blindingly obvious when this happens: unlikely sexual pairings occur, buildings collapse or get blown up, dismally unfunny 'comedy' storylines are introduced, and characters turn into lesbians. (It's a sad indictment of soap opera writers that they think lesbianism is the most controversial thing that can conceivably occur. What happens when they come across something genuinely shocking, like, say, September 11? Do their brains pop?)
All these soap events smack of desperation, but the last nail in the coffin is usually a gangster storyline. Brookside really set the controls for Planet Bollocks when Lindsay Corkhill became Merseyside's Tony Montana, and recently Eastenders has done much the same, not least when the latest unconvincing Walford gangster offered to write off Alfie's £10,000 debts if Kat Slater slept with him. Ten grand might conceivably be a reasonable amount for sex with Naomi Campbell (and she wouldn't even have to get out of bed) but Kat from Eastenders? Leave it aaaaaaht.
The odd thing is that Eastenders scriptwriters have a ready source of storylines at their fingertips thanks to the increasingly weird and strung-out cast. What could be more a more contemporary storyline than the middle-aged bloke caught wanking on the Internet? Or the timeless tragedy which is alcoholism, as luridly detailed in the News of the World's expose of Elaine Lordan? There's even a Sunset Boulevard quality to the faded beauty of Wendy Richards, once Miss Brahms, now Pauline Fowler/Charles Bronson.
At TFT we're always happy to help out our fellow scribes, so we've devised a few plotlines based on the problems of the 'troubled' Eastenders cast...
- Lynne Slater loses her job after another vodka'n'puff bender and is reduced to eking a living as a non-speaking extra on Family Affairs.
- Sam Mitchell ruins a family Christmas when her nose falls into the gravy and is later mistaken for a chipolata by a tipsy Peggy.
- Kathy Beale is mortified when a home video of her simulating oral sex on a bottle goes missing. But that's the least of her problems: she's due in court on a gross indecency charge after sucking off Wilmott-Brown in the launderette.
- Peggy Mitchell finds a toy-boy and embarks on a toe-curlingly embarrassing sexual relationship that is basically prostitution.
- Harry Slater pops his clogs after a chronic alcohol problem causes him to balloon to 900 pounds.
- Grant Mitchell is arrested after his new wife Rebekah encourages him to burn down a paediatrician's house.
- Bepe and Robbie return to the square, start shagging everything in sight and contract AIDS, herpes and sheep tics in a 'socially aware' plotline about the dangers of promiscuity.
- Phil Mitchell is sectioned when he starts to believe he is the third-rate actor Steve McFadden.
- Kat Slater is delighted to be nominated for the White Lightning Pisshead of the Year Awards, but ends up in a coma after she falls off the roof of the Grosvenor Hotel.
- Kelvin returns to the Square in disgrace after his attempts to reinvent himself in Hollywood as the new Sammy Davis Jnr cause several Tinseltown producers to die laughing.
- Dirty Den's relationship is in trouble after his girlfriend finds he's run up a £6,564.98 phone bill after a marathon Internet wanking session. Not only that, but his foreskin has gone missing inside his computer after an ill-advised attempt to pleasure himself using the CD-ROM drive.