My trips back home to Coronation Street

Far be it for me to question Coronation Street scriptwriters – but I thought it was pretty obvious that Rob would be the one to do Tina in.

His character ‘lifts right out’. If you are going to put someone on a one-way track to leaving the show, then you get them engaged to Tracy Barlow. Before Rob turned into a  proper, murdering nutter, he was just a little bit dodgy, a little bit fit and a little bit boring.

No one suspects you if you start an affair on your wedding day (picture from Daily Mail Online)

Weirdly, I continue to find him as dull as dishwater – which is why the real story will focus on Carla – and perhaps Rita – Coronation Street’s strong women being tested in hot water, yet again. (And Peter and Carla will probably get back together, they will somehow be drawn together against the world. I just have a feeling. You heard it here first).

You may wonder why I pay so much attention to a soap opera. I was brought up on a childhood diet of Coronation Street and Battenberg cake. To say I’ve outgrown The Street would be equal to the treachery of dissing my family, or starting to say ‘laugh’ and ‘bath’ the Southern way.

However flawed the soap might be, however ridiculous the murders or disappointing the adultery, however far-fetched the storylines, I still watch it. Coronation Street brings me home to the North West like a plane landing at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport.

I watch it for the nostalgia – the familiar accents, the sense of community and the Manchester drizzle on those cobbled streets. The feisty spirit of the people who live there, the unflinching northern grit. The fact that many of the cast have always been there – Gail, Sally, Audrey… Rita, Emily and Deirdre…Leanne, Carla and Fiz. Their presence is reassuring and comforting like seeing family friends at Christmas parties.

And yes –the stand-out stars are all women – it has always been about women on that show. I’m not going to suggest that I’d be friends with every woman on Coronation Street in real life or that I take feminist inspiration from them, but women have the power in Wetherfield, they are strong and unafraid and I love that.

I’ve always watched Coronation Street and I probably always will. I even genuinely voted for the show to win the National TV Awards. I know. I wasn’t joking, I really am a proper fan.

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Why its sad to lose Friends

Sometimes, nostalgia comes out of nowhere and makes you feel older, that time has passed by.

Like this week’s news that it was ten years since Friends ended. It does not seem that long since a group of us were sitting on my bed, in halls of residents, watching the final episode.

Commemorative item for my teenage self-help fix

Commemorative item from my teenage self-help stage

I remember being emotional enough to email the university newspaper – to suggest a piece exploring why the show had been such a stand-out success. Why the first sitcom to focus on the ‘friends’ unit, rather than family, had been so popular because it reflected a wider social trend. How adorably earnest.

I didn’t write the piece – no one answered my email – but it did spur me on to join the newspaper the following year. I’m so glad I did that. It gave me something creative and tangible that stands out in my otherwise foggy university memories of drinking and deadlines.

But Friends was always personal for me. Some people found catharsis in mainlining Nirvana growing up. I liked the mainstream reassurance of a sitcom that was ‘always there’ for me. During those teenage years, when some of my own friends changed and started liking Slipknot and smoking, I would switch on Friends to be in a nicer, grown-up, but less serious world.

And then – after dropping out of university – I watched Friends when my ‘life was stuck in second gear’. It made me feel better, because it suggested things would get better, that there was value and comedy in making mistakes.

And things did get better. My second university worked out far more than I ever thought possible. A big part of this was because I made those close friendships that provide fun, back-up and security. It was those friendships that led me to London.

Although, according to some, that isn’t always healthy. I was unsettled when I watched Dr. Meg Jay’s Ted Talk warning about how ‘30 is not the new 20’ and how city friendship ‘huddles’ can be limiting, holding people back from discovering more and taking risks.

The slapstick, ‘my disastrous life is hilarious’ chaos of the 90s TV show all worked out in the end for the characters, their personal story-lines were wrapped up neatly with a bow. Only Joey was the one left single. Now he would be watching all his friends get married and having babies on Facebook. He’d be fine though.

For me one of the saddest things was hearing Matt Le Blanc on why the show had to end. “That show was about a finite period of time in life, after college and before your relationship and family starts and where your friends are your support system.”

So perhaps the younger me was wrong – perhaps there is no ‘social shift’- Friends just documented a ‘phase’ before real life starts. A phase I was in then, and am coming out of now. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that – I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready to say goodbye to my friends – both on TV and in real life.

My awkward obsession with TV psychopaths

This year I have become worryingly obsessed by two men. Both homicidal psychopaths. Both (thankfully) fictional.

Before you start judging…I’m not the only one. It seems anyone with a TV or an internet connection shares my homage to Walter White in Breaking Bad (played by Bryan Cranston) and Frank Underwood in House of Cards (starring Kevin Spacey).

I lost most of January to Breaking Bad (series 1-4 in four weeks – I know…impressive…thanks). And last week I averaged six hours of sleep a night as I finished series 2 of House of Cards through a succession of late night binges. I came home from evenings out and still thought I could soldier on with an episode or seven (no…couldn’t…woke up at 5am with my ipad on my face).

I’ve had many insightful ‘deep and meaningfuls’ with friends about the uneasy guilt we feel at our capacity to get behind Frank and Walter.

<<SPOILER ALERT>>

For most of us there is a tipping point where we descend into ‘outrage’ – (for me when Walt let Jane die and when Frank threw Zoe in front of that train). But most of us concede, after the initial shock of such betrayals, something in us still roots for these characters, we’re still on their side. We can rationalise their horrific crimes as necessary collateral damage.

The anti-hero is an interesting phenomenon (well to me at least). I know its been happening since before Shakespeare, but I’ve only just really noticed it on TV. I never got into The Sopranos, managed to resist the snake charms of Dom Draper and was just generally too busy watching Coronation Street (…not joking I genuinely record it – reminds me of home).

But it was Walt and Frank who turned me.

With Breaking Bad we see Walt White descend into darkness and hope for his redemption…sort of.  But the audience ends up in that dark place too. Each warped decision becomes somehow defensible. In a show many see as a modern day Western, Walt has his own lawless code. We’re on his side against the world – because, after all, its an unfair world. He was the nice guy who did everything right, played the game and got screwed by life.  For me, without wanting to sound too lofty/totally crazy, he represents the little man’s protest against an unjust society. Like Bryan Cranston said of his character in an amazing interview in Rolling Stone: ‘everyone is capable of being dangerous’.

With Frank Underwood he seems to have been born dangerous – our obsession lies in the why and how. There are times when I’ve genuinely hated him (why, WHY did he need to kill Peter and Zoe). There are scenes when Claire is reminiscent of a glistening Twilight-esque Vampire and you almost expect them both to rip away their beautiful faces to reveal Voldemort style evil skulls beneath.

HOC  is limited in that it offers no credible alternatives – no one on the show can challenge the Underwoods – there is no ‘good’ to their ‘bad’. And don’t get me started on how the media are crushed Hitchcock style in a way I don’t think is plausible for today.

Bu that charisma, that humour, that knowing look Frank gives you? Its seductive. Its impressive. Worryingly, its familiar. I’ve seen lesser versions of it on Newsnight.  I’m sure we’ve all see people like that in work. You know – the successful, unflappable ones.Come on – who hasn’t watched HOC and then considered trying to mimic Claire Underwood’s polished poise in meetings? OK then er… just me. Once, it lasted about two minutes. Turns out I can’t speak that slow or dress that well.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in occasionally thinking in difficult  situations – ‘what would Walt or Frank do?’