The Unspoken Rules of All Soap Operas

I don’t watch as much soap operas and those day-time tv series as much as I used to, mainly because they frown on watching television at my workplace (it doesn’t look good to have iPlayer running in the background of my reports, managers tend to frown on that), and also because after years and years of watching Eastenders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Neighbours, I got sick of watching the same storylines being disguised and recycled with each generation.

How many times will Den die? Will Kat cheat again? More importantly, will she be wearing leopard-print while doing it? And how on earth do people like Tony from Hollyoaks and Ian from Eastenders convince so many women to marry them?

It got me to thinking about how a lot of TV’s soaps follow some unscripted rules which seem to be unchanging over the years – even if they’re disguised to reflect current issues. In the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of controversy over story-lines like homosexuality and teenage pregnancy, these day the storylines will be about immigration, transgender issues, terrorism or just about Cornish pasties – but the results are the same, possibly because the soaps follow the same ‘rules’.

I expounded on some of my theories about soaps to a friend of mine and she urged me to share my theories so I can enlighten you all with them. Admittedly, her exact words were “write a post about it, it sounds funny”, but I’ll take that as a positive too. Read on follow soap-cynics, and tell me if you agree.

Rule #1: There is no such thing as a happy relationship or marriage.

No matter how long the ‘romance’ has been dragged out, and the suspense built up, when a couple finally ends up together or gets married, it will never last. I have yet to see a marriage which has lasted on any soap. Even those married couples who have supposedly been married for 50 years suddenly end up having problems with each other.

It is inevitable that there will be three possible outcomes in any relationship:
1. One of them cheats (which probably means nothing because the other one is likely to be cheating as well)
2. One of them dies (which forever immortalises them and makes them the perfect partner)
3.They just give up their relationship because it gets boring/one of them has to leave the country for obscure reasons/one of them turns gay (i.e. their relationship got boring and producers wanted to spice it up)

The best relationships have been the ones where one half of the couple is dead (probably because they’re too dead to argue or cheat) – in which case, the living half will remember the relationship with unrealistic fondness. Strangely enough, this doesn’t stop characters from having an impaired memory – the amount of times Pauline Fowler talked about her beloved (and belated) ‘Arfur’, despite the fact that he was a cheater and she was a husband-beater. Sounds like him being dead suddenly redeemed him.

Married and separated so many times, we lost count.

Rule #2: Everyone must visit the pub.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a drinker, every soap has a thriving pub which is at the centre of all business, drama and gossip, which means it’s a place that everyone eventually ends up being in the episode. Teetotal and/or ex-alcoholic? Why not go to the pub and surround your lemonade with some drinkers? Muslim and don’t drink? Down to the pub with you. Underage or with young children? Why not have a rest at the pub, there’s plenty of people to keep an eye on your children while you have a quick pint. Best of all, no one will ask you why you are at the pub at 11.00am, plus a possible pub lunch and a quick pint after your dinner too.

Some would argue that the pub is a great equalizer – the rich, poor, working class, middle class and people of all colours and ages congregate to the pub cos they all want a drink at the end of the day (or want to witness the latest debacle about to take place). But I’ll just say that the Queen Vic and Rover are too over-populated to be realistic, especially when you know most people would prefer to be at home in front of the telly (I wonder if there is a soap that the characters watch in Eastenders, something called The Market maybe).

Rule #3: Ian is always going to be a git.

I just don’t like him. ‘Nuff said.

isn

Rule #4: There should only be one taboo topic at any one time.

Every season in soap-world will have a new scandal going on, whether it’s affairs, crime-doings or someone ‘aving a go in the market. In order not to confuse us simple viewers, there’s only ever major story arc at a time, so that we can keep our bums on the edge of the seats without being distracted by other storylines. The downside of this is that a story can drag on for months until we stop caring. But it also means that you can watch a story about an affair in January, go on holiday for a couple of months, come back in April and the affair’s still going on. When it comes to ‘taboo’ topics which become major storylines like teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, immigration or similar issues, I can’t help but think that they’re dumbed down and simplified so that we are beaten over the head with the overall message.

Rule #5: There is always a loophole for characters to come back, regardless or how they leave.

Death is not a preventive factor because there’s always an explanation , even if it’s not a realistic one. We may have seen someone get shot/stabbed/go on the run for twenty years, but it still means that there’s a small lee-way for them to come back. Yes, you, Dirty Den, we’re looking at you. What do you think this is, the Resurrection?

so-you-fakes-your-own-death_o_216908

Rule #6: There is always a villain that we love to hate in every soap

It’s practically a requirement. In Eastender it’s Ian (for me), but there’s plenty of real ‘baddie’ characters to spice things up a bit. And there’s different strands of baddies too, whether it’s the gangster type;, the smarmy type who everyone hates; and, worst of all baddies, the ones who pretend to be good but have serial killer eyes and end up going cuckoo crazy before they get carted off in a wheely bin to a local asylum (which they’ll probably escape from). Think Annie from Sunset Beach, maybe.

Rule #7: The token ethnic person is never accurate.

I have a personal gripe about this because every time there has been an Asian, particularly a Pakistani character in a soap, they’ve never sounded or behaved like anyone I know. The Masoods are a classic example of unrealistic storylines which have either been lifted straight from a Bollywood serial or just made up by non-Asian people who think that Pakistani families are like this. Coronation Street was just as bad, although the only thing they got right was that the Indian family owned the corner shop. As for Emmerdale, well, I have yet to see any Asian people out in the fields.

Put some more of these in Coronation Street.
Rule #8: Time is irrelevant in soap operas and doesn’t run at the same speed as real life.

Don’t try to make it make sense of it, it’ll only give you a headache. A character may find out she is pregnant in May and then be ready to give birth just two months later, pay no attention to that, it’s just producers speeding up time for us. Similarly, a baby will grow into a toddler and suddenly get replaced into a teenage character in a couple of years (I may be exaggerating here, but still). And if it’s highly convenient that Christmas day in Soap World is on the same day as real life, well that’s just clever timing.

soap

Rule #9: Every character has potential to have a huge (translation: stupid) secret

This ‘secret’ will cover a storyline that will drag on for weeks until we stop caring and the producers are forced to do a ‘big reveal’ so they can try to save the storyline and make us all interested again. Usually the secret is something like having a criminal past or that they’re really someone’s secret mum, or that they were the one who stole Dot’s sandwich. Admittedly, there have a been a few interesting storylines in the past, like the secret serial killers, the complicated affairs and the random storylines which make no sense but which still are fascinating. At the core of soap operas, the moments we all hang on for are the ‘Big Reveal’ parts, the moment everyone finds out something that we knew all along – even if it’s a boring secret.

Rule #10: I can’t think of any more rules so here’s a picture of a cute turtle.

Look how cute it is.

That’s all I could think of folks, I know some of these are silly and some of you might not agree with these, but a lot of these are silly and down to the fact that I watch a lot of rubbish TV which doesn’t always make sense, so I may have done some over thinking here!

Next up, clichรฉs and rules about Bollywood films (and Indian TV serials) – expect some silliness!

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