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I only watch two soaps. One is Eastenders, the other is Home and Away. After watching Eastenders I often feel dirty and used, as the acting is double-poor, the script writing terrible and the filming wobbly at best. I don't usually rise to the accusations that it is miserable, because I like gloomy things, but more and more recently it just hasn't made the grade.
Home and Away is literally and metaphorically its polar opposite. Set in the (mostly) sunny town of Summer Bay, it has The Bush, A Beach and Beautiful People. When I first caught this soap in its early days in the 1980s I was amused but not smitten. I'm ashamed to admit I was more of a Neighbours addict in those days (I quit). Then I began a job in the mid 90s that was just 5 mins from home, so every lunchtime I would tune in.
In no time I was hooked. The excessive drama of the storylines is exactly what makes it so good. If you are shallow and/or a teenager, then the lusciousness of all the babes (male and female) is enough to keep interest levels up. If you like a good yarn (as the loveable old git Alf would put it) then Home and Away will spin several, weaving many stories in and out of one another and over extended periods.
There's no moral highground from the show itself. There are many characters with definite principles, but you never feel preached to. This is achieved by the seamless bonding of relationships among teenagers, 20/30-somethings and oldies alike. And there is no subject they are afraid to tackle.
If you want some extreme reactionary behaviour check out Alf, who will reliably mellow in time, as he is a decent sort really. He loves his wife Ailsa, even though she murdered her father and has done time (he deserved it of course, as he was abusive to her and her mother). And Alf will always be there in a disaster however minor or major.
If you want sensible, staid and utterly boring you've got Sally, who has been in the show from day 1. Yes, we've seen her grow from flat chested childhood to a more voluptous womanly frame. Her life has been spiced up of late with a sudden bout of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, compelling her to wash her hands and tidy up all the time. She's never really found Mr Right, but keep tuned in because she might well be getting it on with the dashing doctor (if only she'd stop being so damn frigid).
Then there's Gypsy Nash, who has a reputation for being a strumpet and also for providing some of the very best storylines. I just loved the kidnapping some years back by the commune-leading weirdo who had apparently risen from the dead to wreak his revenge on all who had done him wrong.
Irene is another character providing the backbone to the show. An ex-alcoholic who was due to marry another ex-alcoholic (who was a great meanie in his drinking days) until he got crushed by the car he was fixing up when the jack slipped. The tragedy was that Irene had 'one of her dreams' just before and predicted 'something' was going to go terribly wrong.
My favourite character of all-time is Vinnie. What a dude. Forever wheeling and dealing and scheming to make that fast buck. He never quite gets it right and usually manages to piss people off along the way. But like Alf (I'm sure he's being groomed to fill that role when Alf finally pops his) he always means well. He's finally settling down after years of playing the field, recognising the value of lasting relationships.
And the relationships on Home and Away don't half twist and turn! Everybody has probably been with everybody in Summer Bay. But it's a small town, and that is just what happens when there aren't many people to go round. The partners will shift until we find exactly the right combination of twosomes. Sometimes with a little extra-curricular activity just to keep it spicy, often with blossoming young loves - well who WOULDN'T go crazy for girls in those extra-groovy checky school dresses with the massive collars? I just wonder how the boys got off so lightly with their dull black blazer ensemble.
Old Flathead used to run tings at the high school but is now relegated to the role of simple English teacher (he used to be more interesting with young wife Marilyn who totally lost it when they had a baby and ran away to the city), while the headmistress takes slightly more glamourous command and tries to woo Joel the macho policeman who has recently lost the ability to walk after a crazy storm and the ensuing mudslide (that could've been avoided if yuppies hadn't torn down the surrounding bush - bit of politics there). I suspect she won't be in it that much longer as Joel's more glamourous wife who had a baby with another man (who has now left her) has come back to 'nurse' him. Ahhhh.
Yes it's all about community (gossip) and romance (titillation). With the cheesiest incidental music (see note) and shockingly good acting, and cliffhanger endings the like of which I've never known, this is certainly the most fun you'll have of a weekday lunchtime. Or early evening. Or save it all up for the omnibus on Saturday afternoons. It's the only thing I ever watched on ITV, and now it's moved, it's the only thing I watch on Channel 5 (even with piss-poor reception on my old-fashioned analogue telly).
NB I am most disappointed with the recent reworking of the theme tune, which I used to be able to sing merrily along to. They changed the words AND the arrangement to something vaguely resembling 'soulful'. NOT. The example says it all: "I couldn't spend another minute, living my life without you in it". I ask you!! Ah well, even in Summer Bay things must change and move on...