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Waterloo Road - a soap opera?


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Waterloo Road; Storyville: Blast!

Last Night's TV

Tim Teeman

Waterloo Road (BBC One)

One of the favourite buzzwords of TV executives is “aspirational”. It’s up there with “blue sky thinking” as a phrase guaranteed to get one’s teeth grinding. It means programmes being bright, shiny, fast and filled with the telegenic. The aesthetic — tangy colours, chippy cutaways, music usually including the pan pipes and trendy drums, rapid-fire dialogue — is sourced in Queer as Folk, The Street and Clocking Off. However, writers still like to make their characters suffer and their drama modern and “edgy” (another grind word), so the challenge is to make them suffer, argh, aspirationally though, double argh, edgily too.

One part of Waterloo Road wants to be a fairly true to life portrayal of life within a modern comprehensive, but it also comes from Shed Productions, the same stable that produced Bad Girls and Footballers’ Wives, and so is (it cannot help it) bonkers. Quite besides this structural tension, there’s the tension of every character: they are either on the verge of a breakdown, desperately sad, flaky, romantic, bitchy or — in the case of new character, the 15-year-old Earl — a full-on psychopath. Detention is the least of a pupil’s worries here: the real challenge is getting through the day without being burnt alive or shot.

The first episode of the new series started with Rachel, the headteacher, recovering from being fried to a crisp in a fire and desperate to go back to work, even though it is obvious that she is suffering mentally from her ordeal. In the first scene, a nightmare, she was being viciously chanted out of assembly (she lied about her past in the previous series).

Rachel is already hiding a hideous scar from the fire and the fact that she has employed her sister as the head of external services — which means, she keeps saying, she wants “everyone” to use her school. As what? A restaurant? A call centre? I think she means that at night-time it becomes some kind of nebulous community centre/dating drop-in for adults. A bit like how Ian Beale’s cafe in EastEnders morphs from a greasy spoon in the day to a Parisian bistro with candles in the evening.

The first 90-minute episode of this new series was centred around the chaotic entry of the Kelly family, a seething mass of dysfunction, from the alcoholic mother (who looks about 10) to Marley, the good son desperately trying to keep the family going, Earl, the psychopath and two other siblings who are troubled but nice really (Sambuca and Denzil; Sambuca Kelly is a dream name and right up there with Sundae Gorgeous from Shed’s Rock Rivals).

Earl has a gun and is clearly bad beyond bad, mean and bullying, a potential killer. But the writers lasciviously toyed with the possibility of him turning marksman with it and shooting his fellow pupils. The amount of control he exerted with the gun (including an extended bullying sequence involving two other boys) was almost graphically emphasised, as was the gun itself as a gleaming instrument of power.

Of course, you could — if you were a poker-faced TV executive — claim that firearms in school is a real issue man, but Waterloo Road’s grip on it was entirely histrionic: the way the whole gun thing led to the school being evacuated, a handyman not being shot but still covered in blood, the psychopath’s brother Denzil being left holding the gun, Rachel braving the line of fire to confront Denzil, the good brother going operatically mad in the restraining arms of police officers, pupils screaming and running around, no-one actually shopping the evil psychopath brother even though everyone knows he is responsible for it.

The Kellys, homeless at the beginning of the episode, have by the end (despite their mother being in the pub all day) rocked up in an impressive semi next door to one of the teacher’s. Aspirational or implausible? Or — darnit — just addictive?

Astrophysics encourages you to dream what seems the impossible: the idea that, through telescopes and probes, you discover how galaxies evolved; indeed, because of the speed of light, the notion we are watching galaxies developing millions of years before the present day. And so astrophysicists such as Barth Netterfield — another fabulous name — and Mark Devlin plough on, with a beguiling mix of science and experimentation, trying to uncover the secrets of the universe.


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'Fraid not. ;)

Can't really go to town and tear it apart because I can't say I've ever really watched it. I've probably had two episodes on as background noise since it started.

It seems to have the same issue as the appalling Rock Rivals - trying to do Footballer's Wives level stories in a family timeslot. I've also always got the impression that it's not entirely sure what it wants to be so it teeters in between supposedly-hard-hitting-stories-that-are-actually-camp-as-christmas and whimsical comedy.

Perhaps it was better when it started but Ben might no more.

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Can't help, either, Sylph.

I've seen about 5 minutes in total, which I think had something to do with one of the teachers blackmailing another, or something. It seemed quite dramatic, for a show set in a school. Although, according to creators, the stories are all based on RL incidents (she used to be a teacher).

It's not really my sorta thing, hence why I've never invested any time in it.

I wouldn't class it as a soap, just like Doctors, is not a soap, yet the media labels anything with a hint of continuity, a soap. I think it runs more like, Gossip Girl - soapy-esque, but still episodic.

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I don't watch the show but I know a bunch of people who does and they cannot get enough of it. I recommend watching an episode or two. I'll probably look at it after I'm done with Footballer's Wives and Extra Time.

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