Hollyoaks (in 2018-2019)

Hollyoaks, the well-known Channel 4/E4 teatime soap opera, is a show I’ve watched on and off over the years. But I ended up watching almost every episode in 2018-2019.  I think it’s been the best it’s ever been, and it has won a lot of awards for that time, including Best Soap at the British Soap Awards and the Inside Soap Awards, plus a Royal Television Society award. It is often overlooked compared to the so-called “Big Three” soaps (Coronation Street, Eastenders and Emmerdale), but Hollyoaks has been great in 2018-2019, and here are some of the highlights of it for me.

It has been brave in tackling difficult issues, and has made sure to handle them with the care they deserve.

There have been episodes dealing with the mental health of individual characters.

Alfie Nightingale had schizoaffective disorder, he had been becoming increasingly distressed and paranoid, cumulating in an episode where he almost jumped off a bridge.
It was told from both his point view, so we could empathise with some of what he was going though, and from that of his family trying to help him – his mum Cindy (who had mental health issues herself, so was one of the first to get through to him), his sister Ellie doing her best to try to talk him out of jumping off the bridge, and his brother James managing to rescue him. Alfie was such a sweet, adorable character so there were a lot of nice scenes with him with other characters in later episodes, but this particular episode definitely stuck with you.

Cleo McQueen was in hospital and recounted a perfect day to her counsellor Farrah Maalik in the first half of an episode. But this wasn’t how it happened. In the second half of the episode we saw the events again, but this time the true way they happened. Cleo’s eating disorder had been getting worse and worse, and she had been hiding it. This episode had a rather shocking sting in tail too. Cleo thought that the reason she had ended up in hospital is that she had fainted. That wasn’t the case. It was much worse than that. She’d actually had a heart attack.

Lily Drinkwell had a long-running self-harm storyline, and her final episode, unknown to her, she had developed sepsis as a result of her self-harming. The episode had flashbacks to her whole life, how she had dreamed of becoming a doctor and how she lost her mother at a young age, and in the present she was trying to decide which out of two lads she wanted to be with, and what life that would lead to. She did make a choice, but just as she had, she collapsed. Her family found her very soon after, but it was already too late. Hollyoaks is known for its tearjerkers, but this was one of the most affecting. This episode had a song written and performed especially for it, ‘Gone Too Soon’ by Hussain Manawer & Sonna Rele.

There was also an episode about disability awareness. Nancy and Darren Osborne’s son Oscar is deaf, and their adopted daughter Brooke Hathaway has autism. In general the programme has tried to show the day to day living with those conditions, and they were highlighted in this episode. In the same one, Mandy Richardson found out that her new baby may have spina bifida, and had a conversation with Maxine Minnever, whose daughter Minnie has Down Syndrome.

The run of episodes where it led to an attempted terror attack by a far-right racist group was very powerful television. During those episodes we saw the sheer blind hatred of
Jonny Baxter, how the leader of the group, Stuart Sumner, intimidates and wields power over his followers, and Ste Hay realising, all too late, that he is completely in over his head.

The episodes also showed how the gang’s actions effected others too, not least their main target the Maalik family. Yasmine lost her hearing being in the vicinity of the explosion. Sami saying how feels he has to rise above attitudes like that constantly and gets criticised for the one moment he answers back. Misbah was treating Jonny while he was shouting racist abuse at her, and Misbah’s view was that as a doctor she has a duty of care to her patients regardless of that, but it still must have been hurtful for her. Then there was Sami’s fiancee Sinead Shelby, who is very much on Sami’s side, but also Ste is the father of her daughter, which obviously puts her in a terrible position.

I was glad that this storyline managed to defy the hideous myth that all working class people are far-right, with Marlena McQueen being one of the first people to stand up to the gang, and firefighter Leela Lomax saying she is English and proud, and those thugs don’t represent her or her country.

There were the storylines about football coach Buster Smith and deputy headmaster Laurie Shelby, two serial sex abusers and rapists. They targeted different people, Buster Smith targeted underage boys while Laurie Shelby targeted young women. There were disturbing scenes.

In both cases, those two manipulated everybody, not just their victims. Buster Smith and Laurie Shelby used their connections and the fact they were in positions of power to attempt to escape justice. It was a struggle for their victims to even get as far as a trial, and even then both storylines showed that just because a horrific crime can’t be proven as guilty in court, it doesn’t mean that the defendant was “innocent” of it. However, eventually both Buster Smith and Laurie Shelby were found guilty of some of their crimes.

Two of the rape survivors in these storylines were Brody Hudson, played by Adam Woodward, and Sinead Shelby, played by Stephanie Davies, and they were both excellent,
receiving well deserved plaundits and awards.

It’s worth mentioning also that Stephanie Davies made a triumphant comeback to Hollyoaks in 2018, showing how talented she is with some of the storylines mentioned

Hollyoaks hasn’t just been heavy either. There’s been plenty to enjoy!

Mercedes McQueen is one of the best Hollyoaks characters. She’s become the landlady of the local pub, The Dog In The Pond, something which I think she was always kind of destined for. She’s got married yet again, her latest husband being hunky, muscular carpenter Sylver. The show has made comical references to Mercedes being like a
black widow spider and managing to get through more husbands than Henry VIII got through wives! She’s been in another love triangle, between Sylver and local drug dealer Liam Donovan.

While Mercedes can be a bitch, she does have a compassionate side. As landlady of the main pub in the village, she provided food, drink and shelter to the villagers after the crane hazard.

There was also the time when she met Brooke, when they were both in hospital for an abortion. “I won’t tell if you don’t!” said Mercedes, which I have to admit I found funny in a black comedy sort of way. But in all seriousness, Mercedes was really good with Brooke, she knew exactly what Brooke was going through with her worries about being pregnant, as well as acknowledging that she isn’t a trained counsellor so Brooke should speak to one for better help.

Scott Drinkwell becoming a drag queen is the best thing to happen to his character in a long time! Both in-universe and for the show. He’s had various drag personas, his main one is Anita Tinkle. He also had one based on Mercedes called Skoda McQueen – the nickname for Mercedes on the lowculture forums back in the day! Later he played Gracedes – Mercedes merged with The Loft nightclub owner Grace Black- playing on the rivalry the two women have, but saying they should respect each other. Which is unlikely to ever happen now, given the hit and run storyline where Mercedes and Liam (Grace’s brother) accidentally ran Grace over which left Grace having to spend some time using a wheelchair. Plus the implication that Grace is attracted to Sylver…

But anyway, I wish Scott would be a little luckier in love. I know it’s a soap so there has to be drama, but couldn’t he get a boyfriend who doesn’t have internalised homophobia issues?

Hollyoaks has also recently shown the power of the recast. Recasting isn’t just about changing the actors, sometimes it’s reinventing the character. It has been done well with the new actors for Liam Donovan and Liberty Savage. The new versions are much better than the original incarnations! The previous versions of both those characters were just bland and nondescript. The new ones have a lot more personality, and certainly more important to storylines than they ever were before.

Liam, now played by Jude Monk McGowan, has become a screwed up bad boy drug dealer, and has been in a love triangle with Mercedes – and he genuinely seems to have fallen for her!

Liberty, now played by Jessamy Stoddart, is still a singer, but she has developed a taste for romcoms, cosmic mumbo-jumbo and all things pink and fluffy. She is one of the funniest characters they have now, and is fast becoming one of my favourites! She has provided so many comedy highlights in the past year. Such as this line about taking a pregnancy test: “The most important pee of my life. An actual V.I. pee!”

To cheer her sister Sienna Blake up, Liberty once sung ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox , but changed it to “Sienna”. And she did her own cover version of ‘Mama’ by the Spice Girls!

Hollyoaks has always made great use of music. I’ve already mentioned ‘Gone Too Soon’ from Lily’s episode, and there’s too many to list when it comes to Hollyoaks music, but here are just some other tracks used on Hollyoaks during the 2018-2019 period that I really liked:

‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ – We Are Scientists
‘Ordinary World’ – Aurora
‘Haunted’ – Evanescence
‘Other Side Of The World’ – KT Tunstall
‘Celebrity Skin’ – Hole
‘Pure Shores’ – All Saints
‘Longshot’ – Catfish and the Bottlemen
‘Born Slippy’ – Underworld
‘Sit Down’ – James
‘Closer’ – The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
‘Uptown Funk’ – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
‘We Found Love’ – Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
‘Cracks Between’ – Ten Tonnes
‘Joy’ – Bastille
‘Lush Life’ – Zara Larsson
‘Gold On The Ceiling’ – The Black Keys
‘Here With Me’ – Marshmello & Chuvrchs
‘Walk’ – Kwabs
‘Crown’ – Stormzy
‘The Pretender’ – Foo Fighters
‘Firestarter’ – Prodigy
‘Insomnia’ – Faithless
‘Say A Little Prayer’ – Aretha Franklin
‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’ – ABBA
‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – Whitney Houston
‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ – Dusty Springfield
‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ – Nancy Sinatra
‘Take On Me’ – A-Ha
‘Mulder and Scully’ – Catatonia
‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ – Sigrid
‘The Look Of Love’ – ABC
‘Figure It Out’ – Royal Blood

Then there was Cindy Cunningham repeating the lyrics of ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)’ by En Vogue as relationship advice. Her defence for that was that she’d been out sunbathing and drinking cocktails all day!

There are a couple of other small Easter Egg type things I’ve liked. One is Banana Bongos, the fictional cereal brand in Hollyoaks, making an appearance every so often. Plus a headline in the show’s in-universe local newspaper The Chester Herald. Usually the headline refers to a plot in the episode, but once a headline was “Cat Burglar” – apparently a cat had been stealing produce from a green grocers!

I am glad that they have cut back on the amount of serial killers. It was a bit ridiculous a few years ago when about a third of the village’s population was a serial killer. Now there’s only really “Scary Poppins” Breda McQueen, and she’s one of the better examples of that type, and also I think that storyline is coming to an end early next year.

Speaking of next year, Hollyoaks will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and I like that Hollyoaks has already making use of its legacy and referencing it, mentioning memorable storylines from its past, and sometimes even using clips from then. It’s usually about Tony Hutchinson, who is very much a core character in Hollyoaks. He and his actor Nick Pickard have been on the show from the beginning!

Tony’s dad Edward has come into the show now though, played by none other than Joe McGann, and while it’s very early days, it looks like he could be one of the show’s major villains!

I hope Hollyoaks continues in the strong direction it has been going in.

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