American soap opera Days of Our Lives launches in the UK later this month, over five decades after it first won over US audiences, and I, for one, can't wait to get acquainted with the inhabitants of the fictional, but fabulous town of Salem. I don't have high hopes (this is, after all, the TV show in which Joey in Friends was famously cast as Dr Drake Ramoray and then killed off!), but that's beside the point.
Defined as “a television or radio drama series dealing typically with daily events in the lives of the same group of characters,” soaps (or serial dramas) are a dying breed these days because the way we consume TV has fundamentally changed. We are a nation of on-demand bingers who no longer adhere to the viewing schedules that soaps not only slotted into, but once entirely defined.
Does that mean we can't still enjoy them? Of course not. Yes, there are 'better' choices to make; critically-acclaimed shows that herald this a golden age of TV, but that doesn't mean there isn't merit in watching soaps. We don't watch EastEnders or Neighbours for their Oscar-winning performances, for a depiction of real life, or even to feel, or really gain, anything. In fact, it's exactly the opposite.
We watch for the ridiculous storylines (Love triangles! Murder! Incest!). In the words of Pam Shipman in Gavin & Stacey, "It's the drama, Mick, I just love it!" I should know, I've been watching them my whole life. And I'm pretty sure they've got me through some of the toughest times.
When my mum was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I started watching Home & Away and Neighbours again. There, I said it. It was classic regressive behaviour (I was also eating a lot of Coco Pops because they reminded me of a safer, more carefree time). But in my mid-thirties, freelancing for a national newspaper and about to get married, I felt deeply ashamed. I was a journalist specialising in culture and entertainment, purporting to have, you know, taste. And there I was, going home from work every night to indulge in the habits I had as a 10-year-old.
jason donovan and kylie minogue in Neighbours | SHUTTERSTOCK
In hindsight I'm grateful I was able to channel that feeling of constant, overwhelming pain and confusion, daily, into something so mundane. Some people attempt a jigsaw, others look for answers in a bottle, but those repetitive will-they-won't-they storylines were what helped me through, and they continued to, as mum moved into a hospice and eventually passed away.
But it's when I trace back my relationship with soaps further I realise it was inevitable they would be there when I most needed them. Like many children of the 1980s growing up in the North of England, ours was a 'Brookie' and 'Corrie' household but I probably became most engrossed after my dad died when I was 12 years old. Escaping into a soap after school became an essential part of my daily routine.
By the time I was a teenager, it was Australian soap stars (naming no names - haven't I embarrassed myself enough?), rather than pop stars I had pinned on my wall. And then as an unsettled and undisciplined university student (they're the polite words for it) I relished the routine regular soaps gave me in between partying and procrastinating.
It probably won't come as any surprise that when I eventually walked down the aisle (with my mum by my side) it was to Angry Anderson's Suddenly, the theme music to Scott and Charlene's 1987 wedding in Neighbours. My husband and I joked about the idea for months before realising we had nothing to lose; it would probably be worth it for the 10 or so people in the congregation who would get the reference, alone. Ultimately there was something nostalgic, comforting and sort of therapeutic about it. A lot like the joy of soaps themselves.
Stream these soap-like TV shows for a daily hit of drama to cheer up the January blues
Days of Our Lives launches on the Sony Channel from 20th January weekdays at 9.10am.
From the writer of Revenge (another soapy delight!) What/If is a bonkers but kind of brilliant drama starring Renée Zellweger and hopes are high for a second season. Watch this space.
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Grace and Frankie
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Friday Night Lights
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