Coronation Street has faced criticism in some quarters that the show is too dark, deals with too many issue-based stories and has therefore lost its way as a soap.
This isn’t strictly true. Telling important, underrepresented stories is one of the key responsibilities of all soaps and is what Corrie does best. And the current crop of storylines are each valuable in their own way.
Meanwhile, Elle Mulvaney is playing a blinder at the moment as she portrays the lasting aftermath of Amy’s rape, making questionable decisions as she attempts to process her ordeal. Plus, the bullying storyline involving Liam, Dylan and Mason is important and relevant to teens and parents alike, and it’s never a bad thing to put the spotlight on the talented younger members of the cast.
All these stories have a place on the soap. The actual issue is an increasing lack of light and shade in the show, which is arguably what characterises Corrie as an institution. These dark stories are fine – as long as they’re told alongside some comedy as light relief.
There are definitely still some fun moments in the soap. For example, there were recently some amusing scenes with David and Maria who were getting to grips with being co-managers of the salon, after Audrey announced she was selling up.
Jack P Shepherd as David is undoubtedly one of Corrie’s greatest assets – he’s had his fair share of dramatic stories but is also always on hand to lighten up a scene with his snarky comments and dry wit. David was perhaps the MVP in killer Stephen’s final week, creating a lot of laughter with his one-liners in a story that could have been much darker.
But these comic moments feel few and far between at present, with Corrie’s classic Northern warmth and banter between the locals lacking in scenes.
Maybe this imbalance is partly to do with the loss of the Rovers Return, after it was closed in September. Just as it is a hub for the community of characters in Weatherfield, where some of the funniest and warmest interactions take place, it’s a focal point for viewers as well.
Never is Corrie better than when the pub is full of punters, with overlapping conversations, jokes, and arguments aplenty. Plus, the show had just established a strong core Rovers team, including Jenny, Daisy, Glenda and Gemma, a group who created a lot of fun – and who could forget Glenda’s singing?
Without this central meeting place, these characters tend to exist in their own bubbles, creating a feeling of disconnection. There are hints the Rovers will eventually return to the street, with Jenny declaring to Daisy in a recent episode, "Let’s go get our pub back", so it remains to be seen whether the faithful pub will manage to restore the humour to the show.
It is these lighter moments that ground the show and make the darker moments more impactful for viewers, as it fosters more of a belief that the tragic or shocking events could really happen within a normal community.
It is also possible to effectively do comedy and drama at the same time, as after all, even the darkest of real-life situations can involve humour and fun. Corrie proved this a few weeks ago with the scenes between Paul and Billy in a particularly impressive episode.
In the episode, written by Ian Kershaw and Jonathan Harvey, Paul was given the devastating news that he had less than a year to live, while he was also concerned that partner Billy no longer wanted to be intimate with him.
Later, when checking on Paul in the bath, Billy puts his back out – leaving him unable to move and unable to help Paul out of the tub. A chaotic sequence of events unfolds, involving Todd, Ed, a load of innuendo, and a shocked Summer arriving home to the men in a compromising position, remarking, "I’ve read about parties like this."
Corrie has a history of comic, even slapstick, scenarios, such as Cilla and Les’s hot tub falling through the ceiling or Eileen and Gail fighting in the street. This bathroom scene may be added to the collection – albeit with a heartbreaking layer of pathos running through it.
This could have been an incredibly serious episode, yet these scenes were the funniest Corrie has been in ages. The hilarious predicament also led to a proper conversation between Paul and Billy about their relationship, as well as the revelation that Paul has been secretly going to church with Dee-Dee and got baptised, an admission that left his husband feeling emotional. In this way, leaning into the humour is what moved the story forwards, proving it an effective tool for soap storytelling.
In the coming months there is certain to be a lot of distress and sadness for Paul and Billy, but these moments of fun, however brief, help make the story feel even more real and true to life.
The ability to treat a serious story with both sensitivity and a lightness of touch is perhaps what separates Corrie at its best from just about every other soap – and these scenes showed what is mostly missing at the moment.
Corrie just needs to remember what makes it so special and truly embrace the humour it is so loved for – the whole show will be all the better for it.
Coronation Street airs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm on ITV1 and streams on ITVX.
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