Give me a dose of reality

Published 10:59 pm Thursday, September 11, 2014

My mother once told me, while vigorously polishing the silver (always done before Thanksgiving, which would glisten through Christmas, and again, before Easter, before returning to their tarnished blight), that when she had last traveled to England to visit her own mother, she had watched her settle down upon the sofa and was horrified to hear her remark, with much feeling,

“A nice cup of tea and something good on the telly. What more could one want?”

“Can you imagine!” Mom exclaimed, squinting her eyes and inspecting a candlestick for fingerprints, “And I thought, how dreadful.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Why is that dreadful?” I asked, keeping well out of the way of the clatter of cake knives and saltcellars.

“Because there is so much else to do!” Mom replied, “There are so many lovely places to visit and books to read and walks to take…I just couldn’t imagine anyone being so content with such a thing.”

Oh, Mom, it’s a good thing you haven’t witnessed my Monday evening for the past 20 odd years!

I have looked forward to this night while sitting in traffic in Los Angeles, pining for it while on the road and missing my recorded one-hour of bliss. Both Paul and I have even turned down invitations for dinner parties in favor of our show, regardless of the fact that it is indeed recorded and could be watched any time.

It’s a tradition, you see.

‘East Enders’ is an English Soap Opera, going strong for over 30 years and has been shown forever on PBS in this country and tends to be broadcast late on Sunday night, hence the recording and watching it first thing after the national news, Monday evening.

“Ugh, I can’t believe you like that show,” my best chum, Roz, who hailed from Scotland, said to me when I hurriedly explained that I had to get off the phone to turn on the tube.

“Why?” I asked, amazed. “Don’t you think it’s great?”

“It’s so depressing,” she sighed. “Nothing good ever happens to any of the characters. Someone meets the love of their life and it turns out to be their brother, or a girl, working to get out of a dysfunctional family and trying hard to make great grades in school, ends up getting pregnant at 15. Everyone’s either an alcoholic or a serial adulterer, or living on benefits and making no effort to get a job.”

Which is exactly why I love it, I told her. And if I had the celebrity weight and relevance to pitch an idea to the networks, that’s exactly what I’d try to sell: an American version of this soap-opera where the characters are, instead of all being size 6 with perfectly coiffed hair, make-up and clothes that have never shown a crease, virtually identical to the cast of ‘Roseanne.’

“Who would want to watch that?” Roz asked.

Me, for starters. And I think the rest of the country, too. Of course, I realize most soap watchers enjoy them for nothing less than escapism, hence the great success of the 80s Dynasty but they do also become addicted to the story lines and develop an emotional investment for favorite characters. Susan Lucci has made a fortune because of this.

However, I should think those same soap watchers become a little depressed afterwards, when they catch sight of their own reflections and their own tired kitchens and realize they’ll never experience the same sort of glamour or daily romance that is created by set-decorators, staff writers and make-up girls.

But imagine a soap opera set in the grittiest section of Boston, Houston or Anderson, S.C. Imagine cast members carrying 50 pounds of extra weight whose daughters were just busted for shoplifting at Wal-Mart and whose son was just expelled from community college for selling pot. Imagine muffin tops and faded Carharts and the dishy guy all the local gals have a crush on, that drives the propane truck.

And here’s the best part: nobody gets away with anything. In East Enders, no matter how justified the temptation or crime, it always, as my mother would say, “ends in tears.” In fact, the last episode we watched (and the episodes aired in America are years behind), brought the entire cast together for a jubilant wedding reception at the pub which had once belonged to the bride’s father, only to reveal that this man, a sleazy character known as ‘Dirty Den,’ and missing for weeks, was found to have been murdered and buried in the storage cellar beneath the pub. And the best friend of the bride did the deed!

Are you listening, Hollywood? Give us something realistic. Roseanne was hugely popular because she and her family were completely relatable. Give us, like East Enders, bad teeth, obvious hair extensions and a family matriarch that works at the Laundromat and knows when someone’s having an affair because they suddenly begin wearing naughty underwear. Give us bartenders and cab drivers and bedrooms with appalling wallpaper and framed, paint-by-number still lives.

Give us a show that, when we turn it off, we sit up a little straighter and think, “Well, hell, at least my life’s better than that!”