I’ll admit to it, the casting of Maxwell Caulfield in Emmerdale tempted me to look in from time to time in recent months and the knowledge that he was leaving last week persuaded me to watch of this week’s episodes albeit from my PVR so I could fast forward the car crash which passes for much of the show.
In the build up to the death of Caulfield’s character – the bigamous Mark Wylde who abandoned his first wife and pretended to be dead – in Thursday’s episode a touch of bloodlust overtook me as I found myself forgetting how obvious and formulaic soaps always are and expecting one of two endings; either that he’d kill himself or, even more format-bending, kill his second (and non-legal on account of him being a bigamist) wife and then have the decency to top himself.
In the end what we actually got was the rather standard soap offering of second wife Natasha shooting him in the back, burying the body and then lying to her family about his whereabouts.
As a non-soap follower it might be that I’m the only viewer to find the eventual ending less than exciting, admittedly it wasn’t exactly predictable as for those few fleeting moments I’d expected far better, but it was ultimately ‘safe’ and very much par for the course.
So how come I found myself expecting more? I’m crediting the presence of Caulfield and those cast members playing his families for this, but it seems as if the writers genuinely appreciated being liberated from their usual thankless task of writing around the (very obvious) limitations of a cast of ‘actors’ who too often look as if they’ve wandered in from a local AmDram’s first rehearsal night. Here instead was a teasing glimpse of what TV could be like it more effort were made to cast reliable, talented and capable performers.
The difference in quality of performance between the Mark Wylde plot line and the rest of the show was so marked that it often felt as if I was watching the bizarre result of the soap’s producers being handed tapes from a higher quality (and therefore obviously abandoned) ITV drama and asked to slip the footage into some drastically under-running episodes of Emmerdale. It was as if someone had slipped scenes from the Godfather into an average episode of The Bill.
So here I am, left wondering how it’s possible for the same production team to produce an endless run of poorly lit, badly acted and terribly written episodes while at the same time understand how to produce a succession of understated, nuanced and perfectly timed scenes.