Special weeks – or just standard but high quality weeks? (Picture: ITV)

‘This is going to be the best Christmas ever!’ crows at least one soap character every year, sometimes even mere moments before disaster strikes and throws all of their best laid plans and excitable boasting into chaos.

‘You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,’ simpers one half of the most popular soap ship of the moment, months before they can’t resist getting off with someone who just so much as raises a flirty eyebrow towards them.

Promises are a fickle thing on screen in soaps and the same is true off screen too. In an age where live TV is in an inevitably losing battle with online streaming services and catch up, potentially in the last thrashing throes of life, promotion is key.

It stands to reason then, that as soon as a Britain’s Got Talent Week comes along, ITV are shouting from the rooftops that there is a huge week of not to be missed episodes.

An understandable tactic, but one that is diluted over time because it is one in the latest line of ‘massive weeks’ and ‘biggest weeks ever’.

Granted, it was eventful – but does the week need to have a tag? (Picture: ITV)

The moment there is the sniff of a stunt or a flashback, Coronation Street and Emmerdale are forced into the trap of building special weeks up into impossibly high expectations that can never be met.

A car crash, a flashback or some instrumental music does not a huge week make. Toying with the formula to take a soap out of what it truly is should be used sparingly and only when a story justifies it; dedicated fans are not looking for their soap to be something else.

Take a recent ‘huge week’ in Emmerdale for example. Sure, there were some strong plot developments, but none that warranted a strange beginning of the week flash forward.

A trailer within the episode itself, it hinted at a shooting, a deadly outcome of someone ending up in a grave and a life changing stunt.

The strongest moments were character led (Picture: ITV)

‘It’s time for a big week!’ orders the channel and a soap is forced to find a way to pull its long term storyline plans together in a jarring way, effectively building up what would previously be standard soap drama into something sold as the next Avengers.

What these episodes actually delivered was someone being scraped in the leg by a bullet and being fine within five minutes and the much speculated stalker being a poacher.

And a teen being shoved into a hole for a couple of minutes to teach him a lesson. The suggestion of someone ending up in a grave was deliberate, implying to the viewer that there was a shock twist ahead that would see a character lose their life.

Then there were the scenes of carnage and injury teased through promotional trailers and episode flashforwards, which amounted to Cain ending up with his leg stuck.

Yes, Al saved him but all this really did was show that Al may be horrible but he isn’t a killer prepared to leave someone to die in a car wreck. We never for a second thought he was.

It hasn’t changed his and Cain’s relationship in any massive way except for to apparently bring an end to the feud of threats, kidnaps and insults going round in circles.

Aside from liking my steaks rare, I am not a bloodthirsty person. I don’t need constant death and injury to be pulled into soap – the strongest moments by far from that particular week were much more human stories of Faith confiding that she has been diagnosed with cancer and Charity finding her loyalties as a mother in crisis after discovering the true nature of her son Noah.

But when a week is set up to be huge and unmissable, a soap is setting itself up for a fall as we fans expect a lot. And we, at the very least, expect some of what has been heavily implied to be delivered.

What it does is take the focus away from the actual strength of the episodes. They were very good; the developments in Faith and Charity’s stories, as said above, were gripping, emotional and packed with solid writing and performances. Sally Dexter and Emma Atkins were utterly sublime and continue to be in the ‘non-special’ episodes.

Imran will be a huge miss but deaths don’t have to be sign-posted so much (Picture: ITV)

Where the focus should be on that, it ends up being on waves of fan reviews expressing disappointment and outrage that the big week has been anything but.

And, at the same time, it takes the edge off of the weeks that aren’t billed as ‘huge’ – with the implication that they are just treading water until the next event episodes.

Looking at Coronation Street this week, the episodes have been great but what it has been is effectively a showdown, a car crash and a character exit.

Car crashes are pretty standard fodder for soaps and this one was done very well. But until the last few years, it was sufficient to promote these kinds of upped ante episodes with a trailer and a cast interview or two.

The episodes have been great but again, that forced label on it just because it has to act as a buffer for Britain’s Got Talent is taking the edge off, rather than adding anything.

I would argue that the weeks before have been just as strong and I imagine the consequential weeks will be even stronger; but are these not big weeks, are these more missable?

As many producers say, stunts are only there to support the story; they are not done for the sake of it so it stands to reason that these should not be the pinnacle point of the whole story, but rather a high octane service to the whole narrative.

Losing a key character, particularly to a dramatic death, is significant in soap but previously major characters have been killed off as part of regular episodes. And this has been more shocking and effective.

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Now, one can only expect a dramatic death of some kind when a billed week points everything possible to the twist, signposting it and taking away any shock value that the week could have had otherwise.

Up until now, soaps have had a mix of the every day drama, humour, scandal, blistering showdown, tragedies and, yes, stunts.

But when ‘huge weeks’ have previously aired motorway pile ups, sinkholes and car explosions and bridges collapsing while a maze burns someone alive, it’s hard to keep justifying the huge week label. How can you keep topping that? Suddenly car crashes are just a drip in the water.

If Richard Hillman’s story were to reach a climax now, it would have to involve guns, explosions and a big body count. And yet, there couldn’t have been an ending more exciting and satisfying. We are now so desensitised to stunts that a car splashing into a canal would be considered dull.

And if Richard’s body wasn’t recovered so that he could return in October to hold a Rovers siege, then what was the point?

Soaps can’t possibly satisfy this level of expectation from fans that they bring upon themselves. And while the idea is to get bums on seats for live viewing, they could eventually be pricing themselves out of the game with episodes billed with such intensity that don’t end up delivering.

Next week, EastEnders has a week involving a car crash and a very pivotal storyline development, which sees Ben Mitchell open up about his rape ordeal to mum Kathy in scenes that will likely hit the heart hard.

An eventful week in Walford – but the lack of ‘huge week’ declaration means that expectations aren’t unattainably high (Picture: BBC)

This could easily have had the ‘huge week’ tag slapped on it; it doesn’t have lower energy than episodes seeing Faith confide her cancer while Cain and Chas are in a car crash.

EastEnders are not going wild with setting this week aside from the others and that will make them more effective; we aren’t going in with phrases like ‘lives change forever in massive week of episodes’ distracting us or telling us how excited we should be.

We watch soaps because we enjoy them. We expect the big heightened drama and the more event driven episodes and we love watching them along with every other theme delivered on an episode by episode basis.

The over the top promotions of certain weeks (not at all coincidentally airing in May and October) is for the casual or non-fans and this is understandable to a degree. It’s an easy draw for new viewers who are curious to see a bit of crash, bang, wallop.

But when those viewers have got bored and gone back to what they usually watch, the core viewers remain and are the ones scratching their heads.

The competition for viewing figures is higher than ever and live viewings will likely continue on a downward conjecture; it’s the way of the landscape.

But let’s stop undermining the other 50 or so weeks of the year which aren’t classed as special but to soap fans are every bit as exciting and engaging as the rest.

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