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Broadchurch meets The Wicker Man – and other terrible soap spin-offs

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Stuart Heritage
Its director has literally compared it to Shakespeare … Kat and Alfie Moon in Redwater. © BBC/Patrick Redmond Its director has literally compared it to Shakespeare … Kat and Alfie Moon in Redwater.

Redwater has been described as “Broadchurch meets The Wicker Man”, which sounds incredible right up until the moment you realise that it stars Kat and Alfie Moon from EastEnders. At that point, all the promise of quasi-supernatural tension dissipates in a puff of hoo-hoo-ha-ha tummy-slapping cockneyisms.

However, to hear how feverishly it has been talked up – its director has literally compared it to Shakespeare – you’re left with the impression that Redwater is going to set a new standard for soap opera spin-offs. Which admittedly isn’t particularly difficult, because most soap spin-offs have been so utterly inept that you’ve had to privately apologise to your eyes and brain as soon as they ended. Here are the low hurdles Redwater will have to clear.

Turn Out the Lights (1967)

Arthur Lowe appeared on Coronation Street for five years in the early 1960s, playing a clothes shop manager named Leonard Swindley. Famously jilted at the altar by Corrie stalwart Emily Bishop, Lowe’s character left the soap in 1965 and became the star of a shop-based spin-off called Pardon the Expression. When that was axed, Swindley popped up again in a spin-off of that, entitled Turn Out the Lights. This show was a comedy-drama where Swindley – and this is true – travelled the country solving supernatural mysteries. After the first episode, Nancy Banks-Smith called it “possibly the worst-written, worst-directed and worst-acted series of the year”.

South (1988)

If you’re my age, you might remember watching South on a boxy television that was wheeled into your classroom one rainy playtime. A Geordie Racer-style schools show centred around Tracy Corkhill and Jamie Henderson from Brookside and their decision to leave Liverpool for London, South was an exploration of the north-south divide most famous for containing a Morrissey cameo. It would have been great, if any of the seven-year-old kids in my class had watched Brookside or understood the north-south divide or even had the faintest inkling who Morrissey was.

Holby Blue (2007)

Casualty is a programme for people who like their hospital dramas to be ground down into a featureless sludge. Holby City, spawn of Casualty, is a programme for people who like their sludge so featureless that watching it feels like drowning in a tar pit. Holby Blue, the spectacularly misguided “Hey, what if we widen the lens on Holby to include the exploits of its aggressively middling police force?” Holby City spin-off, was a programme exclusively for people who had committed bad deeds in previous lives and actively wanted to punish themselves. Gareth McLean hit the nail on the head when he noted that the police officers “don’t so much solve crime as stand around and wait for crimes to be solved by way of coincidence and happenstance”. On the plus side, at least Holby Blue was the show that taught the world that Paloma Faith should never try acting again, even for a dare.

EastEnders: E20 (2010)

To mark its 25th anniversary, EastEnders devised an offshoot that would nurture new writing, directing and acting talent. That show was E20, and it’s easily the best of a bad bunch. Episodes were short – the shortest was three minutes long – and casually slung up on iPlayer in a sort of Survival of the Fittest-style developmental division for the main show. If you did well at E20, chances are you’d end up with a job on EastEnders proper. It was a noble experiment, best remembered for giving the world Fatboy; who at the time was a zany, shrill N-Dubz leftover created solely to give me a series of debilitating cluster migraines.

Literally any late-night Hollyoaks special (1999-2010)

Back before it became a widely-ignored also-ran only watched by people who couldn’t turn over from The Simpsons quickly enough, Hollyoaks made a sustained bid to conquer the world. Stymied by the constraints of its teatime broadcast slot, the show spent a decade spinning off into a series of late-night specials that existed solely to unnecessarily push a succession of apparently arbitrary boundaries. If you like watching rape – better yet, rape that only appeared to happen because Hollyoaks producers wanted to look slightly edgy – then the Hollyoaks spin-offs were for you. But you don’t, so it wasn’t.

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