One of the most common complaints I see from soap fans is around storylines being ‘dragged out’.
It’s one I am usually disparaging about – this is a soap, a genre that should, above all others, take its time to tell its stories.
However, there is often a lot of justification for the comment, which is why it felt like a very big risk for EastEnders to tease us with a big reveal 10 months ahead of it actually happening.
With the fast paced nature of viewing, asking an audience to invest in almost a year of a saga when we already partially knew the end outcome was a big ask.
The writing and story team must have been anxious about the flash-forward murder plot, despite knowing full well they had a delicious titan of a story on their hands.
I would have been, but it quickly turned out that they had absolutely nothing to worry about.
Almost instantly, the viewers were united in sharing theories, hopes and excitement. It brought often warring factions of fandoms together, with everyone investigating every little intricate clue weaved into the writing.
With a fanbase so passionate and switched on, EastEnders needed to be really clever to keep the momentum going.
The Six storyline has been an intelligent and beautifully crafted soap arc from start to finish.
Well, I say finish, but more accurately I should say ‘somewhere around the middle.’
Not only has the feverish thrill felt by us all carried us through ten months of eventful and packed episodes, increasing ratings year-on-year and adding awards to the cabinets, the most impeccable Christmas Day episode has laid the groundwork and planted the bombs for a stunner of a 2024.
The BBC soap, which found its Christmas edition up by 400k overnight viewers against 2022, the highest figure in four years, has used the time to its advantage.
Not only did they have to simmer and juggle massive storylines for the six women involved, and the seven potential male victims, but, as an ensemble drama, it has also packed in some unreal arcs for the rest of Walford too.
Can you have imagined just a couple of years ago that we would have Sharon, Linda, Denise, Suki, Kathy and Stacey covering up a murder while THE Cindy Beale was across the road making eyes at Colin Salmon?
The build-up has been immense so, after the initial worry of ‘will this story capture a nation or be hit with the dragged out complaint’ was put to bed, the next was whether the outcome would meet expectations.
With arguably one of the campest soap episodes in history, and that is said as an absolute compliment, the final twists delivered us an unexpected ending which proved the pay-off was every bit as exceptional as the story itself.
In the Boxing Day episode that followed (available on iPlayer from 6am for those who were willing to brave their hangover for the next chapter) allowed six of TV’s best actresses to throw everything they have at a sublime script.
It was a masterful powerhouse and everything that the overall storyline and the separate strands have been promising all year.
And it’s just the beginning. The story will push these Albert Square icons to the forefront for a long time to come, giving us just as much to be guessing around and thrilled by as the body of Keanu festers away like the secrets of The Six.
Christmas Day on EastEnders is always a calendar event, even for the ‘I haven’t watched since Bradley fell off the roof’ brigade. (I call lies on that by the way…)
Casual viewers sitting down with hardcore fans all at once on Christmas night created one heck of an atmosphere in my household and I know many across the country got to experience the same.
From those who hushed anyone for daring to breathe through to those who continue to keep their eyes on the screen after asking ‘who the hell watches soaps?’, everyone sat still and enraptured especially during those last ten minutes.
A wedding with Phil Mitchell crashing through the doors, outing the soon to be slapped groom as a kidnapper before discovering that he has a secret kid is generally enough fodder for an EastEnders Christmas episode.
But this was only half way through, an appetiser for the drama to come.
Since taking the helm of the show, producer Chris Clenshaw, backed by a team the humble boss endlessly heaps praise on, there has been a revitalised energy around the show which had previously started to fall off the radars of many.
I have spoken to Chris on many occasions and he simply exudes passion for EastEnders and the soap genre as a whole.
And, similarly, cast members and writers have made it very clear how different the place they work at feels in terms of buzz for what they are creating together.
It comes over on screen and Christmas Day being an absolute triumph feels like the well deserved prize for them all.
It’s a story that was undoubtedly in his and his team’s minds the minute he got the keys to the set, and whose hands would be better placed on the 40th anniversary than Chris and his crew’s?
Right now, they are months and months down the year planning more treats and you can guarantee that, like this slow burning masterpiece that has gone by, we will be on the edge of our seats like EastEnders of old.
Knocked for Six by one of the best festive episodes the show has ever had, I know I am not alone in being more excited for EastEnders’ future than I have been in a very long time.
And the resurgence for fans is the best Christmas present of all.