Tuesday, February 21, 2012


(This post is part of a series on the 14 Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen)

Coming in at Number 5 in our countdown of The Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen, is EastEnders. The storyline is set in Albert Square, in the fictional London borough of Walford, in the East End of London. While tourists see the West End of London, with its shops and theater district, the East End is where the hardworking middle class Londoners struggle with day-to-day life.

EastEnders is one of the U.K.’s top rated shows and is seen worldwide, including in  Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, and America. In the U.S., EastEnders has been broadcast on BBC America, Dish Network, and many local PBS stations (the latter often years behind current episodes). The show has had several spin-offs. EastEnders specializes in "slice of life" drama, often gritty, but always striving for realism.  It has dealt head on with controversial issues like teenage pregnancy, abortion, incest, alcoholism, drug abuse, euthanasia, prostitution, mental illness, illiteracy, spousal abuse, AIDs, homosexuality, rape, child abuse, Down’s Syndrome, and religion.

I’ve been watching EastEnders since its debut in 1985. Ironically, I missed the first episode but have seen every one since. Originally airing two, now four half-hour episodes a week, that adds up to a lot of shows. It would be impossible for any show to maintain the level of high quality drama seen in the miniseries or shorter runs on this list. With nearly 4,500 episodes to date, you can expect many peaks and valleys throughout the show’s run. When EastEnders slips, it is mediocre. But when it shifts into high gear with a dramatic storyline, no one does drama better.

EastEnders has an enormous ensemble cast, with members often leaving and returning years later. Multiple plotlines run simultaneously and often intersect. The most dramatic episodes are usually the so-called “two-handers” where an entire episode is devoted to interplay between two characters. For its 25th anniversary in February 2010, EastEnders broadcast a live episode in which a murderer’s identity was revealed. Even the cast was kept in the dark about the culprit’s identity until the final minutes of the broadcast.

I have mixed feelings about including EastEnders on the list, since technically even though it’s an evening show, it’s considered a soap opera. But where nighttime soaps like Dallas are melodrama with larger than life characters and situations, EastEnders has always revolved around the prosaic lives of ordinary, working class people.

Oh, yes. I finally got a chance to watch the first episode earlier this year… a quarter century after it first aired. Only two characters remain from the show’s inception: Ian Beale and Tracey the barmaid. Ian has been a major character, but Tracey has had all of five minutes worth of dialogue in her 26-year stint on the show. She broke her long silence in 2008: when asked by another character why she has been so quiet, she replied, she wants to keep herself to herself because she thinks they're all "stark raving mad."

It’s impossible to select a single clip from 2,250 hours of programming to represent the series, so the YouTube link below has an autoclip function that will automatically display 107 clips viewers have chosen as the show’s most dramatic scenes. Each clip has a brief summary below it to put it in context.

YouTube clip   autoclip to 107 top clips (summary in paragraph below each clip)

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