Soapier

If there’s one thing that thrills the Canadian media elite more than “getting a nod” from the Times, it’s getting one from Eustace Tilley.

SOAPnet [who dat? – Ed.] is showing a CBC series called “MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives” [spurious quotation marks sic], which aired earlier this year up north. The opening credits combine funny and sexy better than any show I’ve ever seen: synched to the propulsive beat of Sloan’s 2006 hit “Who Taught You to Live Like That[?]” is a quick succession of really close-up shots of gorgeous men getting dressed to play hockey and of gorgeous women getting dressed to go out and get those men who play hockey. The thirty-five-second sequence [numbers rendered as words sic] is as gloriously over-the-top as can be, and [continues for some time – Ed.]

Billboards for ‘MVP’ cover two sides of a Times Square building, with tall billboard attached square on the corner showing a shirtless guy with a hockey stick

Doyle blogged it (really, his column is no more than a linkless blog). Then, as sure as dessert follows entrée, Fatboy had to weigh in:

[A]s I’ve stated before, my only problem with MVP was execution. I just think it didn’t go far enough with the Soapy stuff [capitalization sic]. I stand by that opinion. And anybody who says different can go fight a goddamn bear.

I’m sorry, but animals are my friends, and I don’t “go fight” my friends.

Anyway, am I the only one who remembers Riverdale? It was a twice-a-week half-hour soap opera created by the same people who brought us DeGrassi. This explains why, like DeGrassi, Riverdale was set in a vague simulacrum-cum-amalgam of my neighbourhood at the time, Riverdale, and DeGrassi’s neighbourhood then and my neighbourhood now, Leslieville. Hint: Those are both in Toronto.

Epitome Pictures built from scratch (at enormous expense) a faux–Gerrard Square shopping mall – its own Teletubbyland – way the hell up in Leaside, populated with real-world product placements like the Suction Cup.

Wasn’t the setting a punchline in itself? A CBC Toronto soap opera set in a Toronto neighbourhood? How’s that gonna play in the Peoria of Canada – Calgary? The late ’90s were the last gasp of the era in which CBC apparatchiks mentally wrote “Toronto, Ontario, Canada” with equal signs. (Ever wondered why the Broadcasting Centre was built to be big enough to house the entire CBC operation?)

CBC shitcanned Riverdale after three years. That’s a pretty good run for a Canadian show. It would be a miracle now under the régime of Kirstine “Trigger-Happy” Layfield. But it’s a blink of an eye in soap-opera terms. You don’t even start to notice a soap opera till it’s been on the air ten straight years. A soap opera needs its own fan magazines and its own acronym, like DOOL.

Actual CBC quiz: “Which CBC soap opera that ran from 1997 to 2000 was modelled after British soaps such as Coronation Street and EastEnders?” I’m not sure the genre of kitchen-sink drama really works here, perhaps due to the homogeneity of the Canadian accent. Everything sounds so much more dramatic in the diverse squawkings of the British lower orders, half of which sound like a bandsaw hacking galvanized tin.

(The 25-year-old chicks who caption Coronation Street on CBC can’t make head nor tail of the accents. Maybe they could fix that specific problem if, in this instance, they hired someone with life experience, or a man, or a British national.)

In retrospect, what killed Riverdale was not enough class warfare. Yeah, the young cop with young wifey and young baby was just barely making ends meet, and Jayne Eastwood was in there guffawing like Sybil Fawlty, as is her schtick (sic). But the whole arc of the show took place in the tiny continuum between having just barely enough to live on and a few prospects for the future and having more than enough to live on and lots of prospects. In the show’s cosmology, nobody was permanently stymied by an unchangeable accent, or going to the wrong school, or having chosen their parents unwisely.

Reminiscences

I can just barely recall watching soap operas when I was a kid. Another World especially. All I can remember is the line everyone said when they knocked on somebody’s door and the resident acted all surprised: “Oh, I’m sorry – I didn’t realize you were entertaining.” What the hell did that mean? (Another line: “Do you like cashmere?”)

There was an undertone of feyness, decadence. You could translate that to various other forms today – maybe a queer couple with an open marriage or something. But it was all about giving shut-ins, the unemployed, and stay-at-home moms a set of rich people to hate.

I think you could come up with a really solid soap opera set in today’s Vancouver: Junkies and harm reduction and see-throughs and the Olympics and sullen J-teens who don’t even acknowledge your existence. (And a mayor in a chair who gets deposed by his Orwellian political party, like an episode of Star Trek.) But nice middle-class Riverdale? Nice lower-middle-class Leslieville? No. The difference between taupe and beige is not enough to build a series on.

Hence: A “soap opera” about millionaire professional hockey players having the time of their lives? Without even the tiniest hint of gay? All the shower scenes in the world aren’t gonna make that “soapy” enough.

1 comment

  1. Anonymous
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 3:32 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Really insightful point about class warfare. It goes unspoken so often and yet it makes for such riveting drama. And the British Show Footballers Wives had a great sub-plot about an affair between two bi star players.

    I think a soap opera about Anarchist punks in Montreal would be great drama of interest across the country. You could just see the audience in Calgary loving the episode when the Surete du Quebec beat the living daylights out of the anarcho-punks.


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