Last night saw the return of Eastenders, the popular BBC 1 soap opera set in the East End of London and has been running for thirty-five years. That's until the coronavirus came along and the show had to take an extended filming – and broadcast break. Showing four episodes a week, it began to eke them out until had to stop broadcast altogether.
And so at 8.05pm on BBC 1, the show returned – and yes it was weird. Filmed weeks and weeks ago, the look of the Square was discordant with what Britain is experiencing now. The only face masks were being worn by extras in certain scenes. There seemed to be some distancing being observed by cast, but not a lot, people were walking in and out of businesses without masks, and the camerawork looked stilted.
Apparently a lot of this is down to reflecting the look at the time, when people weren't wearing masks as much as they are now. Distanced filming was used by a combination of tight camera angles creating the illusion of proximity, using perspex screens between actors, invisible to the camera, filming scenes with one actor, then using split-screen and green screen to film the scene with another actor and place them in shot – and most ingeniously, using actors' family members, already in their family bubble, wearing wigs, to play the back of headshots of other characters, to give the illusion of proximity without breaking social distancing rules.
But the combination of creating scenes that looked familiar to viewers in the foreground, with the vacant backgrounds of a socially distanced world – no hubbub of a pub, cafe, or market square made for a strange disconnect. Maybe they should have done it all on Zoom. Far more successful was the recent revival of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads which used the then-unused sets of Eastenders for some remote filming monologues.
However, any Eastenders was better than no Eastenders for its ardent fans, and the cathartic sound of those drum beats over the Millenium Dome in the titles triggered a cathartic wave across the country, with the Queen Victoria bust being restored to its rightful place by Ian Beale, much to Sharon's silent freak-out.
Eastenders Series 2, as the BBC jokingly referred to it, returns for its second episode tonight.