For those not in the know, Hollyoaks is an early evening soap opera. The broadcasters, Channel 4, appear to be under the impression that its core audience is students aged 16-21. In reality, I suspect its core audience is disgruntled people in their early middle age who turned on a bit too early for the news one day and then got stuck there, trying to spot the difference between the shiny, pretty, plastic people and wondering how on earth Hollyoaks College manages to provide both a GCSE in hairdressing, and postgraduate media studies. As one of those 40-somethings who inadvertently (honest guv) started watching it at some point in my 30s, I can vouch for the fact that you end up sitting there thinking ‘well university wasn’t like that in my day, you know’.
What viewers very, very quickly realise is that Hollyoaks bears absolutely no resemblance to any kind of reality with which normal(ish) people might be familiar. It is situated in a shiny, glossy universe which perhaps overlays our own, existing simultaneously in a space–time continuum that is both parallel and utterly unreachable. But do not be fooled by the glossiness, for it comes at a high price indeed.
I sometimes stop watching Hollyoaks for months at a time and during one of my recent hiatuses a serial killer, Silas, emerged, and went around strangling young brunettes. Apparently he managed to strangle his own daughter, mistaking her for someone else, and it comforts me to know that sometimes even the characters have problems identifying each other. By my reckoning he is at least the second serial killer in the show’s history, the other one being that bloke who coshed people over the head. (A word of warning, not only do I sometimes have problems identifying the cast, I often cannot remember the names of those I can identify. So I will use handy nicknames with some frequency). Cosher almost managed to kill Stephanie, a bubbly blonde who was left with epilepsy for the rest of her life. That wasn’t all that long, as she died of cancer a few years later. In the meantime she married Max, who was killed by a speeding driver on their wedding day. Max did manage to rescue his brother Tom, a boy who should never really call anyone ‘mother’ as they all seem to die as soon as he does. The death toll in Hollyoaks seems to be akin to that of 14th century England during a particularly nasty outbreak of Black Death.
Recently I have started watching again and, joy of joys, Silas is back. Well sort of. He is directing operations from jail, like some kind of poundshop Hannibal Lecter. One of his victims, who conveniently survived, was Mercedes. I can identify Mercedes fairly easily as she often wears leopard skin and on occasion reminds me of Kenny Everett singing ‘Do you think I’m sexy’ whilst dressed as Rod Stewart and having his derriere bicycle-pumped to astonishing proportions, such is the impossibility of her hip to waist ratio. Mercedes was briefly married to Silas’s grandson (I think, details are hazy), a footballer I’ll call Dumbbell for now. However she slept with Dumbbell’s father, a plot device which never fails to fascinate soap opera script writers. Thus ended her marriage. Dumbbell, apparently as obsessive as his grandfather, then had a series of brunette girlfriends. One of these was Mitzeee, his cousin (Oh OK, SECOND cousin) and another was Lindsay Nolan. I can remember Lindsay because A. She had an Oirish accent and B. she’s dead.
Mercedes, somewhat unhinged by being locked up by a serial killer/ sleeping with her husband’s father/ generally being a McQueen, started to stalk Mitzeee. She attacked Mitzeee and then stabbed herself, blaming Mitzeee. The police believed her rather half-baked, or indeed entirely unbaked story. The police in Hollyoaks distress me. Lindsay found out about Mercedes stalking activities. Lindsay was found dead. We do not yet know if these two things are connected but the dodgy doctor who discharged Mercedes in time for her to be the moidererer is now blackmailing her. (The scriptwriters are spectacularly misogynist.)
So, the suspects for Lindsay’s murder would seem to be:
Brendan: AKA The Moustache and variants thereof. Brendan is the local Mobster de Jour and is gloriously psychopathic. Hollyoaks scriptwriters may be as androgynist as they are misogynist, now I think of it. You would have to hate mankind to give one of them a moustache like that. Anyway, Brendan didn’t do it, unless he’s got an alternative supernatural personality like Ric in Vampire Diaries, which, now I think of it, is possible. He is a police suspect but generally in Hollyoaks the police point the finger of blame at whoever is least likely to have done it, up to and including Percy the Pig. And anyway Brendan thinks of Lindsay as a sister (though in Hollyoaks, that could mean anything).
Poundshop Willem Dafoe: AKA that friend of Brendan’s whose name I can’t remember, looks a bit like Willem Dafoe, if you squint. And are drunk. Utter psycho, could be him.
Mercedes: High on the list of suspects, almost certainly her. So almost certainly that it probably isn’t, as I suspect she’s the one Hollyoaks producers want us to think did it, so we are surprised when we find out that Dafoe-alike dunnit.
Ali: or that one from Neighbours. Yes, in ‘What fresh hell is this?’ news, not only are the casts of Eastenders, the Bill and Hollyoaks on a permanent* merry-go-round, now the Australian soap stars are coming over here just to confuse us utterly, so that when we wake up mid snooze whilst watching soaps, we can no longer even tell which country the soap is set in. Anyway, Ali appears to think he’s actually Gladstone in disguise and goes around visiting strip clubs to rescue fallen women. Possibly. Or something. Really, the maze of subplots in Hollyoaks is beyond control or human understanding.
* Ok, in the case of The Bill, not really permanent at all.
The plot continues, or unravels, or meanders. As the week goes on, Mercedes gets her claws into Dumbbell. Normally he pretty much hates her but he feels sorry for her because his cousin stabbed her so moves her into his flat, well Mitzeee’s flat, as you do. Much to Mercedes annoyance the Moustache and his sister, the magnificent Sheryl, have also moved in with Dumbbell. At this stage it is important not to ask how you fit so many people into what would appear to the untrained eye to be a two-bedroom flat. Mercedes is looking daggers at them, which is a step up from her normal behaviour of stalk n’ stab. If they die too, it will at least narrow down the number of suspects.
In the meantime we learn not to leave the Gay American to break bad news. He tends to say things like ‘it’s Lindsey, she’s dead’. I suppose what it lacks in subtlety or empathy it makes up for in accuracy. The plot, or at least something, thickens as it becomes apparent that it was really Sheryl the murderer was after. Not sure how this was worked out, something to do with the Moustache’s criminal underworld connections and a pink filofax.
Throughout this Mercedes is acting (if acting is the right word) as if she’s got the words ‘I strangled Lindsay’ written in indelible marker pen across her forehead. Every time she follows anyone anywhere, which is quite often, I feel like we’re getting to that point in a horror movie where the screachy music starts and you sit there thinking ‘no don’t, don’t walk down there. Don’t do that’. ‘Lindsay were me best friend’, she tells Dumbbell, a statement which can be roughly translated as ‘I strangled her because she slept with the father of my baybee’.
Texas, apparently the sister of India, one of the murder victims, has to visit Silas in prison in order to prevent another murder. I stop trying to keep up and instead contemplate place names. You’d think the scriptwriters ran out of ideas and decided to press ‘I feel lucky’ on google maps when finding new character names.
Silas tells Texas there will be a murder at 2pm, which there isn’t (though in fairness I don’t think he specified a day or date and with a broad prediction like that, I expect he’ll be right at some point). Silas has been killing time (as well as all those girls) and believes he can astral plane. He may have been joking at that point but to be honest I was losing the will to live and couldn’t tell. This is quickly becoming the world’s most boring faux-comic mass murderer plotline. Turns out, whether he can astral plane or not, Silas can just bore people to death by being unfascinatingly unhinged. Also, Silas thought Texas and the Gay American would make a cute couple and I lose confidence in the ability of manipulative criminal masterminds if their gaydar turns out to be that inadequate.
Anyway, to add to the joy, we have another suspect in Dodgy’s brother, can’t remember his name, have always thought of him as Dopey the Dwarf, or, possibly, Dopey’s younger brother. Though currently he is looking Dodgy, rather than Dopey, so I’m getting even more confused. Dodgy, in the meantime, continues to look like an unfortunate cross between a ridiculously good looking man and a gerbil. To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to care. It’s not easy to empathise during a serial killer storyline. And I suspect Dopey is a red herring anyway. Saying that, there was a nice Lassie Come Home moment as Dodgy realised he was going to have to chose between his brother and his girlfriend.
Turns out Dopey really is Dopey and has been visiting Silas. Silas is playing tricks. Nope, still bored. The police charge Dopey with murdering Lindsay, so it can’t be him. The magnificent Sheryl says they must have had DNA evidence. For the best friend of a murder victim, this shows an amazing optimism.
The police in Hollyoaks really need to be shipped out to Las Vegas and swapped over with the CSI team. This would liven up both shows no end, as a small village near Chester would finally get to find out what glossy overly made up over-egged scientific evidence actually is, whilst the folks of Las Vegas could be randomly locked up for anything, regardless of evidence. I’m not sure which would work better as a method of law enforcement, but it would make fun viewing. Well, more fun than what’s going on in Hollyoaks right now.
I wake up slightly as it seems the actor who plays Dopey is not a bad actor. It is unfortunate then that his Nancy Drew sidekick, a blonde I have failed to register previously, is marginally more wooden than my desk. Still, apparently she is determined to prove his innocence. In a normal world this wouldn’t be difficult. In Hollyoaks I suspect it’s impossible.
At the end of each episode there is the inevitable Channel Four helpline announcement. Yes, it’s true. If you live in a village in which people have a tendency to stab themselves before murdering people, there is a helpline just for you.
In the end it seems to me that the problem with Hollyoaks is the shear incredibility of the plots and the lack of any subtlety whatsoever. Nothing that Silas does, for all the lisping overacting, nods to Lecter, and perpetual reminders that he strangles young women, comes close to making him as creepy as Troy in Neighbours. Every time I see Troy sawing wood, I’m reminded of Tom Waits singing ‘what’s he building in there?’ It looks like ordinary house renovations but you just know that he’s planning something massively more evil and unhinged than anything a Hollyoaks script writer could devise, self-mutilating murderesses who sleep with their partner’s fathers not withstanding.