There are times in the life of a soap opera when everything falls into place: major plotlines are applauded, characters capture the nation’s heart and ratings go through the roof. It’s at this point that some berk way up the executive food chain decides that this is the moment to commission a spin-off.
Enter Kat and Alfie: Redwater, an extravagant miniseries about EastEnders’ Moon family that arrives in the face of all the evidence provided by televisual brain farts such as Dynasty’s poor cousin The Colbys and Hollyoaks Later (Hollyoaks minus its knickers) that this way disaster and humiliation lies. It’s not as if EastEnders hasn’t tried this before. Remember EastEnders: E20? No? Exactly.
Then again, this is Kat and Alfie, EastEnders’ one-time golden couple beloved for their bust-ups, their love-ins and for the thrice-weekly spectacle of Alfie in Kat’s red silk dressing gown, her lipstick still smeared across his face. These two have seen it all – financial ruin, affairs, health scares, miscarriages, prison, baby-snatching and a lottery win – so surely they can survive a jaunt across the sea.
Redwater is set in rural Ireland, which might seem an odd choice of location given the calamity that ensued last time EastEnders set foot there. In the away-day from hell, Pauline Fowler (RIP) went in search of a long-lost sister in a village that had donkeys wandering the streets and locals who were hostile and hammered, forcing the BBC to apologise to Irish people everywhere.
Anyway, Kat and Alfie (Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie) have come to a fishing village to look for Kat’s son, who was removed from her at birth. It’s quickly made clear that this is not your common-or-garden soap spin-off but a Serious Drama. We know this by the mournful title music and the muted palette in the opening scenes during which a woman and child drown in a boat accident. We also know it by Kat’s wardrobe. Where once she was a vision in leopard print miniskirts and Joan Jett hair, here she is reborn as a member of the Mediaeval Baebes, all wafty tresses and beads. Toto: we’re not in Walford any more.
Their plan is to get to know the community before dropping the bombshell that Kat birthed one of them. But her insistence on staring sadly at every man in his 30s and asking where he was born soon nixes that. Within five minutes of arriving she fixes on Andrew, grandson of Fionnula Flanagan’s hatchet-faced matriarch Agnes, telling Alfie: “It’s just his face and that black ’air.” Her surprise is understandable since Andrew’s dye job is about as natural as John Travolta’s. In the first episode, as our protagonists make awkward conversation with the locals, a tale of deception and tragedy starts to unfold involving Agnes, her wild-swimming husband Lance and the village priest, Dermott.
There is – improbable as it sounds – a degree of suspense here, not to say proper acting. The problem is that whenever Kat and Alfie appear – he the well-meaning idiot, she the wounded fishwife – the spell is broken. The BBC is trying to sell this as Broadchurch meets The Wicker Man, but the reality is more NCSI: Ballykissangel. I love Kat and Alfie, but the quicker they get back to Albert Square, the better. The Queen Vic is calling.
18 May, 8pm, BBC1