I love soap opera. I have no shame about it and nor should I. But there’s a familiar formula to most television writing about soap: make a few cheap gags about bad scripts and worse acting, marvel that any intelligent human being could find it entertaining, and pompously declare it rubbish.

Rarely will you read any sort of analysis, insight or argument. You won’t get an understanding of what makes soap operas tick, and you sure as hell won’t be any closer to knowing why so many people – from suburban housewives to the Postgraduate Student Common Room at Oxford University – invest in soap’s rich emotional offerings. Much easier to write them all off as morons and leave it at that.

To understand soap just a little, it is important to know that the love people have for it is never fleeting – it is a lifelong commitment that can only grow and deepen over time. You don’t learn to love soap after a couple of hurriedly-watched preview tapes. You spend weeks, years even, just spending time together, laughing at private jokes, coming up with little pet names for each other that will make your friends want to kill you. Of course, like any love worth having, the love of soap can bring anguish and torment, but also moments of exquisite joy and genuine surprise.

I first started seeing Home and Away (weeknights 7pm on 7) in my teens. Infatuation followed, and for a couple of passionate years I couldn’t get enough of her. For half an hour each night I was transfixed – her rocky romances, her awkward pubescent moments, her Alf, her Pippa, and her Sally. Then we grew apart – I was busy at school and uni, and she just seemed so immature. All the awkward pubescence gave me the sh-ts and, well, so did Sally.

But a while ago we met up again. I didn’t expect much, just catching up with an old flame. But we really hit it off. She’s grown up a lot since we were first together – her scripts are a lot sharper, each scene ends on a little question in a way that kicks the narrative forward, and her cliffhangers… her cliffhangers just drive me wild. And she’s looking amazing. High definition, lots of beachy shots, plenty of hotties in their togs – she’s a real stunner these days.

So I bought her a drink, one thing led to another, and we’re pretty much together again. Not together together, but certainly seeing each other more than once or twice a week.

It’s not exclusive though. About 1.3 million people (on a good night) feel the same way, and I can’t say I blame them. The big A Strand at the moment is a terrific yarn that puts hunky Ric (Mark Furze) between his ingenue girlfriend Matilda (Indiana Evans), and sexy older lady Viv (Simone McCaullay). On Tuesday, Matilda dumped Ric only minutes after they’d been named “Best Couple” at the school formal. Ric, of course, went straight to Viv’s waiting arms, but Viv’s husband Nevil is lurking in the background – he knows Viv and Ric are getting their frisson on, and he’s not happy. We also know from Viv’s wonderful use of soap euphemism that Nevil is some sort of organised crime kingpin: “he’s connected”, he has “business associates”, and worst of all, “he has a very bad temper”.

Great stuff. If you don’t like soap, though, then Home and Away has nothing for you. But if there beats in your heart just the slightest yearning for some high emotion, a bit of romance, or a good meaty death, then forget your shame. The love for soap, these days, dares speak its name.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey