The Soapy Madams Teach Me About British and American Soaps (and Fashion)
I’m a child of the 80s, and there was a time when my brother and I were young that my mom was either not working or working part time – I can’t remember – and we’d watch soaps with her in the early afternoon. The one I remember most was General Hospital. I learned at 6 or 7 that these shows were super dramatic, over the top, and featured lots of double crossing and romance. I watched a few occasionally as I got older – in college sometimes you’re not doing anything at weird times of the day, so, soaps.
But today is the age of streaming and binge watching and catching up on old episodes of pretty much anything you can think of – and if you want to get started really watching something you can get super involved with, why not a soap?
Enter The Soapy Madams Podcast (Blazing Caribou Studios) – hosted by a Brit and an American, Laura Gregg and Donna Hume. These ladies watch hours (and hours and hours) of soaps each week and then discuss the important messages of the week, who had great fashion, who came back from the dead, and who was abducted by aliens. Was there a crossover between two shows? Who would they like to see make a guest appearance on a show? I love listening to their voices – Laura has a tremendous accent and Donna has one of the most infectious laughs in podcasting. I interviewed the ladies recently to get educated on what I’ve missed in the last twenty or so years and try to comprehend how they can watch so many shows in one week. Whether you know these soaps or not, I think you’ll enjoy this fun chat and I hope you’ll check out some of these soaps, and of course, the very fun podcast.
Audible Feast: How do you find the time to watch every show!? How much time does it take each week?
Donna Hume: I usually watch my shows while I’m playing video games, creating artwork, or doing household chores. I think I watch maybe 15 or 20 hours a week to get all the shows in, but I can’t always watch each one. If I don’t have time I skip EastEnders and rely on Laura to keep me caught up. I almost never watch any TV without some other activity going on, but soaps are good for multi-tasking. If I get behind on the shows it’s pretty easy to just scrub through them and get updated on the plots I care about.
Laura Gregg: I watch Coronation Street and Eastenders anyway which is 5 hours a week, I just have to be more conscious of not missing it, and remember to take notes! I tend to try and keep up with Emmerdale and General Hospital via reading about them, and watching if I have time (which isn’t that often with a full time job, a small business and a podcast!).
AF: How do you know each other and which soap character is most like your co-host?
DH: I found Laura in The Karen & Ellen Letters podcast discussion group. I was looking for a British co-host. It’s tough to choose a soap character for Laura. She’s smarter than most of them. She isn’t in the same age bracket but she’s definitely got the “tell it like it is” attitude of Audrey on Coronation Street.
LG: Donna is a mix of Ken Barlow intelligence with a bit of Linda Carter feistiness and humour.
AF: What’s different about British soaps vs. American soaps?
LG: British soaps are more about regular people, they’re much more realistic (using that term loosely). Whereas American soaps are about beautiful rich people and the plots are far more outlandish – aliens and ghosts anyone?
DH: American soaps are much more high fantasy. Everyone is wealthy. Everyone is coated in 12 layers of makeup and glitz, even if they’re in a coma. Bad guys have penthouse apartments and fleets of goons ready to do their bidding. British soaps are low fantasy, the people are ordinary, their jobs are ordinary. Most of the actors look like people you could see if you walk out to check the mail, not the rack of glamour-shots that star in American soaps. British actresses one these shows generally aren’t covered in Botox with faces full of collagen, either.
AF: Do you feel like soaps rehash storylines over and over, and become predictable? Or do the writers generally do a good job of keeping you guessing?
DH: Soap operas have a definite set of “tropes”, there are bad guys and good guys, and often not much gray area in between. Soap characters are not that complex and function much like characters in melodrama, with straightforward parts to play in the overall drama. A soap is a serial drama that lasts for years, sometimes decades, so the individual characters are more like pieces of a larger character, the soap itself. What soaps have that other types of drama don’t is the ability to take stories in unlikely directions, because the viewer’s suspension of disbelief is not an important part of their script writing. Are they predictable? Sometimes, sure, and it’s fun to guess where a story would go, but having said that, I’d also argue that in many cases a soap is less predictable than other types of drama. They have the freedom to take the story to a crazy place, if they want to. There are moments of extreme ridiculousness and unlikely revenge, punctuated by genuine moments of heartbreak and pathos. You never know!
LG: I do think they rehash storylines, but that’s real life too, whatever the scenario it’s happened to someone else before you. It can be predictable, yes, but we have fun making the predictions and seeing if we’re right. Sometimes the writers throw something completely left-field at you and it’s a complete shock, like when it was revealed that Pat Phelan (from Coronation Street) had held another character prisoner in a basement for like 8 months offscreen, they’d kept it top secret even from the press. We need more surprises, there are too many spoilers put out there all the time.
AF: Who is your favorite soap character?
LG: Currently it’s Pat Phelan in Coronation Street, I love to hate him, he’s a nasty piece of work but he still gets some good one liners. Long-term? Steve McDonald in Coronation Street – he’s genuinely the funniest soap character, and manages to be part of several double acts on the show.
DH: That’s a tough one, I don’t think I could choose an overall favorite, I have my favorites on each show. It’s not a single character but I’m totally in love with the Emmerdale petty crime family, the Dingles. They are endlessly fascinating to me, because I’m so used to American soap families. They have an old house with beat up old couches and crocheted afghans everywhere. They have pigs. They run all the small businesses in town and you don’t cross them or someone will come punch you in the face.
AF: What is your favorite soap that is no longer running?
LG: Brookside – it was a British soap set in Liverpool, they always had completely crazy storylines with cults/incest/bodies under the patio/sieges. It was created by Phil Redmond, who also created Hollyoaks, which is also full of mad storylines.
DH: One Life to Live. I really miss it. The adventures of the Buchanan family filled a lot of summer hours for me growing up.
AF: If you could have the wardrobe of any soap character on any show, whose would it be and why?
DH: I’d have to go for Sam Cain’s (played by the beautiful Kelly Monaco) wardrobe on General Hospital. She’s got so many great jackets, and I like to wear darker colors like her.
LG: It would have to be Julie Carp on Coronation Street, she loved vintage style and full skirts were a staple.
AF: Who do you think should be watching soaps who isn’t currently and why?
LG: Everyone should be watching soaps! Certainly British soaps have a lot of actors who are of such a high standard, really talented people, and you get to watch them for free! (TV license permitting) There’s something for everyone and there’s usually no problem with dipping in and out if the commitment is too much.
DH: Americans who enjoy British television of other types should try British soaps. Brits who loved Dynasty/Dallas should try American daytime soaps. The budget isn’t what it used to be but the drama is still there, and with more viewers, the budget can improve. Americans who used to love their soaps should come back. They are online all over the place and far more accessible than they used to be. Americans who never watched soaps but like cheesy prime time dramas on the CW, or even shows like Real Housewives should check out American soaps. I think that audience would really enjoy them. British soaps are shown in the evening so they haven’t struggled with audience loss the same way the American ones have, but now we have the internet so it’s all a lot easier to watch. General Hospital in particular is available on Hulu. Days of our Lives fans can look at that show right on NBC’s website. There’s even a couple of British soaps on Hulu, though they are two weeks behind. I recommend most British soaps should be watched in BritBox, which has access to a ton of other British shows. (they are not a sponsor, we just like them!)
So as you can see … there are a lot of reasons to watch soaps, and if you miss anything, Laura and Donna can get you up to date quickly with their roughly hour-long weekly show. You can stream, you can binge – this is what we do now, people! Why not a soap? Check out The Soapy Madams Podcast via their website or anywhere else you get podcasts!
Do you listen to The Soapy Madams Podcast? Do you watch soaps? Leave a comment and let me know!