For the first time in months – maybe even years – it's an exciting period to be a Hollyoaks fan.
When the show last took top honours at the annual ceremony, it had been on an impressive run of form with storylines exploring topics like far-right radicalisation and sexual abuse in football. Sadly, like most successful periods in soaps, it couldn't last forever.
It's well-documented that Hollyoaks took a severe knock from the original COVID lockdown in 2020 and subsequent filming restrictions, which Channel 4 publicly cited as a reason for falling ratings in its 2021 Annual Report.
Once filming on soaps started to get back to normal, Hollyoaks did little to help itself bounce back. Well-known characters who'd left the cast weren't adequately replaced, there was a disappointing reluctance to bring back familiar faces and fans bemoaned an absence of gripping soap storylines.
Sure, there were occasional highlights like Eric Foster's incel plot and Maxine Minniver's special Long Walk Home episode, but a soap that was once known for being brave and bold had largely become stale and boring.
When Hollyoaks' new executive producers Hannah Cheers and Angelo Abela took over late last summer, a huge effort began to turn around the show's fortunes quickly.
Cast have spoken openly about storylines and scripts being changed at the last minute as part of the show's transformation. This led to the new bosses being credited on screen after less than three months, rather than the six-month turnaround it usually takes for a new era to begin showing on screen.
This week's hour-long stunt episode was promoted as a natural jumping-on moment for new and returning viewers as everything came together for a fresh start. The special edition focused on a road disaster involving multiple vehicles, returning faces and well-loved characters from the existing cast.
Hollyoaks stunts always showcase high production values and this was no exception, creating an exciting and tense episode as lives were left hanging in the balance. There were strong performances, smart music choices and it's fair to say that Joel Dexter's collision with a truck was a jump-scare moment that we won't forget in a hurry.
For us, though, the high points weren't just the moments involving catastrophe and carnage, but those that created intriguing possibilities for the future.
Some Hollyoaks stunts over the past couple of years had lacked any real point or aftermath beyond the big episodes themselves, appearing shoehorned-in to meet the standard requirement of a "big week" in January and October.
In contrast, this week's episode saw the show's storytelling back to its best, with the stunt cleverly setting up the next year's worth of plots.
Fan favourite Ste Hay accidentally killing Warren Fox's daughter Ella Richardson feels like a dynamite soap saga that's sure to have plenty of twists and turns in the coming months. After a couple of years playing a more comic role in the soap, it's exciting to see long-serving cast member Kieron Richardson get a chance to show what he's made of again.
The welcome return of Cleo McQueen sets up another big plot, as she's about to be in a major love triangle with Joel Dexter and Leela Lomax. All three characters provide a likeable and warm presence in the show, so fans are likely to be torn over which way they want this one to go.
Hollyoaks' post-credits trailer at the end of the episode showcased plenty more to be excited about – from EastEnders star Rita Simons making her long-awaited debut, to more Sienna and Dilly shenanigans and Jeremy Sheffield making a shocking return as a creepy vision of dead character Patrick Blake.
It may be too early to call this the start of Hollyoaks' renaissance era – after all, last year's talk of an EastEnders resurgence only came after a period of sustained high quality over weeks and months rather than just one episode. Even so, the Channel 4 soap's new bosses have certainly succeeded in creating audience excitement and getting the show talked-about for the right reasons again.
In an era where soaps need to work harder than ever to earn their place in the schedules and sustain viewers' interest, let's hope the new team can keep it up.
Hollyoaks streams first online via Channel 4 each weekday at 7.30pm. Episodes then air on E4 the following day, before getting their YouTube premiere a week after that.
Selected omnibus episodes are available via Prime Video.
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