For the second consecutive summer, EastEnders fans have been able to binge watch an entire week of episodes at their leisure thanks to the soap being released as weekly boxsets on BBC iPlayer.
The soap boxset has now become so familiar that we’re starting to wonder whether the genre is destined to be permanently streamable.
Could we soon be seeing the BBC soap made available like this all the time — and if so, is this a good idea?
We live in an age where television is readily available at a time that best suits us. Not only does Netflix release hit shows like Stranger Things by the series rather than one episode at a time; but there’s also been a steady increase in the amount of prime time dramas that the BBC and ITV release as a boxset after the initial season premiere.
Until last year though, serial drama hadn’t made it that far. EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale were still 'appointment-to-view' shows. You had to set your watch to if you were keen to find out what the Mitchells were up to, or who was cheating on who.
Then the Euros of 2021 kicked off, disrupting the usual soap transmission times. Therefore those Monday morning boxsets were a gesture to all those who preferred keeping up with the Dingles than the England team.
Only EastEnders brought back the summer boxsets this year, coinciding with the BBC’s coverage of tennis and the Commonwealth Games. And, given that all three soaps altered their schedules earlier this year, some viewers may actually favour the ability to choose when they watch so they can avoid the confusion.
Read more: Next week on EastEnders
We all lead such different lives with varying degrees of flexibility; so the boxset format makes sense. You can tune in at the beginning or end of the day as you please — everyone wins.
But for those big, dramatic soap weeks, there’s one crucial flaw. Those opting to watch later — or simply at the usual broadcast times — risk plot twists being spoiled before they have a chance to catch up.
If you’re a regular user of social media, it’s virtually impossible to get away from discussions over Phil (Steve McFadden) and Sam Mitchell’s (Kim Medcalf) revenge scheme. If you’re not online, you miss out on the opportunity to stream altogether — despite the fact that not so long ago, just having a television and access to the daily listings was more than enough for everyone.
Of course, if you don’t use streaming services or the internet — yes, there are still plenty of people who don’t — you won’t know any different and, happily, may barely be affected by these changes. But boxsets can still prevent us from talking about our favourite show in the same way we used to, because everyone is watching at a different pace.
EastEnders’ most famous moments, including ‘Sharongate’ which saw Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp) discover brother Phil’s affair with his wife Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), were no doubt central to the 'watercooler' conversation among audiences the day after transmission.
Today, that unity is in danger of dying out if we can simply binge-watch at our own leisure. Yet this is the era where, if we can binge something on television, we struggle to resist doing so. Temptation trumps anticipation, and the latter is surely the reason producers and storyliners plan such eventful episodes in the first place.
This is particularly true of soaps — and it's not just action-based drama that can be overshadowed by this new tradition. Would this week's Corrie triumph, which blended together Audrey Roberts' (Sue Nicholls) sad confession with Rita Tanner's (Barbara Knox) tipsy antics, have been quite so effective if we weren't viewing it as an isolated episode?
There’s an argument for and against making weekly boxsets the norm; but it seems the issue is always going to divide fans.
As for the future of soaps, it looks like we’ll simply have to watch this space.
Watch EastEnders characters discussing England's victory in the Women's Euros