Winner of Britain’s Best Soap, Emmerdale is firing on all cylinders with some incredible storylines this year. I’ve already given a run down of the lowlights and my Top moments #20 to #11, but here’s my Top 10 moments in Emmerdale in 2016. Here’s to an ever better 2017!
10. Andy’s exit
Everyone was shocked to hear that Kelvin Fletcher was leaving Emmerdale after twenty years of playing Andy Sugden and it still doesn’t feel quite right without him. With Chrissie on the warpath, Andy faced a bleak future of serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, made even worse when managed to break from his holding cell in court. Yikes. Sure, the whole escape fiasco was soapy and ridiculous but Andy’s emotional goodbyes with Bernice and brother Robert let Andy go out on a dramatic high. His final few episodes saw the Sugden brothers at their best – immature swipes at each other and a rocky history but ultimately full of love. Here’s hoping Andy doesn’t have to stay on the run forever!
9. Remembering Edna Birch
Emmerdale legend Shirley Stelfox sadly passed away this year and Emmerdale honoured the iconic Edna Birch with a moving and fitting tribute. Ashley and Laurel returned with the upsetting news that Edna had passed, leading to a touching exploration of faith and friendship as Sandy in particular suffered with the news. The villagers gathered for her funeral and tried to find closure in their sad goodbye. There were some especially lovely scenes with Sandy and Ashley as they came to terms with her passing and left her infamous hat to float downstream on the river. Shirley and Edna will be sorely missed.
8. Lawrence’s tragic past
We’d known since Lawrence’s arrival at the end of 2014 that he’d been imprisoned for homosexuality but it wasn’t until this year that the tragedy of his past had properly been explored. After marrying Bernice he seemed fairly content, even if he was unable and uninterested in being intimate with her, but that all changed when Chrissie’s paternity came into question and Ronnie Hale came on the scene. The scenes in which we learnt of Lawrence and Ronnie’s romantic past and Lawrence’s agonising prison torture were brilliant, giving us the insight into Lawrence background that had only been teased before. Hearing Lawrence talk about his love for Harold and the electric shock therapy he had suffered was a particularly poignant moment in this interesting story and one which reminded the audience of others who endured a similar background and was new ground for soap.
7. Bernice’s doomed love life
This year saw Bernice cement herself as one of my favourite characters in the village with her glorious displays of laugh-out-loud comedy and tear jerking heartbreak. Having resigned herself to a sexless marriage last year, she battled with the reality of this when Lawrence wouldn’t admit to his past when former lover Ronnie returned to his life. The breakdown of her marriage and the pain of loneliness saw Bernice drunk drive a bulldozer into the Mill and later collapse in tears. Bernice had a horrible time of it and found comfort again in the arms of the man she pined for, Andy Sugden. It was an unlikely pairing but one with chemistry that had been bubbling for some time and besides, who doesn’t want to see Bernice happy? But with Andy on the run it couldn’t happen and Bernice was forced to let him go and team up with Robert to help bring down the Whites, giving us some hysterically memorable scenes of Bernice armed with clippers: “I WILL MAKE YOU BALD!!”
6. Emma Barton
Love her or loathe her, Emma Barton has had one hell of a year on Emmerdale and we’ve finally seen her fulfil the potential that’s been brewing since day one. Earlier in the year, when Emma lied about having a life-threatening illness (but then quickly confessed) I had high hopes for what the year would bring, as long as they didn’t make her too cartoony. I’ve been thrilled with how things progressed and while there were real moments of OTT crazy in Super Soap Week (chicken blood on the wedding dress for one) all of Emma’s extreme behaviour comes from a very real place. Gillian Kearney stole the show in Super Soap Week as she made Emma’s psyche (all she wanted was for James to love her, jeez!) gripping viewing. Sure, viewers are frustrated and want the truth to come out, but seeing the cracks appear and the horrifying lengths she’ll go to in covering up the truth are just cementing Emma as a real favourite of mine.
5. Aaron and Robert becoming a proper couple
For beloved couple Aaron and Robert, 2015 was all about sex, violence, murder attempts, more sex and misery, but by the end of the year the love between them was thin on the ground. This year, however, saw a huge turnaround for the characters and their relationship as Robert offered Aaron unwavering and unconditional support throughout his childhood abuse revelations and the trial. Aaron drew great strength and comfort from Robert’s presence and reassurance, and needed him in ways he couldn’t lean on his family. In Robert too, we saw a refreshing new side as Emmerdale toned down the panto and restrictive villainy (we don’t talk about the teeth incident) and let him become more human – showing a wealth of love and loyalty in Aaron’s plight. It’s a testament to Danny Miller and Ryan Hawley’s chemistry that they were able to rebuild Aaron and Robert’s rocky relationship into a love story rooted for by so many. As the year progressed and Robron reunited, it was a joy to see their mix of passion and affection grow into a family unit, becoming one of the show’s best couples and their romantic journey in Super Soap Week (leading to a proposal) was a massive highlight of the year. Bring on the wedding!
4. Holly’s Death
I’ll admit I was filled with dread when I heard of Holly’s return and those first few months – as she got involved with lightweight gangsters, made a move on Cain and got involved with petty revenge on Charity – did little to endear her to me. However, as Holly fractured the Coira powerhouse and turned back to drugs, the performances from Sophie Powles and Natalie J Robb shone as some of the best in the show. It was gritty, brutal and showed how destructive drugs can be to a family. Sod’s law had it that just as I had begun to warm to Holly and was fond of her surprising relationship with Jai (JAI – I liked Jai!!!), Emmerdale pulled out the rug from under us and Moira found Holly dead in her bed. We’d all been expecting an exit, but none of us saw that coming so soon! There was something eerie and different about the episode’s opening that left everyone curious, but kudos to Emmerdale for pulling off a true shock. Once again viewers were treated to stunning performances and the weight of Holly’s death made a huge impact, not just in the fictional world, but also to viewers who saw the reality of drug addiction at its worst, even when a person appears to be happy and coping. This was another moment which saw Emmerdale soaring in 2016.
3. Aaron’s childhood sexual abuse
Another incredibly powerful and emotive storyline of 2016 was the reveal that Aaron had been repeatedly raped as a child by his father, Gordon. Gordon’s arrival in December 2015 sent Aaron spiralling into self-harm, resulting in him collapsing from septicaemia and eventually confessing about his abuse to Robert. By then we’d already seen consistently impressive performances from Danny Miller, but this storyline surpassed all of those, as time and time again he delivered each heart-crushing moment with a rawness that sent shivers down spines. The storyline was grim, uncomfortable and sickening at times but the script and the actors never shied away from the horror of the story and offered outstanding performances from all the main actors involved. With justice being served in a satisfying way, and Aaron having hope for a happier future, it felt like an unnecessary twist to have Gordon commit suicide, but ultimately this storyline was tackled in a moving and truthful way and seemed a fitting backstory in light of Aaron’s adolescent struggles.
2. Ashley’s dementia
Ashley’s dementia was an obvious highlight towards the end of 2015, but this year has really seen its progression and the deterioration, particularly in recent months, has been an affecting and ground breaking storyline. At the heart of this storyline, John Middleton has played every moment of heartbreak with nuance and a real understanding of the tragedy involved in dementia. Getting a long-term illness right in soap is a difficult business, when the realistic speed of illness can jar with a pacey need for dramatic twists but Emmerdale has struck the balance just right. At every turn, we’ve seen the wider impact on Ashley’s family (on his children and their behaviour, on Laurel’s alcoholism and struggle to hold everything together – with all of these featuring stellar acting), his identity and faith – as well as sitting alongside the soapier elements such as Emma’s big secret. Ashley’s special episode was a superb decision by the producers, giving the audience a ground-breaking insight into life from the perspective of someone with dementia and highlighted all the strengths of this hugely important storyline.
1. Super Soap Week
Expectations were sky high for Emmerdale’s special week in October and as information and spoilers were drip-fed to us, excitement built. Surely it couldn’t be as good as we were hearing? Wrong! In breath-taking scenes, Emmerdale secured itself at the top of the soap game with a week that would be remembered as some of the best material in the soap genre. With each episode showing the same day from the perspective of different characters we had insight into characters in a way we’d never had before, allowing long scenes and meaty material showcasing the incredible talents of all the cast involved. For Emma Barton and Robert Sugden, these episodes offered real defining moments as the former reached her incredible and unnerving potential and the latter had his long awaited and important heart-to-heart about his bisexuality. The week had it all, like six blockbusters strung together – romance, comedy, horror, drama and action – and for the first time ever we got to see the Hotten Bypass! The episodes were shot with glossy film style cameras which gave the week a real movie feel and the epic stunts were jaw-dropping and awesome in the real sense of the word. The best thing about Super Soap Week is the way the stories interlinked and made everyone’s brains go into overdrive as we tried to piece the story together, meaning you had the urge to rewatch the episodes multiple times to pick up on all the details. It was truly unmissable and aside from the stunt (which was a huge spectacle in itself) the plot was driven by real character moments and a sense of jeopardy.