Usually I don't do a big soap blog unless it's something really big and the whole debacle surrounding EastEnders SIDS/baby swap storyline with Kat and Ronnie and the now announced departure from actress Samantha Womack means that even I can't help but not get involved in the debate. Or at least voice an opinion.
In the space of a week, the storyline has sparked over 8000 complaints to OfCom (coupled with over 10 million watching the episodes) and various organisations from FSID groups have also voiced opinions of concern and disappointment. It's also been heavily speculated that Samantha Womack herself has dropped out of the series because of the storyline and the woman has also gotten abuse on the street from viewers alike, which in my opinion is wrong, regardless of how you feel about the storyline. So, what's the hubbub about?
EastEnders has done cot death related storylines in the past but I think what's left a nasty taste in people's mouths was coupling a cot death plot with a baby swap storyline because even if Ronnie's actions weren't pre-meditated, it still put her in an unsympathetic light and painted the character in a dangerous corner and instead of the story feeling poignant and harrowing as it should do, it just feels cheap and silly.
I know soaps are renowned for sensationalism and always will be but there are times in which they go too far and without sounding like someone who works for the Daily Mail, I felt this plot was/is going too far in places. The acting is fantastic from both Samantha Womack and Jessie Wallace, whose character Kat Moon is convinced her son Tommy is dead but for once, I wish that the writers had actually listened to their actors (Womack allegedly voiced opposition over the storyline) instead of trying to be shocking all the time.
Yes, the writers added the usual 'if you've been affected by these issues' warnings/numbers at the end of each episode and while I normally find myself laughing at people who get this animated over a storyline they don't like, I feel that if the plot had been left with cot death and that issue had been dealt with poignantly, there wouldn't have been a problem. It's the unneccesary addition of a baby swap that's riled viewers. Sometimes being sensationalistic isn't a smart idea.
There's a lot of people baying for producer Bryan Kirkwood's head over the storyline and the departure of Samantha Womack but as badly conceived and executed this idea was, is it really worth having the man losing his job over? I don't think so. Kirkwood might have gravely miscalculated public reception to this storyline but if a writer was fired everytime a storyline didn't work or generated the wrong level of controversy, then perhaps there would be very few people working on television.
As a viewer, I can't bear this baby swap saga and I'm looking forward to it being resolved (which it should be by April/May, according to spoilers) but I also advocate freedom of speech as well and while the show should be allowed to push boundaries, perhaps some sensitivity and actual thought to the next plot would be best for Kirkwood and the EastEnders staff. If this storyline proves anything, it's that sensationalism can go wrong.