Echo Beach, according to the producers of Moving Wallpaper, is a glamorous new soap: a bit of Dallas made by us Brits. The problem is we have tried it (moderately successfully) before with Howards Way – OK, the Mermaid boatyard wasn’t Ewing Oil but the credits and theme music rocked. But the really bum note is that it doesn’t even play like a nighttime soap. It feels distinctly daytime – despite the presence of McCutcheon and Donovan and the gorgeous, sweeping shots of Cornish countryside and coastline, the concerns are resolutely domestic and teenage: how weird it is for children to be calling Martine and Jase “Mum” and “Dad”.
The Cornish setting is an almost literal transplant of Home and Away. And the script? Ouch, ouch, ouch: “Go and never come back,” cries Martine to Jason above the punding surf. Into the pub waddle Mike Baldwin and Mrs McCluskey from Grange Hill, speaking of doomy events past, revolving around Donovan and a death at sea. Hang on, didn’t Neighbours’ Harold Bishop disappear at sea? Might he again wash up at Echo Beach?
The teenagers do their best, cavorting at beach parties and hunting for “pussy”. But McCutcheon and Donovan, the central couple you are meant to root for, are somnambulant. Only Hugo Speer, playing McCutcheon’s husband and the most inevitable cuckold on television, serves up some spikiness. Part of the minuscule pleasure of Echo Beach is seeing the things that the producers in Moving Wallpaper have inserted, sometimes ludicrously:the Asian barmaid (a nod to ethnic minority quotas insists the megalomanical producer Jonathan Pope, played by Ben Miller); and instead of a salty seadog harbour master, a young hunk pacing the sea wall. Pope wants glamour and cliffhangers and tits and pecs. He wants gorgeous young people. He is vile and you root for him.
When one writer complains that the show’s romantic betrayals are intended as a metaphor for the economic betrayal of Cornwall he looks at her as if she has rabies. He thinks in terms of British Soap award-winning categories. Susie Amy, formerly of Footballers’ Wives, offers her sexual services just to get a speaking role. There is a lot of bravely indiscreet and biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you talk of ITV1 and its demands and expectations.
But even this satire isn’t as spot-on as other behind-the-scenes-on-a-soap films such as Tootsie and Soap-dish (in which the story chief Whoopi Goldberg memorably cried that the producers couldn’t bring back a character as he had been decapitated – they did). As Mistresses also showed this week, the British covet the pace and wit of Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty but just can’t do it. Maybe we should give Echo Beacha chance, maybe a beautiful butterfly will emerge. But Martine, lose the knitwear.