When Audrey’s son Stephen returned to the cobbles in June last year after a 15-year absence – as a knight in shining armour to help his mum when the Platts became concerned about her excess drinking – there was little indication that he would become the Street’s latest serial killer.
But eight months on, he is two murders down and shows no sign of stopping.
It’s a story that has proved divisive amongst viewers, with many citing it as an example of how the soap has lost its way in recent years. But I disagree – I think that Stephen Reid is classic Corrie, and his character has made for great television.
When Canadian Stephen, played by Todd Boyce, arrived fresh from his life in Milan as a successful businessman, breaking down the salon door to find his mum unconscious, he was portrayed as the golden child who would sort out the problems in his family.
However, it soon became clear to viewers that he was in fact having serious money problems, and that the real reason for his return was to get his hands on poor Audrey’s cash.
When Jenny Connor’s boyfriend Leo discovered him attempting to sell Audrey’s house in September, he confronted Stephen – who, to the viewers’ shock, swiftly threw over Leo the railings of Underworld to his death.
From there, the story took a more sinister turn and Stephen’s focus shifted to covering up his murder, including convincing Leo’s dad Teddy that his son was in Canada – before offing him as well when he found out the truth.
I realise that this sounds like an incredibly dark storyline, but its execution has been anything but as the scriptwriters leant into humour rather than drama, with a wink and a nod every step of the way.
The main criticism from Coronation Street fans is that the storyline is silly or unrealistic. Of course it is – and that’s exactly why I love it.
Over the past few weeks, Stephen’s antics have become more and more entertaining, particularly in the episodes that followed Teddy’s death (a blow to the head with an industrial hole punch, in case you were wondering), which featured a series of events befitting of any farce.
He hides the body in the roof box of his mother’s car out of panic, only to discover later that Audrey had driven the car to the Peak District to visit a friend while carrying the dead body, of course.
David, the nephew, then takes the car because he wants to buy wood chips that are being sold using the roof box. The fact that they are sold out is the only thing preventing him from identifying Stephen’s most recent victim.
My personal highlight was when Stephen attempted to dispose of Teddy’s body in the canal, only to despair as the box remains floating on top of the water. The episode ends with him throwing stones at the box until it eventually sinks, before greeting a passing dog walker with a less-than-casual ‘Ey up’, something that sounds even funnier in a Canadian accent.
These aren’t the actions of a calculated killer, rather a man consumed by desperation, who goes to lengths beyond what he thought himself capable of and then must work to cover his tracks, getting progressively tangled in his own web of crimes.
At times Stephen as a character feels akin to recent antagonists in dramas like Happy Valley and Sherwood – unassuming and almost comically clumsy men, who are trapped in pressurising circumstances and end up committing brutal acts of violence, to the surprise of viewers.
Yet Corrie has taken a far more tongue-in-cheek approach. Small details like Kevin, Abi, and Tim helping Stephen lift the body-filled box onto the car roof or Chesney and Billy later admiring the box and discussing its capacity feel so inherently rooted in soap opera and in the Street’s unique Northern humour, despite the fact that the storyline is absurd and wouldn’t have worked decades ago.
It’s been amusing to watch Hope’s curiosity about her deceased father John Stape coexist with Stephen’s antics. In addition to being a murderer, John was already a convicted felon serving time in prison for kidnapping Rosie Webster. He was an innocent schoolteacher caught up in an odd identity theft case that led to his involvement in three deaths more than ten years prior.
Naturally, Stephen’s murder of Teddy in a fit of rage after Teddy threatened to reveal the truth is similar to John’s murder of Charlotte Hoyle in 2010 on the night of the tram crash for the same reason. Although neither of them are inherently evil, they share a tendency to make dubious choices and act in a panicky manner, which gives their storylines a funny and interesting twist.
It’s not necessary for every soap opera plot to be a model of excellent drama. What’s the harm in having one that’s just a little bit of fun when there have been so many serious stories playing out recently on the cobbles, like Max’s indoctrination into an extremist gang and Summer’s struggles with her body image?
It’s unlikely that Stephen Reid will be compared to enduring soap opera villains like Pat Phelan or Richard Hillman, but you can’t deny that he’s been entertaining, and sometimes that’s all we want from our television viewing.
Stephen has the worst poker face ever, so it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been caught yet, but I can’t help but smile when another coincidence or narrow escape keeps him alive for another episode.
However, for the time being, I’m really enjoying watching what their accidental serial killer will do next and wondering who his next victim might be. Corrie should be careful not to drag the story out for too long.
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