In defence of Coronation Street’s Stephen Reid – he’s a hilarious soap villain

There was little sign that Audrey’s son Stephen, who had left the cobbles for 15 years, would return in June of last year as the Street’s newest serial killer. Instead, he appeared as a knight in shining armor to assist his mother when the Platts became worried about her excessive drinking.

Eight months have passed, yet he has only committed two murders and is still at it.

It’s a story that has divided viewers, and many have used it as proof that the soap opera has become directionless in recent years. But, I disagree since I believe Stephen Reid to be a classic Corrie character and that his role has produced for excellent television.

When Canadian Stephen, played by Todd Boyce, arrived fresh from his life in Milan as a successful businessman, busting down the salon door to discover his mum comatose, he was portrayed as the golden kid who would fix all the difficulties in his family.

The viewers soon realized, though, that he was actually facing significant financial difficulties and that the main motivation behind his return was to seize Audrey’s money.

In September, Leo, Jenny Connor’s lover, found Stephen trying to sell Audrey’s house. When confronted, Stephen quickly pushed Leo over the railings of Underworld to his death, shocking the audience.

From there, the narrative took a more dark turn, and Stephen’s attention turned to covering up his murder. He did this by deceiving Teddy, Leo’s father, into believing that his son was in Canada, then killing Teddy when he discovered the truth.

I know this seems like a pretty gloomy plot, but the way it was handled was anything from grim, as the writers leaned more toward comedy than drama, with winks and nods along the way.

The storyline is criticized most frequently by Coronation Street viewers as being ridiculous or unrealistic. Of course it is, and that is precisely the reason I adore it.

Over the past few weeks, Stephen’s pranks have become more and more funny, particularly in the episodes that followed Teddy’s death (a strike 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 terror, 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 via the roof box. The fact that they are sold out is the only thing preventing him from identifying Stephen’s most recent victim.

My favorite part was when Stephen tried to dispose of Teddy’s body in the canal but gave up because the box was still floating there. The story concludes with him tossing stones at the box until it finally sinks, then he says a less-than-casual “Ey up” to a passing dog walker that is particularly amusing when said with a Canadian accent.

They aren’t the deeds of a cold-blooded killer; rather, they are the deeds of a man consumed by desperation who goes above and beyond what he considered himself capable of before having to strive to hide his tracks and becoming further entangled in his own web of crimes.

When Stephen is under pressure, he sometimes reminds me of recent villains in series like Happy Valley and Sherwood: ordinary, almost hilariously awkward men who surprise the audience by committing horrific acts of violence.

Nonetheless, Corrie has adopted a far more sarcastic stance. 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 witness Hope’s curiosity in 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 jail for kidnapping Rosie Webster. He was an innocent schoolteacher caught up in an odd identity theft case that led to his involvement in three killings 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 essentially wicked, they have a tendency to make dubious choices and act in a panicky manner, which gives their storylines an amusing 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 tales playing out recently on the cobbles, like Max’s brainwashing into an extremist gang and Summer’s difficulties 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 imaginable, 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 leaves him alive for another episode.

Nonetheless, 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 plot out for too long.

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