More than any other television soap, Coronation Street has ploughed a furrow of realism, its storylines fleshed out by characters we grow to love – and hate – over the years.
No doubt someone, somewhere, is doing a PhD right now in the social history of post-Second World War Britain as refracted through life in the Rovers Return. And they'd do well to have a special section devoted to Jack Duckworth (Bill Tarmey), whose 31 years on the Street ended last week with one of the most beautiful deaths an actor could hope for.
Jack spent most of his days supping ale or shuffling around after his wife. A rogue he might have been (his philandering began and ended with an affair with Bet Lynch, enough said), but he was most definitely lovable, from his wisecracking to his petty arguments with the late, lamented Vera.
As he admonished Molly for cheating on Jack's all but adopted son Tyrone (Alan Halsall), he summed up his stock attitude towards life, and marriage, that in turn reflects Corrie's truthful spirit. "One thing we managed, me and our Vera," he said, "despite everything, despite a run of bad luck that lasted 40 flippin' years, was we cared about each other."
With that, he was off home, out of the pub where he was celebrating his 74th birthday with a nod from Bill Roache, as if acknowledging Tarmey's contribution through the years. A quick look around the Street, a silent goodbye to his beloved pigeons, and Jack sat back in the chair in which Vera died three years ago to make his final farewell.
And what a farewell. I'm not one for magical realism, but for a soap whose stock in trade is meat-and-potatoes genuineness, there was room at such a moment for the return of a spectral Vera, chiding Jack for looking slovenly and giving him a nudge if he was to catch the next bus ("It'll be here in 12 minutes"), then giving him his last waltz off to heaven.
It would be a hard person who didn't tear up at Tyrone's reaction to finding the slumped Jack. It's clear that Jack's legacy, of naturalistic acting and reacting, is safe in the hands of Tyrone.
Oddly, realism is also the great strength of Misfits, the drama based around five Asbo teens with superpowers, back this week for a second season. Sure, they might variously be immortal, telepathic, able to turn back time, become invisible and turn anyone into a sexual predator (not the most useful, that one), but the young cast delivers its lines with such nonchalance that it all seems perfectly reasonable. Nathan, on discovering his probation worker lying dead in a deep freeze, gives the most throwaway line of the lot: "Oh, hey man, Cornettos!"
The writers should be applauded for the consistent bathos. At the very start of the episode, a mysterious hooded figure, seen only at the very end of Season One as some sort of guardian angel for the misfits, is seen free-running, leaping from rooftop to rooftop until he stands, Batman-like, surveying the city. He must contact them ... by launching a paper plane that hits Kelly in the eye.
Batman is not the only visual reference; we go through Heroes, Star Trek, X-Men, Saw and even a postmodern take on Scooby Doo ("It's the probation worker," says Nathan of his No 1 suspect. "It's always the probation worker"), but it is all worn so lightly that each homage adds to the whole. And the whole is quite something: bawdy, fun, dramaturgically electrifying, and a brilliant put-down of any show that has ever made too much of foreshadowing. "In six weeks it's all going to change," says the immortal Nathan (clearly the most quotable of the quintet). How? "We finish our community service. I'm going to join the circus. They can throw knives at me, stick swords in me, shoot me in the face. People pay good money to see that. And then I'm making serious cash." Quite right: who'd really get all superhero-ish just because they've got some powers?