Stir-crazy soap is perfect escapism for when your mind’s turned to mush, writes Duncan Greive.

'Wake up you bastard! So I can send you to hell where you belong!"

I'm lying in bed, suffering under a lurg picked up who knows where. It's a little after lunchtime, and I wanted to soak my suffering in the dumb, familiar formula of daytime television. I watched a little Jeremy Kyle, but found its judgments too jarring - is my own life different enough from that of these urchins?

The rest of the talkshow spectrum looked bleak: Ellen too perky; Dr Phil too solemn; The Ricki Lake Show too boring.

My editor suggested Days of Our Lives, the soap opera and daytime perennial, now in a new home streaming service on Lightbox. The show studies the lives, loves and lunacy of the big money residents of the fictional rich town of Salem.


Perfect! An escape from all that ailed me. "Wake up you bastard! So I can send you to hell where you belong!" is the opening line of the first episode I watch. Nice chilled out intro. It's yelled by an older blonde woman, to a man in a coma, who might have murdered her son. He's wearing an eye-patch.

I should note that it takes around four minutes for the show to notch up its second eye patch for the episode. This one is attached to a guy who looks exactly like Kurt Russell circa Escape from New York. Which is to say, not the kind of guy you'd expect to be sat in a luxuriously appointed private plane.

But that's the beautiful thing about Days of Our Lives " it exists in a world entirely unmoored from the laws of logic which constrain us elsewhere in our daily lives. This makes it perfect to watch when your brain's vaguely mushlike from illness - the surreality of Salem seems almost normal.

Which, of course, it isn't. Days of Our Lives turned 50 years old on Monday, a number so big it defies comprehension, and it has always been utterly bizarre. I watched the first episode yesterday, in an effort to understand what the show was built on. In November of 1965, the Beatles were on the cusp of Rubber Soul, Muhammad Ali was champion of the world, America was in Vietnam.

The modern world was all around! But not in Salem. Women lunched and dressed conservatively, decor was a picture of 1930s opulence, dynastic families ruled the roost.

That timewarp has never left. Still the Hortons and DiMeras rule the town. Shockingly, the show still looks exactly like it's filmed in an entirely different era - I would guess about 1994. Fifty shades of beige, low-lights, hairspray, caked-on makeup, gold faux-snakeskin dresses, slacks.

I watched three episodes through a sickly haze. There are two storylines in process. One involves a wedding and a murder, the second involves a serial killer. The latter is known as "the necktie killer", who's been going round, dressed in black, strangling members of Salem's wholesome, rich, white community. It's sad, honestly.

Chad (every male on the show is called Chad or similar) is the guy in the coma. He's being framed up as the necktie killer by Ben, this handsome and mean guy married to Adrienne, whose mum Hope is meant to be marrying Aiden, who is marrying her to kill her and take her life insurance to pay back a debt to an old man in a wheelchair. Hope's missing husband Bo is on the private jet with the pirate-looking guy, racing back through a tropical storm to try and stop this disastrous marriage-murder scenario from progressing.


As you can see, the plot is a hot, breathless mess. It's as if the most feverish peaks of Shortland Street's Christmas Cliffhanger season were operating at all times. That makes it both impossible to dip in and out of - because everything's so convoluted - and very enjoyable to dive into periodically - because it's all so unhinged.

This otherworldliness extends to all facets of the show. Every lens is slowly zooming in on the speaker, every speaker throwing out a mad accusation, every accusation accompanied by harsh stabs of synth. It's perhaps the least subtle television ever made.

There's also a terrific torrent of it: five hours a week; every week. During this era of contained, exquisitely crafted event television, Days of Our Lives just doesn't fit. It's carelessly made, comically silly, by any sensible standard just plain bad. Yet that lack of consequence is precisely the attraction - particularly if, thanks to some nameless malady, you too are not in your right mind.