Top 10 Soap Opera Clichés


We love our soap operas. They have ridiculous plots and unbelievable characters. Just like actual operas but without the fat lady singing.  We kid ourselves in to thinking we’re not addicted but there’s always some fiendish cliffhanger to keep us hooked. Soaps share a number of clichés that may make us groan but we’d miss them if they weren’t there.

1. Head Case

Characters in soaps have extremely soft skulls. We know this because even the slightest bump to the head causes them to go into a coma or suffer from amnesia. Give them a knockout blow with a feather and the consequences are dire. They may come out of a coma, only to find they have amnesia. This loss of memory is a cunning plot device enabling a character to assess their relationships from a fresh viewpoint. It also gives the actor / actress the opportunity to look baffled and emotionally frail. Comas are useful in themselves to give a star some time off to go lie on a beach whilst the network decides whether to renew their contract.

2. How Many Relatives Do I Have?

There are always family members coming out of the woodwork; the sibling / offspring / parent that the character didn’t know existed. Shucks, it’s a good job I didn’t get that family tree laminated. One in three teenagers learn that they are adopted or the result of an illicit relationship. This gives the scriptwriters ample opportunity to wallow in emotional turmoil.

3.  I’m in Love with My Sibling

The thought of brother on sister action is icky but it’s not their fault. They have been raised independently of each other, unaware of each other’s existence, and don’t realize they’re related. The parents in the know devise elaborate ways of separating them but they have to reveal the truth in the end. It’s heartbreaking to watch but perverse at the same time. I love the quote, “We’ve done nothing wrong, we just had the same father, that’s all.”

4.  Disappearing Friends & Family

When an actor / actress wants to leave the show, the character has to be given an exit. This can mean death or simply moving away. Strangely, these close friends and loved ones are rarely mentioned again. Special occasions such as weddings or deathbed vigils demand the presence of these formerly important people. So, there are ludicrous explanations given as to why they have not rushed back to their loved ones, usually because they are on safari or trekking in the arctic and cannot be contacted. The clip shows some actresses from Melrose Place who moved on to other things or should we say, better things! (Marcia Cross – Desperate Housewives, Kristin Davis – Sex and the City, and Courtney Thorne-Smith – Ally McBeal).

5.  Back From the Dead

Someone is presumed dead but there is no body. Nevertheless, family and friends gather for a poignant memorial. The near tragic circumstances may involve being washed out to sea when a dolphin unexpectedly comes to the rescue or being the lone survivor of a plane crash which lands on a remote island, surviving on nuts and berries. Mixed emotions are evident when the ‘deceased’ bursts in on the reading of the will. Will the main beneficiary be delighted or be smiling through gritted teeth?

6.  Sex & Punishment

If an unmarried soap teen has sex, there must be CONSEQUENCES. Also, having sex for the first time undoubtedly leads to pregnancy. If this happened in real life, it would be chaos. Generally, there is some uncertainty as to the identity of the father for soap mothers to be. This means eight months or so of exquisite mental torture leading to the inevitable DNA test.

7.  The Happiest Day of Their Lives

Who isn’t a sucker for a wedding? The bride looks radiant, the groom is cute and nervous, the flowers are gorgeous and everyone is dressed up in their Sunday best. But this is a soap wedding and you know something will go wrong. Take your pick from the following; the bride won’t show up, the groom won’t show up, there is a fight, one of them is arrested for bigamy or there is a bomb / hurricane / car pile up that wipes out the entire cast.

8.  Feuding & Fighting at the Funeral

Soap funerals inevitably don’t go smoothly either. Simmering resentments come to the boil in this emotional pressure cooker with undignified catfights and punch ups in front of the priest, who manfully tries to continue with the ceremony. Someone is to blame for a loved one’s demise and it’s not going to be settled amicably over a plate of vol au vents.

9.  Never Leave Soapland

It’s a proven fact that that soap characters come to grief if they stray outside of their normal environment. It’s akin to falling off the edge of the earth. Life is tough enough in the usual neighborhood but step outside to go on vacation and they’re asking for trouble. The more the vacation is excitedly anticipated, the more disastrous it will be and will only lead to kidnapping or robbery by untrustworthy foreigners, a devastating accident, being wrongfully accused of a crime, or getting caught up in a bloody revolution.

10. Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Soap characters are the worse people in the world to keep a secret. They are incapable of any kind of discretion. A secret is either blurted out in a public place, where everyone who matters is assembled, or it is overheard. Sure enough, the keeper of the secret is talking on the phone or telling someone in person and he/she has his/her BACK TO THE DOOR, unaware that someone else is listening. Alternatively, they leave their diaries / love letters / videos lying around. It’s as if they want the world to know. Sometimes, a secret is deliberately revealed. The minx! The cad!

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  1. SORAS = Soap Operas Rapid Aging Syndrome for the kids. The babies who were born a year ago grow 10-15 years older in about a year or two.

  2. A few of key ones were left off:

    1. The Evil Twin (It’s been worn out, but still popular)
    2. Characters who have married a bunch of relatives.
    3. Couples who have married each other multiple times.
    4. Faked paternity tests and sperm switching.

    As far as cliche #6 is concerned, where I live that’s not a cliche, it’s real life!

  3. This list is amazing! It's all so true.

    The characters also have a tendency to talk to themselves which can lead to number ten.