The soapie is dead. Long live the soapie!

2014-04-07 10:00

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Popular actor Siyabonga Thwala’s return to Isibaya two weeks ago was as dramatic as his premature departure from the telenovela after just a few months.

His character Mpiyakhe returned from the place of the undead. We may have lost the show’s zombie meme, but we have regained a heart-throb.

To celebrate its first birthday, Isibaya has been turned into a weekday soapie.

It has become so popular, it’s the fourth most-watched show on DStv and the series trended on Twitter throughout its last day as a telenovela. As it should. When a telenovela ends in Latin America, the audience is so invested the country in question virtually comes to a standstill.

But was Isibaya ever really a telenovela in the first place? The format that killed the soapie in many countries offers hourlong episodes and the story ends within a year.

Here it’s always been half an hour and it never ended. The moment we have a hit it seems we revert to the safe, old-fashioned soapie formula.

In that last episode, Mkabayi and Fezile, held hostage by Chaka, made their way to safety. There was the ubiquitous DNA result reveal. Sbu and Thandeka are not related, so their love continues.

And the show’s villain, Samson, was arrested.

The new season brings with it all manner of shady dealings with the arrival of veteran actor Vusi Kunene. He plays Bhekifa Ngubane, a powerful scrap metal tycoon and club owner with ties to the underworld.

The poor former zombie Mpiyakhe has some way to go before he regains his full mental capacities, but he has taken advantage of the love of his many wives.

Creating jealousy and competition among them, Siphokazi (Celeste Ntuli) was the first to claim the glory of sleeping with Mpiyakhe shortly after the cleansing ceremony to thank his ancestors.

And just when viewers thought Iris was on the fringes, she has managed to wrangle her way back into the saddle. Her secret is safe for now – but at what cost?

The good news is the show’s taxi wars seem to be taking a back seat in the new season. It seems one can’t tell a KwaZulu-Natal story without a taxi war, so much of the action has shifted to Jozi.

But the war is still simmering. The trigger-happy Mandla has made himself boss of the taxi business in the absence of his brother Ndlovu. His wayward leadership methods match those of some of our less scrupulous politicians. The peace will be disturbed, you can be sure.

Also new to Isibaya is Zinhle Mabena, who plays Sihle, a university dropout.

Jeffrey Sekele as Blade is Bhekifa’s street-smart and ruthless right-hand man. He gives Bhekifa the edge over his enemies and those plotting to kill him as a result of his connection with the now vacant chieftaincy in Bhubesini.

How long will Ndlovu stay behind bars before he comes back to deal decisively with those who had a hand in putting him there?

And when he does, will we not just be seeing a repeat of the first season’s plots? That’s the real question: does Isibaya have what it takes to play beyond a year?

We love soapies as a nation, but I think that’s mainly because there’s so little new drama on offer.

The telenovela offered us a big plot that wouldn’t get stale from repetition. Let’s hope the show’s story writers have what it takes to make soapies relevant again.

» Isibaya is on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) at 8.30pm Monday to Friday

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