Jenna Russell has revealed she quit the part of Michelle Fowler after tabloid reports noted she’d been axed from the struggling serial.
“Jenna is a terrific actress who has loved her time on the show playing Michelle but was a mutual decision to write the character out. We wish Jenna all the best for the future.” – EastEnders spokeswoman quoted in The Sun
There are some soap-opera returns that leave viewers wondering why bosses bothered, and the re-introduction after twenty-one years of Michelle Fowler probably will top the list in years to come. Without the original actress reprising the role – Susan Tully wisely declined the offer – it was up to Jenna Russell to try and bring new life into Walford’s most miserable character.
At first, there was great excitement with the news she had a big secret; but that turned out to be a toyboy teen lover that left the character’s legacy scarred and, to some long-term fans, ruined. While ‘a bit of nostalgia’ sometimes is welcome in soap – especially when ratings are flagging like EastEnders’ currently are – it can do some good, but the character needs to be used wisely. This is something that can’t be said of Michelle Fowler who probably has had as much to say and do as Tracy the Queen Vic barmaid over the past twelve months.
Jenna was first seen on Christmas Eve 2016 and in the fourteen months since has only had her establishing plot to play out from storylines. Her lover arrived in February 2017 and their torrid affair was soon exposed culminating in a car crash in March 2017 – in which sadly Michelle survived. Viewers were rather surprised to find storyliners had deemed such an iconic character worthy of becoming a Florida sex-offender. Preston, one of her students, became romantically involved with Michelle while she was living stateside. It was noted how the pair had been breaking U.S. law as, at 17, he was below Florida’s age of consent, which is 18.
Prior to Jenna appearing as Michelle, the character had last been seen with Susan Tully in the role back in October 1995 when she departed Albert Square with daughter Vicki for a new life in America. She’d just found out that Sharon’s estranged husband Grant (Ross Kemp) had put her in the family way after a one night stand and was keen to start afresh.
When Michelle fell pregnant at the tender age of 16 in 1985, a ‘whodunit’ over the father gave the fledgeling soap opera a much-needed foothold in the ratings. The storyline earnt the man eventually revealed as responsible for her predicament – Den Watts, the father of her best friend Sharon – the moniker ‘Dirty Den’ in the popular press.
She gave birth to daughter Vicky in May 1986 and went on to marry hapless barman Tom ‘Lofty’ Holloway (Tom Watt), having previously stood him up at the alter when Den wooed her with a gold pendant and pledged his love to her. It was a short-lived partnership when their union ended acrimoniously just over a year later when she aborted their child.
Other storylines saw Michelle juggle motherhood with a university course; attempt life as a fugitive when boyfriend Clyde Tavernier (Steven Woodcock) was linked to the murder of Eddie Royle; take a bullet in a 1994 siege at the Queen Vic; and embark on a relationship with her personal tutor, Geoff (David Roper) who was some years older than she. Despite their relationship ending some months prior, Geoff helped Michelle secure a job in America where the character remained unseen until December 2016.
Michelle Fowler was reintroduced by former boss Sean O’Connor, however is to be written out by John Yorke who believes the dismal ratings and viewer appreciation for EastEnders can be turned around by focusing on the Slater family.
“She only had one major storyline really, and that was the ‘love affair’ with the teenage boy. That plot frankly ruined the character, no wonder Susan Tully said no thank you. And ever since that rather off-putting story she’s been pottering around like some glorified supporting artist.” – TV Critic Vivian Summers