Ted Reilly made his onscreen debut in last night's EastEnders, taking over the role of Johnny Carter. The character, who had been previously played by Sam Strike until his departure from the soap in 2014, returned to the Vic to surprise his mum Linda (Kellie Bright). Johnny Carter originally debuted with the Carter family back in December 2013 and the character went on to have many memorable moments, from his unforgettable coming out scene opposite Danny Dyer's Mick Carter, to his Spice Girl's themed karaoke at his mum's birthday party. After a year, Strike decided to leave the soap to pursue his acting career in the US, and has landed the lead role in Leatherface, due for release this year.
As a writer, I found the character of Johnny Carter extremely compelling, full of potential and arguably the most interesting child of the Carter clan. A lot of that came from the chemistry between Strike and Kellie Bright, who were magnificent when they were on-screen together. I was disappointed when Strike departed, as I felt that Johnny had so much more to give.
I am usually against recasting. Recasting, specifically when the second actor looks nothing like the first (Jai Courtney's Kyle Reese in Terminator Genysis, for example), is hard for a viewer to buy into, especially when we live in a world where it's possible to go back and compare the two interpretations of a character. However, there are exceptions to this rule - Barbra Windsor was not the original Peggy Mitchell yet she embodies the character. Similarly, Game of Thrones' second Daario Neharis (Michel Huisman) is much superior than the first. So, when I heard that Johnny Carter was to be recast, I was not jumping up and down. Once Ted Reilly had been revealed as the actor who would be playing Johnny, I warmed to the idea a little. I remember watching Reilly in an episode of Grantchester and remarking that he looked a little like Johnny from EastEnders. Even so, I still thought to myself how could someone possibly compete with the memorable moments created by Sam Strike? After viewing Ted Reilly's first two episodes, I whole-heartedly admit - I was wrong. So wrong.
Perhaps its too early to make such a statement, but from what we've seen so far, Reilly is a great Johnny. I was prepared to like him eventually, or at least get used to him, but I didn't think he would fit in as well as he has. With the help of Pete Lawson's script, Tuesday's episode felt as if we had just picked up from where Strike left off back in 2014. The camaraderie of the Carter household hasn't been the same since Johnny left and within moments of his first screen appearance, Reilly had brought back that feeling that we all had when the Carter's were first introduced. As I mentioned, Pete Lawson's script was wonderful and reminded us of the greater, happier Carter moments.
What perhaps shocked me the most was Reilly's chemistry with Kellie Bright. What made Johnny and Linda's relationship so special before was the chemistry between Strike and Bright, so I was delighted to see that Reilly is equally as good. I also loved that Linda started calling him 'sausage' again - that characteristic was such a big part of establishing Linda's character back when she first arrived. The best Carter storylines always consisted of 'heart-to-heart's' between Johnny and Linda, so it was pure enjoyment to see these scenes re-emerge. Reilly was especially magnificent during the kitchen scene with Bright - where Johnny reassured his mum of who he is and that she should feel free to open up to him. In this moment, Reilly was no longer the new Johnny - he became Johnny.
It's early days, but as a fan of the character I couldn't have more faith in Reilly, who is equally as brilliant as Sam Strike was in the character. For the first time in a long time, I am excited to see what happens and am craving the next episode. Welcome to the show Ted Reilly, and welcome back Johnny Carter.