You don’t have to see Neighbours to be soothed by its presence, just as you don’t have to see gravity. The Australian soap is a cathedral of the UK TV schedule — a structure you can stroll past every day without ever going inside, but know that if you ever feel the need for cold stone and silent reflection/sunshine and kidnapping plots, it’s there for you. The revelation that Channel 5, which took over the UK broadcast of Neighbours from BBC One in 2008, will cancel the show this autumn has sparked fury. ‘Hey! Leave Neighbors alone!’ someone exclaimed. We weren’t paying attention!’
In the UK, over a million people are watching Neighbours (only a fraction of the 20 million who watched Scott and Charlene’s wedding in 1988, but comparing apples to massively diversified, digital, globally on-demand oranges is like comparing apples to massively diversified, digital, globally on-demand oranges). Over a million TV commuters still travel between here and Ramsay Street on a daily basis. What had changed in the two decades since I was last among them, I wondered? Let’s have a look.
One difference is that Neighbours is no longer only broadcast twice a day. It’s also on at forever-ty always o’clock if it’s streamed. You can now watch Neighbours in the middle of the night, which was previously only possible for owners of the Scott & Charlene: A Love Story VHS cassette. Another change is that you now have to check a box stating that you are over the age of 16 before you can watch it. (In 2018, the series was upgraded from an Australian G to a PG.) Dr. Karl Kennedy refused to wear underwear on set, so it had to.) * Almost all of my Neighbours watching, as well as that of everyone I know, was done before the age of 16.
The main difference is that I’m now older than almost all of the adult characters and live in a far less lovely house. Why didn’t I study to be a doctor, or the principal of Erinsborough High School, or Paul Robinson? On the other hand, I don’t recognize anyone on the street. Where are Lou Carpenter and Cody Willis nowadays? At the very least, Toadfish should be wreaking havoc on his skateboard someplace around here. Oh, he’s there! That’s comforting. However, this is not the case. Toadie is now a lawyer with two children and a car that is far superior to mine. It’s humbling to realize that Toadfish Rebecchi has accomplished more in his life than I have. I’m beginning to doubt whether or not this high school reunion will be enjoyable.
The Neighbours are still joking about, being there for one another, and becoming good friends in the opening titles, but they also include character names. I see with unmasked disapproval that the characters are all named Hendrix, Roxy, and Mackenzie, while they should be titled, Helen Daniels. The majority of the cast is still youthful and attractive, consisting primarily of milk-fed, dentally blessed blondes in bathing suits. There hasn’t been any change.
Here’s something different: advertisements. You could watch a full 22 minutes of Neighbours without seeing any recruiting advertising for the Metropolitan Police or praise for Lenor fabric conditioning tumble-dryer sheets back when it was on the BBC. There are now six commercials before an episode begins, followed by a seven-and-a-half-minute break. How can viewers invest emotionally in Amy’s new smoothie business when we’re constantly thrown out of the tale and thrust into the world of petty commercialism?
At the very least, the show is sponsored by Specsavers, who have book-ended each part by putting a Forrest Gump-like optician into a classic clip starring Harold or Madge — the Neighbours’ common forebears. It’s a homage to the past, as does the glimpse of a beaming Karl and Susan, who is now Harold and Madge. The Kennedys and Toadie aren’t the only recognisable faces: Paul Robinson is present, sporting a tattoo on his foot as is his custom, as well as what appears to be the return of Plain Jane Super Brain (raising the question: where has Des gone?).
In the spirit of heritage, I’m happy to inform you that Jemma Donovan named in the opening credits as playing ‘Harlow’ is the daughter of Jason Donovan, aka Scott Robinson. It’s a nice addition, and it gives the scene a Muppet Babies vibe. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Harlow.
This episode does not feature Harlow. This storey revolves around a good-looking man who wants his good-looking brother and his good-looking brother’s husband to raise his baby daughter (who isn’t particularly attractive). The couple is apprehensive, but they go ahead and do it anyway because they already have a newborn daughter and what’s another? Then there’s Amy, who has a new smoothie van. And there’s a nosy blonde barmaid who goes shopping with her brother’s new fiancée and discusses clothes labels that are “blowing up on Instagram.” I recall when the Lassiter’s Complex was the only thing that blew up on Neighbours. Approximately once a week.
The Lassiter’s Complex, as well as its lake and Harold’s café, is still standing (though now styled in lower case letters and likely serving acai smoothie bowls). The sets are identical, yet have an unsettling quality to them as if they were residences one might visit in a dream. The omnipresence of stone basins overflowing with succulents gives a reference to modern décor, but the terrain is otherwise untouched.
The episode finishes on a conventional cliffhanger, with the nosy sister breaking into her brother’s girlfriend’s house (honestly, it’s tough to tell the difference between siblings and romantic pairings, but that’s all that matters) and being held at knife-point. I’ll have to keep an eye on her tomorrow to see if she makes it, but we’ll see because I also have that task to complete. I’m sure I mentioned that before. That’s it.
Neighbours back then — same as now, just with succulents and LGBTQ representation, and I have no idea who everyone is and am rethinking my life choices. In our ever-changing world, that Australian soap was once a constant. Is it really possible for them to take it away from us? Is it possible to cancel… the moon?