Spoilers for UK-pace Neighbours up to 12/04/16
It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is possible to judge how old someone is just by asking them a few questions about their TV-watching habits. One such battery of questions might proceeed as follows: ‘Which Blue Peter presenters do you remember most vividly?’; ‘Who’s your Doctor?’; ‘What did you watch on Saturday mornings?’; ‘What’s the first celebrity death you remember on TV?’. My answers to these questions are, respectively, Diane-Louise Jordan / Stuart Miles / Konnie Huq / Matt Baker, Number Ten, Live and Kicking (Andi and Emma version) and Princess Diana, all of which classes me firmly as an early Millenial.
But there’s one particular question that will not only reveal your age but also the deepest secrets of your psyche, and that question is ‘What was your most shocking Neighbours moment?’
Given that Neighbours has been running for 31 years, there are A LOT of momentous events to choose from. Scott and Charlene’s romantic wedding is obviously a classic from the early years, as are Bouncer’s dream sequence (Bouncer, obviously, being a Golden Labrador) and Harold’s disappearance over a cliff, leaving only a pair of broken glasses behind him. Moving forward in time, the world was rocked by Karl’s affair with Sarah, Drew falling off his horse, and – perhaps most shocking of all – Toadie getting his hair cut, while recent years have included Steph’s affair with her best friend Libby’s husband, teenage Bridget having a baby and then dying, Paul nearly being murdered, and the Ramsay Street car crash that nearly killed off every young person in the show.
And last week, the latest in a long line of disasters occurred, as Lassiter’s hotel blew up, leaving dozens more Erinsborough residents fearing for their lives…
But, the thing is: it’s all been a bit weird. The main reason for this, I think, is that everyone knew it was going to happen. Of course, for all of these really big storylines it’s generally known that Something Is Coming, but this time the advance warning has been really quite in-your-face. For weeks there have been references to the “maintenance issues” in the basements at the hotel, which has recently been suffering from a dodgy air conditioning system and a severely malfunctioning boiler. As if that wasn’t ominous enough, Channel 5 has been trailing it with a special title (‘Neighbours: Hotel Horror’ – no melodrama here) and tagline (“Five rooms, five days, one hotel”) as well as a late-night special episode subtly entitled Neighbours: Who Dies?
All that advertising certainly builds up momentum and anticipation – I wouldn’t have been watching otherwise, since my relationship with Neighbours in recent years has been patchy, to say the least. But there are two problems with being quite so forceful in your advertising. First it gets rid of the shock factor, which is really an essential part of a Shocking Moment. And second, if you’re gonna hype the show up like that, the pressure’s really on you to deliver something special. And Neighbours: Hotel Horror… well, it just hasn’t.
To be fair, it should be stated that it has all the makings of a classic Neighbours disaster. First, it takes place at Lassiter’s complex, scene of all the finest accidents and catastrophes: the explosion at the Waterhole pub (1993), the Lassiter’s fire (2004), Paul’s attempted murder (2010) and the destruction of Toadie and Sonya’s wedding (2013), to name but a few (if an event ain’t happening at Lassiter’s, it ain’t happening, and that’s a fact). Second, eternal Satanic patriarch Paul Robinson is almost certainly involved, having become embroiled a blood feud with the hotel’s owners – not a wise move on their part (if an evil scheme isn’t being plotted by Paul Robinson, it isn’t an evil scheme, and that’s another fact). Third, the potential death toll has been increased considerably by a sudden influx of characters towards the disaster site on the flimsiest and most spurious of grounds. Want to talk to your grandson about your will? Do it at a luxury hotel! Need to ask your estranged husband to dump his new girlfriend and move to Germany with you? Luxury hotel! Got a plot to trick your crush into thinking he’s going to meet a famous guitarist? Why, that sounds like a job for a luxury hotel!
So the potential was definitely there – AND YET.
One issue: the pacing has been all over the place. The bulk of the drama – one day in TV-time – has taken place across a week of five episodes; and the tagline (recall: “Five rooms, five days, one hotel”) suggested some kind of cool single-camera real-time event where each episode would deal with the inhabitants of one of the five hotel rooms (yep, it only seems to have five, and in fact up until last week I was pretty sure it only had one). But that was very much not what happened.
Episode #1: the residents of Erinsborough gather for the ‘Citizen of the Year’ event at Lassiter’s. The staff worry that the boiler might explode. Paul Robinson schemes. The boiler explodes.
Episode #2: No sooner have the viewers asked, “Who’s going to die first??” than the answer is revealed: it’s Josh, before the opening credits role. Sad, but not exactly suspenseful, since he’s gone before you can blink. Kyle and Amy are free almost immediately afterwards, having spent approximately two seconds trapped in a lift; Karl and Sarah also escape in a matter of minutes, despite Sarah’s whingeing and limping. Daniel has also been extracted from the building and is in hospital, having regained consciousness.
Episode #3: Doug is brought out of the hotel, apparently unharmed. Outside, he collapses and dies as his ghost looks on. His body is then left in the rain for several hours (although someone does bother to put a mini gazebo up over it).
Episode #4: We discover that Toadie is trapped in the most damaged part of the hotel. Paul ‘tries’ to ‘comfort’ Terese by choosing the hour after her son and father-in-law’s death to tell her he loves her.
Episode #5: We recall (having forgotten about them for four episodes) that Ben and Xanthe are also in the hotel, just in time for them to realise that’s a stupid place to be and walk out of the hotel again. Kyle, having recently escaped a life-threatening experience, decides that it’s the ideal time to move to Germany, and leaves with his dog.
So, to sum up: of the twelve characters in danger from being killed inside the hotel, seven casually walked out after the explosion with hardly a scratch on them, leaving the audience to wonder why the writers bothered to stick them in there at all; one died in the first five minutes of the disaster; another died outside the hotel, possibly of the disease he was already suffering from; two have been extracted and are recovering (we assume) in hospital; and one – a character who had already left the show – hasn’t been mentioned but would be incredibly lucky not to have got out since she was in the same room as two others. Quite frankly, a disappointing showing.
Now this isn’t to say that there weren’t some good moments. The sudden realisation that Toadie was in the building – now that was tense, because Toadie is great (and long may he reign over the House Formerly of Trouser and all that is awesome). The emotional impact of a death on a dazed family, beautifully acted. The wonderful musical choice of having ‘Georgia on My Mind’ play as Kyle decided to move to Germany with, yes, Georgia. The fact that Bossy the dog is leaving with him (all in all, probably the most devastating loss of the week.) And Terese asking the immortal question, “Is there something you’re not telling me, Paul?” (Pro tip: The answer is yes. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.) And there are also several strands still to tie up. Who caused the explosion? We assume Paul, but we could be wrong. Why has Sarah returned? Just to wreak havoc and destroy Susan and Karl’s marriage yet again? What is in Toadie’s mysterious red file, bequeathed to Steph to be destroyed in the event of his death?
But, overall, none of it comes close to my most shocking Neighbours moment. What is it? I hear you cry. What? What?
Dear friends, it is THE PLANE CRASH.
Fans of the show will already be fanning themselves in relived horror at the mere mention of this event; for non-viewers, the monumental impact of this storyline may be illustrated by the fact that it has its own Wikipedia page. Briefly, Paul Robinson (him again) invites pretty much the entire cast to go on a historical fancy-dress joy-ride to Tasmania on his private plane, including Neighbours stalwart mother-figure Susan Kennedy and her much-detested love rival Izzy Hoyland, the Bishop family David, Liljana and Serena, likeable Irish rogue Connor and kooky young couple Dylan and Sky; Paul himself and his daughter Elle are also aboard. A bomb causes the plane to crash, everyone tips out into the Bass Strait, and the fight for survival begins. Young lovers cling onto each other. Enemies are forced to work together. The tide rises. And chaos reigns.
So what does this choice tell you about me? It tells you, first, that I was at my Neighbours-watching peak (i.e. a student) in 2005, which means that I was probably a child of the Eighties. It also tells you that I love over-the-top melodrama, storylines about relationships and an intense close-quarters scene or two. If I told you, additionally, that I was most concerned about Dylan and Sky, then you could also surmise that I love a rough-edged character with a heart of gold. All these inferences would, by the way, be 100% accurate.
And that’s why, eleven years later, I still can’t quite let Neighbours go. I don’t know whether baby Millennials and the first members of Generation Z will sit about in 2027 reminiscing about the Lassiter’s hotel explosion. Maybe they will. Maybe they loved it. Maybe I found it hard to care about the current roll-call of characters because they are no longer my people; maybe, in short, Neighbours is simply not for me any more. But I suspect that, for many years to come, I will still be checking in on Ramsay Street now and again, just to see how everyone is getting along.
Once a Neighbour, always a Neighbour.