What do you do with a soap that tied up all its loose ends and had the happy ending everyone wanted, then is rebooted just over a year later and has to come up with new episodes featuring many of the same characters? Neighbours has the answer: annoy absolutely everyone.
Last July, having been dropped by Channel 5 after almost four decades on air, a heartfelt swansong featured a Toadie Rebecchi (Ryan Moloney) wedding, a touching speech by Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) (“Together, we have always been the perfect blend”) – and guest appearances by some of the soap’s most well-known former stars (including Kylie Minogue, who, bizarrely, said just five words in the entire episode: “Home sweet home,” “Jane!” and “Harold!”). Then, just over four months later, the free streaming service Amazon Freevee announced it would be rebooting the show. How was the soap going to start up again, viewers wondered.
Well, today, we found out as the soap returned to our screens. There are a few new storylines, such as Reece (played by Mischa Barton) immediately getting romantically involved with Byron Stone (now recast with Xavier Molyneux) in a Lassiter’s hotel room. But the heart of the episode is that you are made to believe that Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) and Terese Willis (Rebekah Elmaloglou), who rekindled their relationship and had a happy ending in last year’s finale, are at last going to get married. The clues are all there. We see Terese putting on a white dress, while Paul is asked whether he is having any “second thoughts” about the big day ahead, before he inspects a box with a ring inside.
Then, in the final moments, we see Terese walking down the aisle. But it isn’t Paul Terese is about to marry. Oh no. He’s there, but he is in the crowd, looking sad. Instead, we learn that Terese is marrying Toadie. So not only has Terese and Paul’s relationship broken down, but so has the marriage between Toadie and Melanie (Lucinda Cowden) – the absolute heart of last year’s big finale and happy ending. Yikes!
Soaps have always relied on big twists. Who could forget the aftermath of one of Toadie’s previous weddings, when in celebratory mood he accidentally drove himself and his new wife Dee (Madeleine West) off a cliff to her death? Or the reception after his marriage to Sonya (Eve Morey), when the marquee blew up? Soaps often defy our hopes or expectations to keep us watching. Keeping the audience hooked is especially important for Neighbours now that episodes air on a streaming service that no one had heard of six months ago, meaning viewers have to go out of their way for their daily fix.
But this new partnership between Terese and Toadie doesn’t make sense – it feels too random. The breakup of Paul and Terese is understandable, since they were rocky in the lead up to the finale, but we haven’t seen the breakups, or the courtship that led up to this moment either. The soap tries to make the twist more believable by having characters remind us that this wedding is now taking place two years after the events of the finale, and that a lot can change in that time. But it has only been just over a year since the finale, so does that mean Neighbours is now set in the future?
This twist has also, in one fell swoop, unravelled so much of what made its critically acclaimed finale so great, a finale that received five stars in the Guardian and was the most watched episode in recent years. The buildup and courtship leading to that final episode now seems to be for nothing. The warm feelings it sparked have evaporated. Thank goodness the relationship between Mike Young (Guy Pearce) and Plain Jane Superbrain (Annie Jones) is still intact, although due to Guy’s limited A-lister availability, we see most of their relationship being played out on FaceTime.
A reboot after a finale was never going to be easy. You have to find a way to rip the plaster off, but these new Amazon episodes could have drawn a line under the events of the past and created fresh character arcs for everyone (the show is, after all, called Neighbours: A New Chapter). All of this feels too messy, and not in a good soapy way. At least the soap has one mystery that will keep viewers coming back. What is The OC’s Mischa Barton doing there?
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