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I’ve been a fan of Neighbours for as long as I can remember, but I certainly know not everyone shares my views – so I’m writing this review in hope of gaining a few converts. I know it’s going to be an uphill struggle, for instance my dad describes Neighbours as “that drivel” and most of my friends (with proper jobs) never get to see it, unless they’re off sick.
A BRIEF HISTORY
It’s hard to believe that Neighbours has now been in production for over 19 years. First conceived in 1985, Australia’s Channel 7 began broadcasting a new soap opera from that famous (or infamous) Grundy organisation which had previously delivered such ‘marvels’ as “Sons & Daughters” and “Prisoner: Cell Block H”. In fact the soap opera was conceived by one individual, Reg Watson, whose previous credits had included “Crossroads”, which was never really renowned for delivering quality television. So with a pedigree of wobbly sets, bad acting and tacky daytime drama, Neighbours didn’t really have much going for it. And it didn’t. It was axed from the schedules after just 170 episodes.
In one of the canniest (and riskiest) moves in TV history, the show was snapped up by Australia’s Network 10. After a little re-working (and a few actor changes), the show began to air on a different channel in 1986. With the sprinkling of new faces, such as Jason Donavon as Scott Robinson and Anne Charleston as Madge Ramsey the series began to pick up ratings. Throw in a very young Kylie Minogue, a teenage forbidden romance story and an eventual wedding into the mix and show’s success was secure.
BBC decided to include it in the schedules in 1987 and it’s been running ever since. The lives and loves of a small cul-de-sac (curiously called Ramsey “Street”) in Melbourne are now beamed all over the world and watched by millions everyday. It’s lasted this long, but that’s not to say it’s been years of quality entertainment…
NOT ALL GOOD STUFF…
Most of us, whether we like it or not, will have probably seen an episode of Neighbours at some point in time; but our opinions of the show greatly differ. The trouble was that the show was all very mundane.
Year after year we’d get the same story lines, which normally involved teenagers doing ‘evil’ kissing against their parents will, family feuds and ‘comical’ misunderstandings. In fact, it was pretty crap – it was the same mindless drivel year after year.
Story lines also had a very short shelf life; for instance who can remember Lucy Robison having an emergency operation on the kitchen table (she was fine a few days later) or Daphne’s ability to have a baby without removing her dungarees?
Another problem was actor changes – Beverly Marshal was played by 2 different people, so was Scott Robinson and Cody Willis (the later one having a man’s voice). Poor Lucy Robinson was played by 3 different people, with no-one noticing her growth spurt (of about 3 years each time), new face, hair and voice even though she’d only been away for 6 months.
Other major flaws with Neighbours are the lack of continuity and the far-fetched story lines. I know this is common to all Soap Operas, but can one little street really have so many tragic deaths (including one that was shot by a drug dealer, another at the hands of duck hunters, a few car crashes, terminal illness and horse riding accidents)?
Along with a high mortality rate, Ramsey Street also supports a high proportion of lost relatives. Most characters have suddenly had their family extended by the addition of a few people who were separated at birth.
With this complex web of ever dieing and replenishing of families continuity goes out the window. Family occasions, such as weddings, are mostly attended by people from the street and non-speaking extras – children who have “moved to Queensland” rarely put in an appearance, even if their nearest and dearest is at death’s door.
And who can forget the recording ‘artists’ the show has generated? Although Kylie Minogue really made it big, many didn’t – bad actors trying to launch a equally bad music career did nothing to enhance the show.
The trouble is, that if we catch one or two episodes; these faults shine through. It’s no wonder people who don’t watch it everyday come to the conclusion that this is a just a trashy Aussie soap.
1998 saw the start of a step change in Neighbours. Rather than concentrating on relationships of pubescent teenagers; more daring and long running story lines were introduced. This was presented in the form of one of the show’s closest couples (DR Karl and Susan Kennedy) being pushed to the brink of oblivion, after Karl had an affair with his overly attractive receptionist. Rather than spending a few weeks on this story, it built up, exploded and finally reconciled over the course of 18 months. During this time the actors involved pulled out all the stops and delivered a truly moving and memorable performance.
Unfortunately, after this, we took a step backwards. Following a couple of years of largely unimportant story lines 2003 marked another turning point, and this time, we are assured, it’s for good.
A new executive producer, by the name of Riccardo Pellizzeri has assured a new direction, and over the last year, it’s really starting to happen.
Rather than just repeating what has gone before, Neighbours has started to fresh approach to stories. During 2003 we had a couple of long running plots; and a sprinkling of “bad” characters. The dastardly doctor Darcy went hell for leather trying to split up Toddie and Dee, in the process building up debts he couldn’t repay. He ended up robbing the neighbours, putting a pregnant Lyn Scully in hospital.
The happy twist came when he was imprisoned and Dee and Toddie married, and in Neighbours of old this would be job done. Instead, on their wedding day (which was attended by Toddie’s parents and brother – who were all played by the same actors, even though we hadn’t seen them in over 6 years), Dee was killed in a car accident. The story then progressed onto dealing with grief and recriminations in a believable way – and over a long period of time, proving that Neighbours can do serious drama if it tries hard enough.
Another baddie which has recently come on to the scene is Izzie Holyland. Proving that not all people have good side, she has added an “edge” to the show. Her ‘party girl’ ways have again led Dr Karl to reconsider his life (while at the same time she was playing mind games with another resident’s son by offering no-strings sex when she wanted it). At the moment Karl and Susan are going through a believable and emotional (from my own experience) separation – but this time we do not know whether or not they’ll be a happy ending. From the way the show is going, this time I expect not.
Another story line we have at the moment is a 15 year old girl getting involved with a 25 years old web-porn photographer. Rather than the innocent teenager kissing of the past, we’ve finally caught up with the times – and started to explore the fact that under 16’s can be sexually active while demonstrating the potential consequences to both the girl and her family.
Along with new plots, the sets and direction also received a makeover; improved lighting of the sets, more natural dialogue and better camera work help to involve you more in emotions and actions on screen. In short, it just makes it more believable.
While the “new” direction may seem a little darker than before, it still manages to include the typical Neighbours light-heartedness at the same time. Small sub-plots and schemes often deliver comical moments in between hard hitting plots and good actor performances. Compared to Eastenders or Coronation Street (where people are always so bloody miserable), Neighbours manages to tread the balance between entertainment and ‘rating winning’ story lines with a more natural ease.
IN THE FUTURE
I don’t know what the future holds for Neighbours. Before, I could look it up on the internet, but with the UK only being a matter of weeks behind Australia, the future isn’t certain. What will happen in the future? Which characters will be killed off or separated? We just don’t know. Which for me makes it more compelling viewing, especially because now there’s just as much chance of a happy ending or a sour one.
There are a few things I’d like to change about the show. So far we’ve not really had much diversity in Ramsey Street. We still haven’t had the obligatory homosexual story line, and different cultures in Ramsey Street have only amounted to one family of Chinese people (who lasted about 2 weeks), one Indian and one black person – not much representation for 19 years.
Also it would be nice to move away from using Actors who aren’t the perfect all-Aussie teen. A few people who are both young and not blessed with the body of a god would aid the realism.
There’s also matter of the scheduling. Although it has performed well in the schedule on BBC, the daytime slot (and younger viewer) does preclude many story lines. For instance, it’s increasing likely that the two 16 year-old lovers loosing their virginity will be cut completely from the show when it airs on BBC1. The time slot also prevents many people from ever seeing it – those who work even 9-5 will struggle to get home in time to watch it.
WHEN’S IT ON?
BBC1 – 1:40pm and 5:30pm UK Gold – 7:20am (1997 episodes)
http://perfectblend.net/ (fan site) http://www.erinsborough.com/index.shtml (fan site) http://www.bbc.co.uk/neighbours/ (official site – UK) http://www.neighbours.com (official site Australia)
Don’t let your preconceptions of Neighbours put you off watching it. Although it’s had a chequered history (many years of drivel) it has started to turn the corner. It’s becoming more compelling viewing with every episode and in my opinion much better than many of the ‘major’ soaps operas out there.
If you can get home in time for watch it; give it a try. 120 million worldwide daily viewers can’t all be wrong can they?
Thanks for reading.
PS This is my first TV review, so any comments are really appreciated.
Geat review, love Neighbours but damn Wimbledon for taking it from me!!! Mollbird
giantpanda21 07.03.2006 16:06
I am a fan of neighbours but i only watch it occasionly great review
Flash-Hammer 20.11.2005 02:14
A really good review (a comprehensive break down of the elements, of one of my favorite soaps).....It's a typical student watching show (in-between lectures or a distraction from doing work!! ) I've been watching it for over 15 years and I try not to miss an episode...it's one of those shows that you can miss for a month and still know what is going on. Did you know that Erinsbourgh is an anagram of Neighbours -Flash-