OK, hands up. Was anyone expecting the Neighbours finale to feel like a visit to an Ikea showroom? No, it was a surprise to me too.
But as returnee Mike Young (Guy Pearce) was given a tour of the Ramsay Street houses by his first love Jane Harris (Annie Jones), that’s exactly what was being evoked. A succession of bland, empty living rooms, so unblemished that it’s hard to believe any actual living has been done there.
Yet for Mike, it was a heady trip, and one that conjured up standard-definition flashbacks of Nel Mangel’s scowl, Daphne Clarke’s spiked hair and Shane Ramsay’s mullet. So many mullets, in fact.
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It’s like we didn’t see the nape of a male neck until at least 1995. And, in the end, Mike decided that Jane and Erinsborough were all that he needed in life. This cul-de-sac was where he wanted to stay forever.
Contented and happy. And not totally weirded-out and scared, as any right-minded person would be.
Because, let’s face it, that last episode of Neighbours was a deeply odd TV experience. To the extent that I half expected The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling to be narrating the outro: “What you’ve just witnessed is the tragedy of Mike Young. A man now trapped in the neighbourhood he thought he’d once escaped. In hell. For eternity.”
I mean, seriously, who would want to live there? As we’ve just seen, Susan Kennedy can summon up ghosts of dead psychopaths. Any woman who moves in seems to be forced by law to marry either Toadie (Ryan Moloney) or Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis). And all the images in people’s photo albums look like posed publicity shots for TV listings magazines.
Initially, I thought it creepy that Charlene (Kylie Minogue) and Scott (Jason Donovan) were stationed on that balcony, as though an invisible forcefield was preventing them from mixing with the masses. Now, I realise they had the right idea.
Keep interactions to a minimum. Don’t bother with actual real dialogue. Never enter the interior of any homes. Just raise a glass, laugh despite no jokes being told and, presumably, just drive away again — that Greatest Hits album still playing on the car stereo.
And honestly, it was probably for the best that Kylie and Jason had so few lines to learn, because if their characters had started to ask questions, they may never have stopped.
I certainly had plenty: how were these people all finding the time to make these impromptu surprise visits? What was the reason for Scott and Charlene being there? Where were Beth (Natalie Imbruglia) and Flick (Holly Valance) supposed to be?
Why did those famous former faces (Margot Robbie's Donna, Jesse Spencer's Billy etc) who’d sent video messages to Toadie (Ryan Moloney) and Mel (Lucinda Cowden) resort to guilt-tripping them about leaving when they’d all fled years ago?
Why, when all they had was an hour to play with, did the writers include a scene where Clive (Geoff Paine) was drunkenly windmilling the flex of a tatty lamp? Does Jane really carry a pair of back-up spectacles wherever she goes? Did Charlene actually try to break into the house in the same way as she did back in 1986? And, if so, why?
In fact, why was there no sense of cause and effect to any of the scenes? Did Susan (Jackie Woodburne) deliver her speech verbally or just transmit it into the minds of her friends telepathically like Vecna from Stranger Things? It was all so, so baffling.
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Look, I get it. I really do. Wrapping up decades’ worth of Neighbours must have a near-impossible task. Resolution is something we rarely witness on a soap because they are, by their very nature, continuing stories. Their speciality is shock cliffhangers. In deferring gratification and whetting the appetites of viewers. What we never usually get is The End being written over the credits. But in its own sign-off, Neighbours brought us less an hour of television drama, and more a mere parade of old familiar faces who’d been booked to tickle the belly of fans both current and lapsed.
And while there was just enough here to elicit the odd squeal of delight from anyone who’d spent time obsessing over events in Erinsborough, it was a strangely hollow enterprise. Awkward when it should have been affecting. Stilted where there could have been real sentiment.
I’ve no doubt that history will judge Neighbours kindly, but it’ll be for moments from throughout its run rather than anything in this final bow.
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Yes, this was the night that Charlene and Scott returned for a valedictory visit to Ramsay Street – but it ultimately failed to eclipse our memories of that doe-eyed bride marrying her mega-mulleted groom. Was the magic recaptured?
We should be so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
Watch a trailer for the Neighbours finale