Neighbours spoilers follow.
Neighbours is back! After 14 months off screen, the sunny Australian soap's return is the biggest 'back from the dead' twist since the return of Dee Bliss. Premiering on Amazon Freevee on Monday, September 18, a new chapter begins on Ramsay Street as a host of fan favourites return alongside some fresh, new arrivals.
Despite an outpouring of love and a passionate fan campaign, the show took its 'final' bow last July, with a fantastic finale that celebrated the show's past, present and hinted at the future that would remain unseen to viewers.
Neighbours bosses were given the unenviable task of trying to wrap the show up – after 37 years and nearly 9,000 episodes – and delivered a finale that provided all the closure the show deserved. And yet, defying all odds, it was announced that Neighbours would be making a comeback and returning on free streaming service Amazon Freevee.
However, amid all the excitement about the soap returning, there's also been an element of trepidation. With the finale that served as a perfect resolution, how do you even begin to pick apart those happy endings and have these characters resume their lives?
In many ways, the easiest route would have been to put the characters' lives on hold for the last 14 months, but it's clear from the first two weeks of episodes that Neighbours producer Jason Herbison and his team have been braver in their approach.
Two years have passed since the confetti fell at Toadie and Mel’s wedding party, and life has well and truly moved on in Erinsborough. As Jason Herbison pointed out in our recent interview, time jumps are nothing new for the genre, but Neighbours has used this unique opportunity to have fun with the status quo during its time off air.
Without giving too much away, a lot has happened on Ramsay Street since our last visit. New characters have arrived while others have moved on – with tantalising hints that there may be more stories to uncover behind their departures. With house swaps, job changes, new relationships and a couple of recast faces, the first couple of episodes are a whirlwind of events and exposition. It's a lot to process, but the speculation is all part of the fun.
A new start for the show also means a new family, and the first episode kicks off with the arrival of the Varga-Murphys, featuring mums Remi and Cara and their teenage sons, JJ and Dex. Neighbours doesn't push the characters to the forefront too early, but the family unit has great chemistry, and loads of potential. It becomes clear early on that one of the family members has a secret mission and we predict big fireworks before too long.
Other things, of course, never change. Karl and Susan are still the beloved stalwarts of Ramsay Street and Number 28 has been given a new shot of life with the return of Holly Hoyland, brilliantly played by Lucinda Armstrong-Hall.
It also wouldn't be Neighbours without Paul involved in antics at Lassiters and as witnessed in the recent trailer, he wastes no time in making his suspicions known about newcomer Reece, played by The OC's Mischa Barton. Reece, on the other hand, is more interested in Byron Stone, who is now played by Xavier Molyneux and he quickly makes the character his own.
One of the real highlights of the return is that characters who got the short end of the stick in the show's final few months haven't been forgotten. The Rodwells, for example, who joined the show as the axe was announced, never really got the chance to shine and now have a proper second chance. With clever use of the time skip, they're no longer the 'new family' but firmly established in the community.
Similarly, Mackenzie arguably had one of the more downbeat endings when the show wrapped, as she was still grieving over the loss of Hendrix. Revisiting the character two years on, it’s a genuine joy to see her happy again and keen to start a romance with newcomer Haz Devkar.
Guy Pearce's Mike Young is also back (to the surprise of many) and while he's no doubt not going to be sticking around for long, his scenes with Annie Jones' Jane are just as magic as they were in the finale.
With so much going on, it's very clear that Neighbours producers have carefully tried to walk a tightrope in balancing the familiarity that we expect alongside new characters and fresh storytelling – and largely succeed. While there's a lot to process as we're reintroduced to life on Ramsay Street, the soap wisely makes the legacy cast the focus of the opening run.
Karl, Susan, Toadie, Paul, Terese and Jane are in the thick of the drama, and the decision is one that really pays off. Not only are they among the most beloved actors in the show, but they provide a much-needed sense of reassurance that this isn't a reboot but a continuation.
Indeed, one of the biggest concerns about the show's return is that it would somehow change tonally from the show fans know and love. Even Stefan Dennis recently spoke of his own fears that the show was going to be retooled or Americanised to attract a global audience – a valid worry but thankfully, one that is unfounded.
In fact, once the new status quo is established and the exposition is out of the way, it's surprising just how quickly the show feels like Neighbours again. It doesn't shy away from its legacy, it embraces it. Those tropes and hallmarks of the genre that fans expect, are all present. Everything that Susan eulogised in her finale monologue that makes Neighbours unique – it's all there.
As Neighbours drew to a close in 2022, we lamented that the show was ending just as it seemed to be on the cusp of a new golden era. Thanks to some significant changes to the production model, the show looked better than ever and was also achieving that much-sought-after 'perfect blend' of plot and character.
While the momentum of that season was cut short, that strong vision behind the scenes is still very much evident in these episodes. The old and new cast mix well, never feeling like a show of two halves, and it's created a fresh, watchable dynamic. The storylines may be starting from scratch, so don't expect high drama right from the off, but the mysteries and plot twists that have arisen as a result of the time jump will surely provoke a lot of speculation and discussion online.
And we're certain that's the intention of the Neighbours story team. The worst thing that could happen is for the show's big return to fizzle out. It's possible that creating mysteries about the previous two years will leave many wondering 'How did we get here?'. But the beauty of these surprises is that it also encourages more fans to tune back in the next day for answers.
Ultimately, that is what the show needs to survive. Neighbours arriving on a streaming platform is a huge move that could really prove the long-term viability of the genre. It's so important to hook viewers early and that's where Neighbours will be hoping to succeed.
With a few surprising twists and turns for our established regulars and a new cast of characters, it’s a perfect jumping-on point for new viewers, while not alienating the dedicated fans who've supported the show over the years. The perfect blend, you might say (again, and not for the last time). Neighbours is back and hopefully, it's back for good.
Neighbours returns on September 18, with new episodes streaming on Mondays to Thursdays for free on Amazon Freevee in the UK and US. Network 10 will retain first-run rights in Australia for the new series.
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