Monday 16 January 2017

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I'm so excited that Neighbours is back on our TV screen! Over the last 25 years or so, my taste in most areas of entertainment has changed massively (and, in some cases, looped back around to where I started.) In books, I've gone from mainly reading classic children's books and series as a child, jumping straight to adult stuff as a teen (mainly horror, which is way too scary for me now, and crime) and now mainly reading YA - partly because there is such an incredible variety out there compared to when I WAS a teen. In music, I've gone from loving folk and country, to rock, to musicals, and now sort of quite enjoy all of them. When it comes to films, I'll try nearly anything. And for TV series, I spent most of the 90s watching sitcoms which haven't held up well, and police procedurals I no longer have the attention span to follow.

But back when I was perhaps 7 or 8 - a few years after it started in the UK - I got hooked on Neighbours, regularly watching with my friend and his two older sisters at his house after school. That was a friendship which had seemed firm at the time, but actually lasted just a few years more. My relationship with Neighbours, on the other hand, started off shakily (we even tried Home & Away at various points in that first year or so!) but has endured and my love for it has grown.

That's not to say it's always been plain sailing. There have been various times when I've stopped watching, either because I've grown irritated (normally at plots involving Paul; more of this later!) or just haven't found the time. But it's never been more than six months or so before I've brought myself back to it and realised why I've loved it so much for so long.

I think soap operas have an inherent advantage over nearly every other form of story telling I enjoy.  I have followed the fortunes and misfortunes of some of the characters - Karl, Susan and Toadie, especially - for over 20 years, and my emotions regarding them far outweigh those I have for anyone in films, other TV shows, or even books. (I can hear the shocked gasps from regular readers!) I really love that Neighbours - in recent years especially - has such a strong respect for its own history, and it's been great to see former cast members reappear (none so memorably as Drew and Stingray in Neighbours vs Zombies!), past characters' relations enter the show, and in some cases both at once - the return of old flames Brad Willis and Lauren Carpenter, each with their own families, has given us many of my favourite storylines of the past few years.

For me, it's currently in a particularly strong place - I'm loving the romantic tension between Aaron and David, and think David's struggle between his feelings for Aaron and his great grandmother's homophobia is well-portrayed. I also really like that David's brother, Leo, is so supportive of him. Going back as far as Sky/Lana in 2003, I think Neighbours has generally done same-sex relationships pretty well so I have high hopes for this one. I'm also intrigued by the apparent return of Toadie's wife Dee, supposedly dead since their car crashed just after the wedding, while Leo & Amy, Paige & Jack, and Xanthe & Ben are all couples I think work well together.

Of course, few things are perfect, and Paul Robinson is simultaneously one of the best things about Neighbours and the most frustrating. From the moment he returned in 2004, reappearing through the smoke of the Lassiter's fire, Stefan Dennis has been compelling as the 'love to hate' businessman. But while Paul's constant switching between 'good guy' and 'bad guy' works to some extent for his own character - he's greedy and Machiavellian, but genuinely cares about the people he loves and will try to help them - it screws up many other characters who respond to him in ridiculous ways. Chief failure here - on the part of the writers and not the wonderful Jackie Woodburne - is Susan. She's an intelligent woman who has been a great teacher and principal of Erinsborough High, an impressive reporter, and has touched the lives of so many troubled teens. And yet there have been so many times in the last 12 years when she has been left looking foolish for trusting Paul, who has disappointed her. Why, Susan? I get that you are a lovely person and try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but can you seriously be surprised any more? As in the story of the scorpion and the frog, Paul is a scorpion - it's what he does!

So it's not perfect, but I think it's the only thing in the last three years or so that I've considered 'must-see TV' - except, of course, for the 2014 Halloween spin-off Neighbours vs Zombies, which WAS perfect.

Are there any soaps you're a big fan of? Do you think they have an advantage over other forms of story telling when it comes to provoking an emotional reaction? Leave me a comment or tweet me to let me know!

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