Neighbours review: New chapter proves why TV revival was worth fighting for
Neighbours’ long-awaited return is almost upon us and, despite having been off the air for just a year, TV simply hasn’t been the same without our daily slice of Erinsborough life.
The world collectively gasped in horror last year when the popular Australian soap, a staple of daytime TV in the UK, was axed by Channel 5, despite pulling in an average of 1.5 million viewers per day.
The baffling reason for its cancellation, according to the station, was to make way for ‘original UK drama’ which frustrated fans, who were much more interested in their daily dose of Ramsay Street fun.
Petitions were launched, with the show’s signature theme tune even re-entering the charts and knocking Ed Sheeran off the top spot, but despite this, Neighbours came to an end with an epic finale, which saw the likes of Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce and Margot Robbie reprise their roles to say goodbye.
The iconic soap, however, is nothing if not resourceful and, for the second time in its 37-year history, it was rescued from the jaws of death.
Amazon Freevee had been taking notes and, when the time was right, they intervened, much to the joy of millions. A shock twist that not even the show’s ambitious writing team could’ve come up with!
There were, however, questions galore. Primarily what Neighbours on a streaming service would even look like, not to mention if a revival was justified given its perfect bow-tie of an ending. And could a soap – a TV genre often avoided by streaming services – even work on such a platform?
Alan Fletcher, who plays Karl Kennedy, told me earlier this year that despite its move to streaming, Neighbours would be exactly how the fans remembered it upon its return. I’m happy to report that this is very much the case.
The show pick up two years after the events of the finale. Time has moved on, people have new obstacles and challenges to face, and there’s some new blood on the Street to add a dash of freshness. But the essence of Neighbours remains.
The format hasn’t been tampered with in the slightest and everything is exactly as it should be. There’s also no fanfare or flashing lights saying ‘WE’RE BACK’ or anything like that – It’s just business as usual.
What I really like about the comeback is how the break in transmission actually acts as the catalyst or a launchpad for a plethora of new stories, refreshing the canvas with a number of intriguing twists, dynamics and developments, all of which are born out of the time-jump.
Susan Kennedy is holding something back. There’s an emotional story on the cards for Harold Bishop. Paul Robinson faces a new conflict. There’s shock in store for Mike Young (played by Guy Pearce, who has reprised his role), as was confirmed in the trailer, with Jane Harris ‘keeping something’ from him.
And that’s just for starters!
There is so much happening. Even after the first eight episodes, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface with some storylines. What’s also nice is that no story or character dominates or proves overwhelming. Everything is well-paced, allowing each narrative ample opportunity to breathe and flourish, playing out as and when the time is right. Soap storytelling at its absolute finest.
Neighbours always functioned best as an ensemble piece, with characters popping in and out of each other’s stories and houses, and this unique and totally unrealistic aspect (sorry not sorry) of the show remains very much intact. In fact, this overfamiliarity is something that the writers even poke fun at courtesy of new residents of the Street, the Varga-Murphys.
‘Maybe the ad should’ve said overly-friendly neighbours’, says newcomer Remi, as seen in the latest trailer, summing up the entire soap genre in one pitch-perfect statement. Speaking of the newest Erinsborough clan, the Varga-Murphys are a great addition to the cast. They’re riddled with intrigue, swiftly getting tangled up in various Ramsay Street webs over the course of the first few weeks.
One of Neighbours’ strengths was in its ability to bring in compelling new characters, an area some of the other soaps have struggled with. I mean, in its final year on Channel 5, we got the captivating Freya Wozniak (played by the wonderful Phoebe Roberts). Enough said.
But it’s not just the Varga-Murphys that make a splash, as the charming Haz, new owner of Harold’s, has all the makings of a fan-favourite as well. I might be a little bit in love with him already. Reece Sinclair, a guest at Lassiters, sets the cat among the pigeons, with Mischa Barton doing some of her finest work to date as the enigmatic newcomer who swiftly becomes a thorn in Paul Robinson’s side.
I had my doubts about this storyline when I first heard about it but, while previewing the first episodes, I must admit I found it very enjoyable. It’s deliciously soapy in a daytime TV sort of way, which Neighbours was always very good at, with Xavier Molyneux really proving himself worthy of taking over the mantle of Byron.
How to watch Neighbours when it returns on Amazon Freevee
Amazon Freevee is a free ad-supported streaming service which offers a wide range of movies and TV programmes for just about anyone.
It is very easy to use and can be accessed on a web browser via the official Amazon website, or on a mobile device, smart TV or games console via either the Prime Video or Freevee apps – some services carry both, so you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Android TVs, Apple TVs and Google TVs also have the Freevee app, so if you possess any of these devices you’ll be able to stream Neighbours to your heart’s content.
Simply head to Amazon.co.uk if you’re in the UK or Amazon.com for US users and create your free account.
Once you’re registered, simply type in Neighbours and voila, let the binge-watching commence!
A selection of iconic episodes are currently available to stream, with EVERY episode from 2012 to 2022 also on offer, meaning you can catch right up in time for the show’s return next week.
More information here.
And on the topic of deliciously soapy, much of the promotion teases a ‘jaw-dropping’ wedding, but is it really all that jaw-dropping?
When you work regularly with the soaps, you become accustomed to such terms and sometimes have to take them with a pinch of salt, but an audible gasp did escape my lips here so well played, Neighbours. Very well played.
Lavish drama aside, my favourite thing about the wedding is that it’s used as a neat little device to bring all our favourites together at the very beginning to herald in this new era, while also setting the scene for all the individual drama that’s to come afterwards.
Jane, for example, unites with her friends ahead of her big stuff with Mike, in a storyline that was filmed in England earlier this year. My biggest concern regarding the revival was actually how the writers would work around this romance, which was three decades in the making and one of my favourite parts of last year’s swan song.
I imagined it would’ve been lazily explained away via the time jump, with the popular couple’s happy ending inevitably revoked and Mike long gone. But thankfully, it’s handled with much more care than just that.
With Guy Pearce back on our screens as Mike in the new series, there’s an actual arc on the cards, as opposed to a simple flashback or goodbye sequence.
It’s also worth mentioning how delightful it is to see the Rodwells back, given that they were robbed of the opportunity to properly make a mark last year due to the series’ cancellation news.
Wendy is an absolute delight, played to perfection by Candace Leask, and she’s got all the makings of a proper Neighbours legend, with her penchant for a “Yoo-hoos!” something that I’ve actually missed.
Sadie’s friendship with Mackenzie is a breath of fresh air, as is patriarch Andrew, with actor Lloyd Will bringing a genuine sincerity to the role. I imagine having a cop living on Ramsay Street will come in handy in the writers room for any characters’ future brushes with the law.
But what struck me the most when watching the upcoming episodes was just how much I’d missed having these characters and relationships in my life.
Neighbours was a show that meant a great deal to me growing up, having watched it with someone very close to me. Losing it last year was tough, though the excitement surrounding the finale made it easier to say goodbye in a way. Ultimately, I’d made my peace with Neighbours fading out of my life.
And yet, flash-forward a year and here we are, with exciting new adventures unfolding in Ramsay Street. It’s quite surreal. In this era of cancellations aplenty, axed TV series’ rarely get a reprieve, let alone a soap; a genre that is often unfairly dismissed as having lost its relevance.
But like them or not, serial dramas remain an integral part of the TV landscape, and the pivot to streaming services isn’t going to change that. Several of the genre’s titans such as EastEnders and Hollyoaks have already adapted, essentially becoming streaming originals due to their popularity with younger audiences.
Neighbours has simply followed suit, with Amazon Freevee seeing what it still has to offer the world.
There is a preconceived notion that the legendary soap was well past its sell-by date at the time of its cancellation and that such a thing contributed to its axing, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
As those of us who stuck with it through thick and thin know, some of the show’s later years – including its last on Channel 5 – were among its best. It’s comeback therefore isn’t a case of trying to recapture its glory days, it’s simply picking up where it left off, justifying why it should’ve never been axed in the first place and boy does it do that in spades.
In fact, it’s like we’ve never been away. The actors have also slotted right back into their roles and dynamics seamlessly. Jackie Woodburne and Alan Fletcher, who play Susan and Karl respectively, are electric together – and I mean electric.
Perhaps it’s because I thought I’d never see those two spar in-character again, but I just couldn’t shake this feeling of glee while watching them do what they do best in the new episodes.
It also needs to be said how awesome it is to see the Guy Pearce back. Returning to wrap things up is one thing, but to see what happened next for Mike and Jane after the happy ending is another treat altogether.
And ultimately, it’s this what comes after that justifies this revival. Good or bad, soap simply aren’t meant to be conclude. Like, ever. It goes against the grain of the genre not seeing what happens next. Even if it’s awful.
But awful it most certainly isn’t. Neighbours’ continuation is a prime example of how a TV revival should be done. It plays to the show’s strengths, gives the fans what they want without leaning into fan service territory and blends the old with the new to create something truly special.
It’s a welcomed return if there was ever one. In fact, the world of TV seems a little warmer already. If you were a Neighbours fan before then you’re going to absolutely love this and if you haven’t dabbled in a while then this is the perfect opportunity to dive back in.
Welcome back, Ramsay Street. Oh, how we’ve missed you.
Neighbours returns on Amazon Freevee on Monday September 18, with new episodes streaming Mondays to Thursdays from 7am.
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