First Review: "New" Neighbours
First a confession. I have a fondness for Neighbours which is as familar as an old shoe. We’ve grown up with the show, connected with many favourite characters and actors, and admired its persistence for hanging in there.
So it’s with much curiosity that I took a look at the “new” Neighbours which promises a revamped theme, credits, logo, updated sets, new characters, high def shooting and a higher proportion of locations. New writers and approaches to storylines will also be phased in across the rest of the year.
In the preview copy I received there was no title sequence, which is obviously still being developed. There was an audio of an updated theme, an inoffensive soft-rock with a female voice, reminding me of Natalie Bassingthwaite without the grunt.
From here the content continues Neighbours’ terrain of domestic storylines, juvenile actors in romance (some still not particularly good performers), multi-generational advice, a dash of light comedy, traditional soapie tricks (somebody was in a coma) and so on. Admittedly it looks brighter, doubtless a benefit of the new shooting style. But if the sets were different the change is so subtle as to be indistinguishable -which could be part of the master plan.
All the hallmarks that we recognise as defining Neighbours, for better or for worse, remain. You’ll still be looking at an interior set noticing that fake exterior background. It’s still predominantly WASPy Melbourne, even with the new actors. Houses which were once aspirational McMansions 20 years ago are still, as they have been for several years now, lower middle-class. The dialogue is still soapily pedestrian and costumes are still dominated by primary colours as if the wardrobe mistress had previously dressed The Wiggles.
This is not to suggest that these qualities don’t necessarily work.
Neighbours is what it is, and it’s more than aware of its market, demographic and budgetary limitations.
Ultimately if the show throws out all the qualities for which it has worked, it loses its DNA and potentially jumps the shark. If it shifts too subtly it risks overhyping the changes.
That advertising campaign promising change will be pushing two months by the time the first episode airs on July 23, and this is where I feel the biggest misjudgment has occured.
To a non-Neighbours fan there is, for all intents and purposes, no change. These promises will not bring in a new audience based on what I have seen so far. Such change will come from the writing not from cosmetic window-dressing. The best of Ramsay Street in recent years was driven entirely by the emotional triangle of Karl, Susan and Izzy, which cost nothing from the budget but a whole lot of heart from the creatives.
Current Neighbours fans are likely to feel cheated. The network has promised much, while the producers have opted for a subtle and long-term shift. Who is right and who is wrong?
New actors Jane Hall, Steve Bastoni and Nikki Coghill may well prove worthwhile in the long-term, and there are promises of more new actors, plus the return of Kym Valentine (Libby Kennedy).
God bless Neighbours for hanging in there and finding the means to attempt an update. God bless it for allowing actors like Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) to show us why she remains one of this country’s most underrated TV performers.
When the “change” sweeps through on July 23, try not to blink if you want to keep these Neighbours as good friends.
Disclaimer: David Knox has previously served on the writing team of Neighbours.
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