First Review: "New" Neighbours

The change is coming at 6:30pm… or is it?

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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12 Comments:

  1. I also love Neighbours and enjoy watching it on my one day off a week from work.

    It’s an escapism from reality for thirty minutes considering the alternatives are crappy current affairs shows.
    What they need also now is an american teen drama over at 10

  2. I just wish they had scrapped the Parker’s (Ned Parker and now this new family, his relatives). They are single handedly making this show unexciting to watch. Why they have to continue on with Ned Parker in the show is beyond me – and now to expand his family… Big mistake. Bring in another Timmins type family!

  3. as a british fan of neighbours i cant wait for to see nikki coghill jane hall back on screen in the uk these actors are great aquisitions to the neighbours cast no wonder the ratings are shooting up and not down congrats to the guys who produce the show just keep the scripts lively and fun

  4. Steve Bastoni is a washed up play boy who had to join Neighbours because he realised he wasn’t getting stable work. Neighbours is a poor show because the writing is terrible. An actor is only as good as their script …..

  5. Even Cop Shop in the 70s had a regular character played by a disabled actor, and of course there’s the famed “Wheels” character played by Marcus Graham in E Street.

    But it’s a good observation, disability on TV has had a lowly run lately.

    That said, SBS has had docos, one of which is on tonight.

  6. Sadly, I doubt the show will improve anytime soon. There are still a slew of untalented actors on the show, and the storylines and dialogue are so contrived it’s ridiculous.

    Honestly, would it kill them if Frazer actually REMAINED disabled? I think a permanently disabled character in a soapie is wayyyy overdue.

    The producers are obviously aiming for a quick fix, but i think they’ll need to work their way up gradually if they wish to resurrect this stinky corpse. 😛

  7. I guess the big writing changes will be gradual as a lot of the years stories will have been planned well in advance of this relaunch. I’m glad the theme tune rework is inoffensive! I hope the July 23rd episode is a good one as I’m sure people will be tuning in for this.

  8. In fairness I havent watched a lot of H&A lately to compare. Just seen bits and pieces. Technically new Neighbours is looking slicker but it ultimately feels like window-dressing at this stage.

  9. It’s a bit of a worry that your review doesn’t seem to indicate any obvious changes whatsoever. I suppose you can’t expect massive changes to all sets to magically change in a day – but hope they happen gradually.

    One thing that always annoyed me about Neighbours was that everything looked so cheap and nasty. Especially when compared to the high gloss of Home and Away!

    I understand they’re aimed differently, but how does the technical/asthetic changes compare to that of Home and Away now?

  10. David – an excellent and treasured review of a much-loved program!

    Well done and thanks for the insight to the “same-old, same-old” but “working forumlae” … and as they use to say in the advertisement for that fly spray … “when you’re on a good thing, stick to it”!

    Thanks for keeping us Neighbours fans updated!

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