How do you end a show that’s been on for 37 years, and run for almost 9,000 episodes? It’s a Herculean task of resolution: nearly four decades of plot threads splaying out like frayed rope. So how can you tie that all together? Well, William Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist in the history of the English language, used to deploy either a wedding or a bloodbath as a means of closing the scene. The writers of Neighbours, arguably not the greatest dramatists in the history of the English language, opt for the former – but casual viewers might find themselves lamenting the absence of the latter.
In a plot confection (admirable in its shamelessness) the residents of Ramsay Street decide, en masse, to sell up and move. At the same time, Mel and Toadie (Lucinda Cowden and Ryan Moloney) are tying the knot (in a convenient wedding-cum-street-party), and, in the final strand of this valedictory triumvirate, Harold Bishop (played by Ian Smith, a man who must be resigned to being called “Harold Bishop” by strangers every day for the rest of his life) is still scribbling away, updating his History of Ramsay Street book (“the last of the custodians” who started the work). As with shows like Friends and M*A*S*H, the Neighbours finale is offered a longer running time in order to wrap things up, a creative decision that only prolongs the agony.
But the main thrust of the plot revolves around the return of an old face. Guy Pearce is back as Mike Young, a role he played for a few years in the 1980s before going off to Hollywood. He conducts a memory-fuelled tour of Erinsborough with his daughter, while relentlessly hitting on his ex, Plain Jane Superbrain (Annie Jones). Pearce’s return offers a reminder of what an effective talent incubator Neighbours has been over the years, but also throws an unwelcome light on all those Aussie actors who didn’t manage to break out of Ramsay Street. This is a finale that renders the contrast between the series’ bumbling soap actors and its A-list escapees in deep chiaroscuro: Beth (Natalie Imbruglia), Flick (Holly Valance), Charlene (Kylie Minogue) and Scott (Jason Donovan) are all wheeled on for fleeting reminders that Neighbours has been as much a talent agency as a TV show. “My years living on Ramsay Street were some of the best of my life,” says Donna (Margot Robbie), and it’s clear the actress is talking about her own formative years, before she went on to Oscar nominations and global superstardom.
The problem with this cameo-centric approach (which also implements a clip show to ramp up the nostalgia factor) is that it forgets the thing that makes soap operas so captivating: the plot. Instead, this finale has an almost meta quality. “Everyone deserves a place in the history of Ramsay Street, even those who watched us from afar,” says Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) in her closing monologue, appearing to acknowledge that the show’s primary audience was in the UK. Only the most devoted viewers, who’ve stayed monogamous to the show for decades, will have tears in their eyes as the camera pans up and away from that famous suburban dead end.
It is a trite observation to say that Neighbours is not The Sopranos. The writing, the acting, the production quality, the sensibility – these are all out of a totally different school. But people tuning in for these final episodes, possibly after many years – I myself haven’t watched it since my very adolescent-boy interest in the career of Holly Valance – will undoubtedly find the production so cheap and flimsy that it’s hardly a surprise it’s fallen apart. Everybody might need good Neighbours, but that’s not what we’ve been given.