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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Stuart Heritage

Neighbours, the Undead Apocalypse: the soap opera that came back from the dead

It’s alive! Neighbours’ 80s cast members, from left: Stefan Dennis, Annie Jones, Geoff Paine, Guy Pearce, Lucinda Cowden, Ian Smith and Paul Keane.
It’s alive! Neighbours’ 80s cast members, from left: Stefan Dennis, Annie Jones, Geoff Paine, Guy Pearce, Lucinda Cowden, Ian Smith and Paul Keane. Photograph: Ray Messner Photography/Supplied by Fremantle Australia

It has been 112 days since Neighbours ended. As anyone aware of the Kubler-Ross model of grief observation will understand, we are all still in the comparatively early stages of bereavement. When the news was announced that Channel 5 was ending Neighbours, we went through denial (“Neighbours is too famous to die”) and anger (“Will nobody think of Toadfish? This show is all he’s got”) and now we are firmly into the bargaining stage.

Well, have I got wonderful news for you. The bargaining stage of grief actually works, because the show is back. Today it was announced that the corpse of Neighbours will soon be revived by Amazon Freevee, which has struck a deal to haul the soap back into production in the coming months. If you are in the UK or US, Neighbours will once again be free to watch on Freevee, Amazon’s free streaming service.

Today’s announcement came out of the blue. Until this morning, Neighbours did a very good job of looking like a dead show. The final episode in July was an elegiac send-off, complete with appearances by a host of former stars, some of whom threw every ounce of effort into bringing back their old characters (like Guy Pearce), and some of whom just sort of showed up and stood around mutely as if possessed by the demon from Paranormal Activity (hello Kylie). There was no convoluted “The end … or is it?” get-out clause. Short of exploding Erinsborough in a hail of fire, the finale was as conclusive as it got.

And now it’s back. Apparently Amazon Freevee became interested in the show when executives saw the outpouring of love on social media after it was cancelled, and started negotiations with Fremantle, the production company, to revive it. So far, it has been confirmed that Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson), Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy), Ryan Moloney (Toadie Rebecchi) and Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) will all return to the new version, but for now that’s all.

This poses an important question. What will the other cast members do? For some, the return of Neighbours will be seen as an important lifeline; a secure job that they only gave up when it was forced upon them. These actors, you suspect, will be back in a heartbeat. But for others – possibly the younger, more ambitious stars who signed up knowing what the show did for Margot Robbie’s career – a steady job like Neighbours must have felt like a straitjacket. These people have tasted freedom now, so it might be difficult to lure them back.

Even the returning cast have all moved on to some extent. It was announced this summer that Ryan Moloney had signed up for a civil construction course, so that he could indulge in his love of “driving excavators and building roads”. Will he remain on Neighbours, knowing that his heart now lies in earthworks?

More importantly, will anyone watch the soap when it comes back? In the glory days of terrestrial television, Neighbours was one of the most-watched shows in the country, but the move to Channel 5 in 2008 led to a precipitous drop in viewers. And that just involved pressing a different button on a remote control.

Now the series will be on Amazon Freevee, which requires opening a menu on the screen, downloading a new streaming service, opening it and typing in the word “Neighbours”. It’s a lot more work, and right now nobody knows how many viewers will make the leap. Plus, the advent of streaming means that people can watch the best shows ever made whenever they want. A hoary relic like Neighbours might not be the draw it once was.

But let’s hold off the negativity for a while. The important thing is that Neighbours is back. Many of us grew up with Neighbours. We loved Neighbours. We stopped watching Neighbours when it changed channels. We watched it die. And now here we are, with Neighbours: Undead Apocalypse. I, for one, can’t wait.

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