Watching the opening credits on the final episode of Neighbors (Channel 5), with almost four decades of variations of the famous golden typography edited into one, it would not be hyperbole to suggest that it feels like watching your life flash before your eyes. Ramsay Street may be in a fictional suburb on the other side of the world from the UK, but from the start of this nostalgia-filled finale, it’s clear that producers – and viewers – are well aware that this is more than simply the end of a television show. More than yours.
We begin as we close, with Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) looking tearful as she surveys the street. For sale signs loom over every corner of the cul de sac, with many of the residents planning to leave. Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) is set to sell his beloved Lassiters hotel complex and move to New York. Even Toadie Rebecchi (Ryan Moloney) is selling up after 25 years. It is Toadfish’s wedding to Melanie Pearson (Lucinda Cowen) that is the crux of the final episode, ushering in a celebratory mood and most importantly, an excuse for old faces to return.
Neighbors birthed a slew of pop legends and Hollywood stars and it’s a testament to the fondness they feel for the show that many choose to return for the finale. Natalie Imbruglia and Holly Valance are on a bench musing about what makes a good singer. Margot Robbie says hi on FaceTime, filming from what appears to be her toilet. Guy Pearce looks to be having the time of his life returning as Mike Young, creating a moving reunion with high-school lost love Plain Jane Super Brain (Annie Jones). No appearance is more anticipated, though, than that of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. While brief, the novelty of seeing the two of them as 1980s love birds Charlene and Scott once again does not disappoint. Driving on to the street as the car radio blasts Especially for You, Minogue dons a denim jumpsuit with more than a small nod to Charlene’s infamous overalls. Thirty years have passed and no time at all.
The challenge for the writers was always going to be wrapping up existing plots, while providing sufficient nostalgia for older fans. They do it very well. Former mistress of Karl Kennedy, Izzy Hoyland (Natalie Bassingthwaighte), returns as a homage to one of soapland’s classic affairs (coming back to sleep with Karl’s son then dump him for a millionaire, naturally). Pearce being taken on a tour inside the Ramsay Street houses gives a summary of events for any viewers who have lost track over the years (“How many wives has Paul had?” he asks Jane. “Six.”) Meanwhile, Harold Bishop’s “ memory book” enables present-day scenes to be interspersed with classic clips. Seeing legendary characters – Helen Daniels, Madge Bishop, Mrs Mangel – again, and on fuzzy 80s tapes, is a reminder of just how long this Australian suburb has been with us.
Any soap ending feels strangely unnatural. Continuing drama is, by its definition, continuous. While other shows come into our lives for a few weeks, soaps are with us day in day out through our childhood, university days, to adulthood. After 37 years, the creators of Neighbors could claim its demise will be particularly keenly felt. They wouldn’t be wrong. It is not just that the series has a uniquely positive place in British culture – and not only with fans who haven’t watched it since they were skipping lectures to watch the BBC lunchtime slot. The show was still pulling in 1.5 million viewers on Channel 5 when it was axed and despite never being able to reach the halcyon days of the 80s-90s, was still producing headline-worthy storylines in its final weeks.
In the end, fittingly, most of the departing characters decide to stay on the street, and Paul Robinson holds on to Lassiters. It is a last-minute reprieve, as if to replicate the one fans were hoping to get from television executives.
By the time Susan gives her closing monologue as a street party rages around her, even the ghosts of “lost friends” such as Madge Bishop, Doug Willis and Sonya Rebecchi emerging doesn’t seem too outlandish. As an errant balloon pops in the sky and confetti rains down on the famous street, the original theme tune starts to play. Charlene clinks a champagne glass with her old friend Paul. This isn’t a finale mourning a show’s demise: it’s a celebration of its success – and what a success it was.