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Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Mischa Barton in Neighbours: A New Chapter.
Back from the dead … Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Mischa Barton in Neighbours: A New Chapter. Photograph: Jane Zhang/Amazon Freevee
Back from the dead … Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Mischa Barton in Neighbours: A New Chapter. Photograph: Jane Zhang/Amazon Freevee

Neighbours: A New Chapter review – fans will be left shouting at their screens

This article is more than 6 months old

The Ramsay Street reboot reunites Susan and Karl, Paul Robinson, Toadie and more, but the opening episodes are disconcerting – full of surreal moments, bizarre twists and (why oh why?) Mischa Barton

Watching the familiar but updated theme tune play over the opening credits of the Neighbours reboot, it feels like seeing a distant relative come back from the dead. Sure, you are pleased to see them, but it’s all a bit disconcerting.

When the soap ended after 37 years last summer, it was given the sort of send off most programmes could only dream of at a time when streamers such as Netflix can cancel a show with barely an ending. Neighbours was not only given the chance to tie up every loose end, they celebrated its long history too. Kylie and Jason returned! Margot Robbie turned up! Guy Pearce declared his love for Plain Jane Superbrain! The cast even did a farewell tour.

Then Amazon stepped in to save the show, several months after the “last ever episode” aired. If the Neighbours reboot is a loved one coming back to life, viewers could be forgiven for wondering why they bothered to sit through a six-month wake.

When every character has been given the perfect goodbye, the question becomes, what do producers do now? Do you return to Ramsay Street, carry on as normal and pretend nothing happened? Or do you try something fresh and throw a grenade in? Based on the first eight episodes that have been made available to the press, the Neighbours execs appear to have gone with: “Let’s try a bit of both.”

Time to throw a grenade in? … Neighbours: A New Chapter. Photograph: Ray Messner/Amazon Freevee

Familiar faces such as Susan and Karl Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne and Alan Fletcher), Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis), Toadie (Ryan Moloney) and Jane Harris (Annie Jones) all return, but they are joined by a number of newcomers, including The OC’s Mischa Barton for reasons no one quite understands.

Set two years after the finale, the producers niftily avoid awkward explanations for joining any of this together by moving the timescale on significantly. Children have been recast and seemingly aged a decade. Former cast members are referred to as if they have gone into witness protection. Long-running characters utter cryptic phrases suggesting “a lot has happened in two years”. The first episode includes the sort of twist that will leave fans shouting at their screens. It is an odd mix of nostalgia (the old sets and famous cul de sac remain the same) and unsettling change. In the early scenes, there are moments that feel so surreal you half expect to see Paul Robinson in the shower bemoaning his wife’s bad dream.

Perhaps the most publicised problem for the writers is how to deal with the fact the finale saw Pearce’s Mike decide to buy a house on Ramsay Street to live out his days with Jane. That Mike spends much of the first episode on FaceTime suggests Pearce is not planning to leave Hollywood for soap life. Still, you have to credit Pearce for bothering to return (again) to tie things up.

There has been some – dare I say – snobbery in reports around Neighbours’ comeback suggesting that no one really watches the show any more. In fact, when Channel 5 axed the series it was regularly pulling in around 800,000 viewers a day (excluding catchup figures), while 3 million tuned in for the finale. Whether these fans will come back now is another matter.

Rather than its longstanding home on terrestrial TV, Neighbours will air four days a week on streaming service Amazon Freevee in the UK. Soaps are valued for their continuity and routine – a shine that may rub off with this shift to streaming and big plot twists offscreen. Viewers may also suffer from how efficiently the show ended originally. Fan favourites such as Kyle, Roxie and Chloe had moved away by the finale, while others, including LGBTQ+ parents David and Aaron, are seemingly not part of the reboot. Casting a host of new, unknown actors in place of half the old cast feels like Neighbours on a budget, albeit with new 360-degree shots.

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And yet it would take a harsher cynic than I not to feel glad to see the residents of Ramsay Street again. Any abrupt changes largely settle down after the initial week’s episodes and there is a sense of slotting back into something comforting – like a pair of cosy slippers. Whether it’s shots of Lassisters hotel or the sun-drenched beach, being back in Erinsborough brings a wave of warm familiarity that TV rarely musters. By the time Susan and Karl are having yet another marital bust-up and a newcomer asks “Shall I fire up the barbie?”, you can almost convince yourself that they have never been away.

  • Neighbours is on Amazon Freevee in the UK and US and Prime Video in Canada from 18 September. In Australia, Network 10 will air episodes, which will be available on Prime Video seven days later in Australia and New Zealand.

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