Amazon has made quite a song and dance about bringing back Neighbours, though when I attempt to catch up with the
beloved soap via my Prime account, I’m told the new season isn’t available. The mystery is (partly) solved when Neighbours: A New Chapter turns up on RTÉ One at lunchtime – complete with a high-profile new cast member in Mischa Barton and the return of Guy Pearce, who came back for the “last ever” episode in 2022 and today says he will “do right” by fans and see out the storyline of his character, Mike Young.
Twelve months on from that premature farewell, it’s Ramsay Street – but not as we remember it, and long-time devotees may have mixed feelings about the changes. Jeff Bezos’s Infinite Chequebook has resulted in a spruced-up new look. Everything is glossier and, if not exactly Big Little Lies in its production values, certainly more “Hollywood” than viewers will recall.
Hollywood is also represented more literally with Mischa Barton, who plays glamorous and loved-up American Reece Sinclair (one of those fantastic and obviously made-up names at which soaps used to excel). She floats into the Lassiters Hotel and is soon enthusiastically snogging a bellhop in the lift. We’re a long way from Kylie and Jason blushing at one another from across the street. Will the Neighbours audience enjoy the gear shift – or might they be appalled? We’ll have to wait and see – though perhaps not too long, with four new episodes due each week.
Pearce turns up, too – speaking via video link to on-screen girlfriend Jane Harris (Annie Jones). He’s in the UK, and Jane is off to reconnect, meaning Neighbours is now going international.
Back in suburban Melbourne, we reconnect with familiar faces from the show’s nearly four-decade history. They include Toadie (Ryan Moloney), Susan (Carrickfergus-born Jackie Woodburne), Paul (Stefan Dennis), and Karl (Alan Fletcher). There’s also a surprise at the end when a big wedding takes a turn for the unexpected.
Amazon wouldn’t have brought back Neighbours if it didn’t believe the venerable soap could reach a new viewership (in the US and the UK it is being rolled out on Freevee, a free-to-watch Amazon service available in those territories). So, it’s unsurprising that this revival feels more like a partial reboot. It’s glitzier, starrier, more sexed-up. What next? Glenroe in Space? Red Rock starring ... the Rock? The way streaming is going, it feels like nothing is off the table.