Mercado on TV: Neighbours never been better, long may it continue

• Neighbours (Monday on 10Peach) celebrates its 35th anniversary

Neighbours (Monday on 10Peach) celebrates its 35th anniversary with 3 deaths, 5 weddings and double episodes all next week. So that’s weddings at 6.30pm, and deaths on Neighbours: End Game at 7pm.

The best soaps are always those that balance death and drama with comedy and fun. East Enders (UKTV), which also started in 1985, just “celebrated” its 35th by drowning Sharon’s (Letitia Dean) teenage son Denny (Harry Hickles) in the Thames. Really? Even The Apprentice’s Lord Alan Sugar, an “Easties superfan”, described it as “boring” and the loss of a “great little actor”.

Neighbours is less bleak, but still gets no love from 10. What a shame they won’t do Neighbours Late like the UK do, screening the darker eps at 10pm. Peach could have done that at 9pm, when reality franchises are ending and people start channel surfing, but tired old Two and a Half Men repeats must be more important.

It’s such a shame, because lapsed viewers could be tempted back given there are 11 former characters returning. Every single one of them is back for a good reason because Neighbours always find ways to remember the past, but use it to propel current storylines forward.

It is particularly satisfying to see Sky (Stephanie McIntosh) and Lana (Bridget Neval) back. They kissed in 2004, during Neighbours’ first lesbian flirtation, but Sky insisted she was straight so Lana left. Now they are back, but this time they will be married alongside a tram.

This will be Neighbours’ second same sex wedding and ironically, at the same time, Home and Away’s lesbian couple will breaking up and Alex (Zoe Ventoura) will leave. Will Seven allow them to kiss goodbye, and will this be their last gay in the storyline for oh, another decade or so?

Apparently Home and Away underplayed their 30th anniversary for fear of looking “old”, but Neighbours is fresher than ever at 35. They now have a vast and evolving backlot to film on and wisely, the show also makes more of being a Melbourne suburb, with characters sometimes heading out to laneway bars in the CBD.

Many years ago, I said that Home and Away would go longer because its core concept was stronger. Summer Bay used to be a place where delinquent foster kids (and then their troubled families) came to be rehabilitated. But today, the show ignores all that, because ever since the River Boys arrived, it’s nothing but bad boys, drugs and guns.

But Neighbours, which I once thought was doomed because it was set in a dead-end street, now reflects modern Australia, with multiple ethnicities, characters with disabilities and LGBT folk galore, while still being cheesy and silly. Neighbours has never been better, long may it continue.

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