Intended as a companion to the daily airings of the main show, with the recent disappearance of pupil Olivia Lane providing a jumping-off point, it’s clear from episode one that the teen-centric offering is a very different beast from the cosy community drama fans are familiar with.
Focusing on the pupils and – to a lesser extent – staff of the local school puts the focus on the younger characters outside of their usual family dynamic, tapping deeper into the hopes and fears of Ramsay Street’s next generation.
It’s edgier and looser than Neighbours proper, with impressive production values and stylistic touches that establish an identity outside of the parent programme: hand-held camerawork, voiceovers, nifty on-screen text captions floating up as teens tap on their phones, and a moody colour palette that feels far murkier and grainier than a laid-back barbie in the Rebecchis’ back garden.
Clearly inspired by the likes of Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why, but remaining the right side of derivative, we’re straight into tackling Serious Adolescent Issues lurking beneath the sunny surface in an attempt to appeal to the all-important young adult audience. Gender, sexuality, anxiety, bullying and mental health are all thrown in.
The cast, a mix of Neighbours regulars and new characters we’re to assume have been there all along, are engaging and the pupils make a virtue of the first episode’s most effective device: the confessional video diary.
It may be a well-used narrative trope, but in the age of living your best digital life and oversharing online, rather than talking to anyone face-to-face, it should chime with the intended audience.
Throughout the first instalment, each pupil records a segment to camera revealing their dreams for the future as part of a school initiative to log their lives in 2019 with the intention of revisiting it in 10 years’ time. As well as establishing the internal life of the characters, it also highlights the actors with the most presence.
Olivia Junkeer’s relatable tom boy Yashvi discussing her mixed emotions at leaving school and having to face the real world, Benny Turland giving a glimpse of bratty rich kid Hendrix’s vulnerable side and newcomer Darius Amarfio-Jefferson’s quirky turn as introvert Jeremiah are all standouts.
Let’s not forget the likes of Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue and Margot Robbie were all once students at this fictional school (back when the uniform was way more garish tartan than the current cool bomber jacket chic), so one of the young talents given their chance to shine in this ambitious, addictive series may well go on to crack Hollywood. Remember where you saw them first.
Online spin-offs can feel gimmicky, but there’s a sense of point and purpose to this. Credit to Neighbours for trying to move with the times, and full marks for diversity among the cast in terms of representing ethnicity and gender, with trans actor Georgie Stone’s character, transgender teen Mackenzie, taking centre stage. The days where the show was criticised for having a poor diversity track record are thankfully long gone.
Angst-laden, edgy teen sagas are all the rage so Erinsborough High is entering a competitive, crowded market, but the pacy, involving first episode sets up as an impressive attempt at bringing soap sensibilities to the streaming drama landscape.
Neighbours: Erinsborough High is now available on My5
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