A character returning from the dead is hardly unheard of in the land of soaps, and Neighbours itself has brought several faces back after they were long thought deceased.
But, as we get another next week, in a story that has featured many twists already, we have to ask – is this latest move a twist too far?
Caution: spoilers for UK viewers ahead.
Fans are about to see Shaun Watkins (Brad Moller) return to the screen after being thought killed in an avalanche accident several months ago. His return is part of a storyline that has been twisting and turning for years and has already involved amnesia and the burning of an island as part of the Neighbours 35th Anniversary.
One twist in the plot was the death of Shaun itself, used to push Elly Conway (Jodi Anasta) and Finn Kelly (Rob Mills) closer together – events that led to Finn’s memory return and subsequent murderous rampage. One of the problems with bringing him back, and it’s potentially a key reason why this one feels to have fallen so flat, is that it was exactly what we all predicted would happen the moment he was killed off-screen.
We’re so used to it by now that it doesn’t feel like a twist anymore, just a predictable story beat to conveniently push the narrative along. It doesn’t help that this story has been running alongside another, for almost the same amount of time, that has also involved a miraculous return from the great beyond – that of Dee Bliss (Madeleine West).
Whereas Dee’s return has been arguably crazier than everything with Finn, it has got by on the strength of what it has given us. A return from Madeleine has been a delight and there is even hope we could get a permanent return for Dee. Watching her play the duel roles of Dee and Andrea Somers has been incredible to watch too, with the two characters being complete opposites.
These benefits to the show, alongside the brilliantly loopy Heather Schilling (Kerry Armstrong), has perhaps allowed this plot to be given a little more leeway than the other. The twists have not always been spotted a mile off and as bonkers as watching two identical people fight on a clifftop was – it’s hard to deny that it was a great deal of fun to see.
No offence to Shaun, but he is hardly one of the most memorable guest characters the show has had and so, this latest twist doesn’t have the weight behind it to make it feel earned. It is also hampered by some eye-rolling worthy timing. Having Shaun return after several months at the exact same place and time as his mother, Claudia Watkins (Kate Raison) is fleeing with his baby Aster is just too incredulous to be taken seriously.
It’s a soap trope that Neighbours has used before. But even back in 2010 when Steph Scully (Carla Bonner) hit Ringo Brown (Sam Clarke) with her bike when they both, separately, miles out of Erinsborough, fans called out how ludicrous it was. It doesn’t feel any better in 2020.
At worst, it just feels like an easy route to take to write Elly out. It’s been common knowledge for some time that Jodi Anasta is leaving Neighbours, and having Shaun come back to give her a happy ending is the most obvious way to take things – it seems a shame that it now seems to be what will happen. There is, of course, nothing official to suggest she will leave with Shaun, but we have lost a little faith that the story will be doing anything unpredictable as it draws to a close.
To add, we do feel that Neighbours is, generally speaking, at a creative high right now. It feels stronger than it has in some time, largely down to the soap having the right balance of unique characters from mixed demographics. But, we felt we had to say something when such a long-running and exciting story seems to be ending with a whimper rather than a bang.
We can suspend our disbelief with soaps, we have to from time to time, but there is only so much a viewer can do it before the twists start causing us to roll our eyes rather than gasp in shock. Hopefully, when Neighbours embarks on its next long-term story, it can find that perfect blend a little better.