TV Review: Shortland Street

By Hugh Sundae

18 comments
Now that's what I call a cliffhanger - Shortland Street. Photo / Supplied
Now that's what I call a cliffhanger - Shortland Street. Photo / Supplied

We knew it was coming, but that didn't make it any less shocking.

For months it has been the inevitable next step. "About time" many of you will be saying. Last night the makers of Shortland Street, the nation's longest running soap opera, made history.

They finally updated the titles.

I picked up again on Shortland Street after returning from overseas. You know, to catch up with my culture. That was almost two years ago and I'm sure some of the characters in the opening titles had left the show even then, but still? It was starting to get ridiculous. Shanti (dead), Morgan (also dead), Libby (OE), Alice (Rarotonga) Kip (about town). Ex-cast outnumbered current cast.

On the other hand, updating the titles with a new set of characters can spoil the surprise when we're not meant to know which of the current part-timers get to stay on for any length of time. I'd have my fingers crossed that chiselled doofus Brodie (Ari Boyland) doesn't stick around, but it's not looking good.

The producers solved this and more by employing the five second "stab". Used in shows like Heroes and The Mentalist - you get in, get the brand recognition, and get out. The recycling of characters is no longer a problem, and you probably get another 22 seconds of actual drama. For Nurse Tracey Morrison, that's a whole extra sentence.

Of course it wasn't just the opening titles that made last night's episode different. This was the climax of a storyline that began at last year's cliffhanger.

It wasn't a complete surprise, we knew actor Adam Rickitt was leaving. His house was in one of those celebrity-home-for-sale advertorials in a weekend supplement. Then he turns up, naked, cupping his daily takings in some British publication. Hello UK - I'm baa-ack!

Friday's episode ended with Kieran sobbing like a kid who'd been caught stealing - except his were tears of grief for his estranged brother Sean (Thijs Morris). Suddenly a bag is over his head and he's kidnapped - starting a chain of events that we all know will end in his death... And probably the chiselled doofus taking over the IV (for those who don't watch, that's the local bar/restaurant. I think it's a medical joke).

Last night began with a re-cap to end all re-caps. Kieran Mitchell's life in scene-bites, flashing before our eyes to remind us how much we knew about this character, and perhaps make us a little emotional about what we were about to be treated to. By pure coincidence, I actually had some Jaffas. Feature Length!

The opening scene had all the hallmarks of the "how could he possibly get out of this?" standard. Dark warehouse, BMW with tinted windows, and a shipping container decked out as a torture chamber. "Your money no good now."

In comes White Dragon. Looking like Coronation Street's Les Battersby doing an am-dram production of The Matrix, but underplayed beautifully by Matt Sunderland.

"Get us some more beer," he says, holding a blowtorch. "Cold ones, it's going to get hot in here."

He's convincing as the nasty, but deep-down likeable crook just doing his job (as he was on This Is Not My Life, which premiered last week on TV1), but you can't hear the man. He is, what Seinfeld called, a low-talker.

Meanwhile, we're reminded it's a nightly soap by returning to the other current storylines.

Brodie and Hunter (Lee Donoghue) vying for crazy-eyes Penny (Carolyn Dando). She's clearly insane, but at least she's insane from the start, unlike the unconvincing lecherous lecturer, Ash Fuller (Bryce Langston).

"I hope you score a threesome with her and her girlfriend Chlamydia", a rejected Brodie tells Hunter. Maybe I'm beginning to like Brodie after all.

Then there is the banal power-play for the presidency of the social club. Some of the most annoying storylines of late have involved Yvonne or Nicole, so it's no surprise having them together in one isn't going to go anywhere good.

"You know what you need? A sardine and raw-egg smoothie," Yvonne (Alison Quigan) preaches to a hungover Nicole (Sally Martin).

"Oh no, that's to induce vomiting!" Yup.

After another round of getting away and captured again (how will they possibly get out of this?) we find the Mitchell brothers, the low-talker, his Thai 'heavy', Nicole and Gerald (Harry McNaughton) in the bush.

They've built the tension nicely up till this point. So it's a shame they insert a slapstick fight between the Thai heavy and Gerald, both playing up to their respective stereotypes. McNaughton pulls off some good performances from time to time but this isn't one of them.

Someone who does nail all his scenes, Hunter, gets better and better. A couple of years back I'd rather leave the room than keep watching his scenes, but these days his confident performance as the genuinely caring, slightly sarcastic, protective older brother is a show highlight. He even pulled off being drunk.

The same thing might happen with new character, Phoenix (Geordie Holibar), Dr Warner's long-lost son. He put in a good opener alongside Ian Mune (Feature Length!), so much so that he's already more convincing than Daniel Potts (Ido Drent). But what's with that accent?

Actually, given this episode is all about Kieran, Dr Chris Warner (Michael Galvin) gets some pretty meaty storylines. Catching his cousin Isaac (Matt Minto) post-invasive-procedure with his kind-of girlfriend (Zoe Archer, awkwardly played by Gina Varela), finding out his ex-wife is dead and to top it off they had a son? Yikes. I get the impression Galvin gets a bit of stick from the Thespian world, but I think that's unwarranted. He's good. Consistent.

In fact, there is a lot to like about Shortland Street. Sure there is still the odd shocker (the long-term extra who steals every scene. Hunter's love interest Penny, who is apparently attempting to start a fire with her eyes) but most of the time it's solid.

Now that the ex-Coro star has Pack 'n Saved his bags and gone home, and the hype episode (Feature Length!) is done with, I hope they relax and go back to the daily grind they do so well.

Back in the bush, the writing is on the wall when we see low-talker run out of the bush into a clearing. Next to a cliff. A real cliffhanger, eh? After a muddled tussle it's the brothers and low-talker who are dangling, and low-talker doesn't last very long. He may have screamed as he fell towards the green-screen, but who'd have heard it?

With all the effort put into Shortland Street's feature-length episode, it would have been nice if the network had shut up for once instead of promoting the next episode over the credits.

I watched a media copy with no ads and actual credits (remember those? they fill the whole screen instead of the bottom third).

By the time Kieran fell to his death and the drums came in signalling the outro music, I could have used a moment.

They'd pulled it off.

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