Calum Henderson writes about (mainly terrible) television.

Getting back on Shortland Street bandwagon

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A scene from last year's cliffhanger final episode of Shortland Street.
A scene from last year's cliffhanger final episode of Shortland Street.

The last thing I remember before I fell off the Shortland Street wagon is a brain-damaged Chris Warner - months earlier he had fallen off a flying fox - leading assorted hospital staff in an off-kilter acoustic singalong to The Muttonbirds' Anchor Me.

The scene was everything I always loved about the show. It was plainly ridiculous, but at the same time strangely moving. Everyone looked so happy, so at peace, so blissfully unaware that a homemade bomb was about to go off and kill Roimata.

Once you're off the Shortland Street wagon it takes something monumental to get you back on. During my years in the wilderness the show callously killed off its best character, Sarah Potts, and gave Chris Warner's obnoxious teenage son Harry a girlfriend, before killing her off too.

But it wasn't until last year's final cliffhanger episode, with that tense and bloody siege in the hospital cafe, that I felt compelled to return to Ferndale. For the first time in a long time, everybody seemed to be talking about Shortland Street.

I wanted back in.

The 90-minute Christmas cliffhanger lived up to the hype - Harper and Boyd's wedding was ruined, disgruntled gunman Gareth Hutchins marauded through the hospital, lives hung in the balance. It ended with Drew McCaskill lying in a pool of blood, and a mysterious second gunman finishing him off at point-blank range.

Whodunnit? Could have been the blonde woman who had gone into some sort of jealous frenzy and crashed her car after he broke it off with her, or the other blonde woman he had sprung committing fraud. Could have been Curtis, the fraudster's son, whose erratic behaviour in Monday night's hour-long return episode raised some major red flags.

None of these people were on the show two years ago. Staff turnover at this hospital is relentless, but for years the HR department seem to have avoided scrutiny despite its shocking track record of bad hires.

One character who remains from the olden days of 2013 is nurse Wendy Cooper. Good old Wends. The kind-hearted matriarch was caught up in the cafe siege, but the cliffhanger offered no hints that her life was in danger. Her first and last line of Monday's episode: "Sorry, I've been shot."

Oh God. Not Wends. The cliffhanger heaved a terrible lightning bolt through the Cooper family tree - Bella's baby daughter Stevie will never know her great-grandfather, shot dead in a hospital cafe, and now her grandmother's outlook doesn't look much better.

"Wendy's had a massive brain hemorrhage," Bella and her dad Murray were informed by Doctor Boyd Rolleston on what should have been his wedding day. "It's unlikely that she will show any improvement at all."

Ben Barrington as Drew McCaskill in Shortland Street.
Ben Barrington as Drew McCaskill in Shortland Street.

Meanwhile, Drew, shot three times by two people, miraculously lived on in an induced coma. Harper, who should have been on her honeymoon, spent most of Monday's episode in a hopeful vigil at his bedside. Drew will surely survive, if only because the cat is now out of the bag: Harper is in love with him, and maybe not with Boyd.

I couldn't care less if Drew lives or dies. Love rats like him come and go. Characters like Wendy, on the other hand, are much rarer and more valuable. She's a grandma and a mum and a bloody good nurse. She cares and worries about other people. She's one of the good ones.

The promo at the end of Monday night's episode offered a faint glimmer of hope. The word "miracle" featured prominently. If a miracle's what it takes for Wendy to survive, I can buy into that. I'll be there with her every step of the way, back on the Shortland Street wagon.

- nzherald.co.nz

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Calum Henderson writes about (mainly terrible) television.

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