Much like pōhutukawa, pavlova and dodgy weather, the annual Shortland Street cliffhanger has become a time-honoured Kiwi Christmas tradition. From murderers to Mutton Birds, the show has seen it all, ramping up the drama in a series of yearly finales that have occasionally come close to rivalling even Game of Thrones in the casualties-per-minute stakes. Here we round up five of the best, along with a timely travel tip: best not plan your visit to Ferndale in December.
While Shortland Street launched in 1992, its first major cliffhanger didn't arrive until Christmas 1995. And what a cliffhanger it was. A truck crashed into the hospital reception, causing chaos, injury and death. Among the wounded lay popular nurse Carmen Roberts (Theresa Healey), and plucky receptionist Kirsty Knight (Angela Dotchin). Meanwhile, hapless Nick Harrison (Karl Burnett) brought home the mother of all turkeys, but left his girlfriend's baby in the supermarket car park. And that wasn't all. In a frankly spiteful move, a follow-up episode screened on Christmas Day in which a seemingly recovered Carmen was mercilessly struck down. Nice one Shorty, way to make everyone cry into their pudding.
See footage from the Shortland Street 1995 Christmas cliffhanger here:
Christmas 2007 saw Shortland Street harbouring a serial killer (and ratings bonanza) in the form of the Ferndale Strangler. The previous five months had seen five victims claimed, and on December 14 the killer was finally revealed to be mild-mannered nurse Joey Henderson (Johnny Barker). But that wasn't the end of the Strangler's rampage. Three more murderous months passed before Joey got his comeuppance, as seen in this action-filled clip.
See the Ferndale Strangler meet his demise here:
While not a Christmas episode, special mention must also go to Shortland Street's May 2012 20th anniversary show. A non-stop 90 minutes saw Chris Warner (Michael Galvin) arrested for murder in his hospital bed, a dramatic helicopter crash, a P addict on the loose in the building, a missing heart, and the return of at least six former Streeters. Some much-needed light relief was also on offer, in the form of fashion parade of old costumes from the clinic, and some awkward dancing to The Dance Exponents' Victoria.
See highlights from the Shortland Street 20th Anniversary Show here:
Arguably even more disturbing was a trend towards cast musical performances, beginning in the show's early days, and going on to become something of a Christmas staple. Repeat offender Chris Warner can be seen here, in 2013's cliffhanger, leading his workmates in a quite dreadful singalong to The Mutton Birds Anchor Me at his family bach. Meanwhile, downstairs a bomb ticks away, set to blow the whole cheery scene to smithereens. Not unreasonable payback, some might say, for the murder of a Kiwi music classic.
See the Shortland Street cast singing Anchor Me here:
Last year's Christmas finale also had a musical theme, with the release of charity single Time of the Year, featuring characters Leroy Raumati (Lionel Wellington) and Ruby Flores (JJ Fong). Here, the song plays over a three-minute cliffhanger montage, packing in an impressive-even-by-Shorty-standards grave digging, drowning, exploding car and a good old-fashioned Christmas party punch-up.
See an excerpt from the 2016 Christmas finale here:
You can see more memorable Shortland Street moments here, in NZ On Screen's 25th Anniversary Collection.