A kid ate hash brownies on Shortland Street this week. This can only mean one thing: the whacky winter season is well and truly under way.
The Monday hour-long episodes ofShortland Streethave long been hyped using stylish promos, often filmed in some sort of Ferndale speakeasy populated by a fedora-wearing TK Samuels and the late Sarah Potts crooning a ballad. There's been none of the inexplicable '30s nonsense this time around. We dove straight into it. Take a seat and cut yourself a slice of brownie.
Shortland Street has been waning this year. During the 7pm showdown, it was revealed that more than 120,000 New Zealanders have switched off the soap in the past decade, with their 2005 ratings of 537,100 plunging to 409,200 in 2015. The Christmas cliffhanger last year was a sexy calendar shoot rather than a bach explosion. Serial killers have been swapped out for Santa-lookalike extras. Murderous Big Pharma villains have been replaced with Boyd doing 3D printing. Ferndale obviously needs to ramp it up.
Monday night's debut episode of the winter season started to slowly turn up the heat, but we're still nowhere near the sweet boiling point that produced Murray and Wendy's sex tape scandal. But what it lacked in ludicrous drama it compensated for with an excellent snapshot of the show's ongoing commitment to contemporary social issues in New Zealand.
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The administrative, hospital business storylines often prove to be tedious. I quickly realised on Monday night that all these boards and proposals work as a backdrop for personal dramas to play out, and wider problems to be explored. Pania Stevens brings a lot of fire to this otherwise stagnant plotline - making her plan for healthcare domination her own feminist crusade - "If you don't fight them, the rich white men will always win," she says, slamming down a glass of the house pinot at The IV.
Pania's struggle serves as a reminder that, although there are no murderers lurking around just yet, Shortland Street can still sneak out of nowhere and grab you with hands-on treatment of touchy subject matters.
On Monday night, following her barside feminist grandstanding, Pania's superior attempted to sexually assault her. After confronting him about it in front of a group of her colleagues, what transpired was a pitch-perfect example of victim-blaming. Her co-workers turned against her and Pania was faced with the tragic reality of what women can be expected to do to get ahead. There's a glass ceiling in Ferndale too, you know.
Another controversial plotline in the Ferndale fold is the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Pixie, a 13-year-old cancer sufferer, is being administered hash brownies by her father to ease her pain, nausea and hunger.
Her doctors are faced with the ethical dilemma - continue to use an illegal drug that is clearly working, or refer the father to the police and continue to tear apart their already ragged family ties? Considering the current story of Alex Renton, this can't help but feel like another testament to the incredibly tuned-in awareness of the show's writers.
Arguably the most magic moment last night was the introduction of a villainous Ministry of Health official called Reuben Mustapic. Those in the know will be delighted to recognise this character's surname as that of James Mustapic, the heroic host of Shorty Street Scandal on YouTube. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I highly recommend spending half an hour with this impassioned Shortland Street recap channel.
There's couch punching, yelling, and enough gentle singing to keep you well entertained - it's the perfect cheesy warm bread to accompany your hearty Shortland Street winter stew. Tuck in.