By GREG DIXON
So there lies wee Anne. Not in her marital bed beside cheating hubbie Victor Kahu, but prone on the floor in the dunny of a collapsing building.
Oh, the indignity. Oh, the inhumanity. Surely the crushing weight of Shortland Street's end-of-year cliffhanger must have cut her tiny frame in half.
In the room next door, short-order chef Tama is quite possibly in the same position after — and you've got to admire his bone-headed fortitude — leaping from safety to save a particularly thick child from a fate similar to Anne's.
Meanwhile — and here's a weird factoid: the falling rubble included scenery from the now-canned Mercy Peak, also made by South Pacific Pictures — as the roof collapsed, selfish Victor made another play for Donna with the sort of kiss only a bloke with a goatee can give.
Then there's Chris, Shorty's sleazebag-turned-caring-guy-turned-sleazebag. He went off to the cells for allegedly putting his hand where he shouldn't.
And don't forget that super-sleuth Marshall — who morphed into a Detective Sergeant Heywood during the Who Killed Geoff? saga — has put the incredibly annoying Delphi in a rather precarious position with Demonic Dom, the Street's resident nut-job.
Crikey, what a mess. And if you've done nothing else this summer, between frying your flesh on a beach or eating yourself to another clothing size, you must have wondered what Providence holds in store next for the luckless characters of the country's longest-running soap.
Which is rather the point. As Shortland Street's executive producer Steven Zanoski puts it, by necessity the Christmas cliffhanger has to be a disaster of whopping proportion to keep us all guessing during the five or so weeks the show is off air.
This is the Big Bang theory. A model that requires a volatile mix of emotional life and death drama as well as a few moments of resolution leading to new stories in the New Year.
"It is also a bit of a Christmas treat for our loyal viewers to bring out the big guns — or rather the falling building," says Zanoski.
It seems even the show's stars wait with some trepidation to see who will get what in Shorty's pre-Christmas pile-up. "You want to make sure they're not killing you off," hoots Quinton Hita, who plays heart-throb Nelson.
Hita's Nelson and his on-screen father Victor, played by Calvin Tuteao, might be said to have more than a passing interest in the outcome of Anne and Tama's rather pressing predicaments.
Tama is, respectively, the cousin and nephew of Nelson and Victor. But it's poor young Anne the pair should really be sweating over. She, of course, is Victor's long-suffering wife who had an affair with her stepson Nelson — never let it be said that Shorty isn't risky — and her likely demise should really stir up the emotions.
"From Nelson's point of view, Anne is a good friend. He has kind of found a kindred spirit with Anne because they both get such a raw deal from this fella," says Hita, pointing a finger at Tuteao.
Victor, on the other hand, might be rather less thrown if his marriage ends in a wife of two halves. After all, with the end-of-year revelation that the possibly prison-bound Chris had cheated on partner Donna, the way is now clear for Victor to take that kiss further. But Tuteao isn't so sure that Victor wouldn't be, sniff, a bit upset.
"They're not really compatible, I suppose. They're totally different. Maybe he just wanted a younger woman, a trophy wife. But I think Victor would miss her, too, if she dies."
Either way Nelson the ambulance guy and Victor the hospital CEO aren't going anywhere. And, since the duo arrived (Victor three years ago, Nelson two), their characters have further boosted the presence of Maori on the show.
Hita, a Maori language commissioner for five years, says the Street is very progressive in this area.
"I have to tip my hat to the show. It's gone a long way down the track in trying to present Maori in a positive light. And also, I suppose, trying to naturalise the contribution that Maori make to our society.
"That reason I find Nelson such a fascinating character to play, it's the journey he's been on, discovering his culture. That's a really great journey to portray onscreen, particularly for young Maori, many of whom don't have any affinity with their culture — though I always say it is dormant."
Both are late arrivals to acting. Tuteao, 36, was a construction worker before he was given the role of Taka, the gang leader in Once Were Warriors. He has worked on a raft of television shows since — including Xena and Jacksons Wharf — but he still has his tool belt. "It might come in handy again."
The 30-year-old Hita, a one-time children's TV presenter and DJ on Auckland radio station Mai FM, says there was a point in his life where he was probably actively anti-acting.
"A girlfriend at the time was going to drama school and I used to find them all so bloody melodramatic, airy-fairy and flaky. Going to the shop to get a carton of milk somehow transformed into a feature film. If I didn't have a dislike for acting before that, I certainly did after. I don't see acting as my lifetime's career. I've always been the sort of person who needs to be constantly challenged."
Which Shortland Street will no doubt continue to do over the coming weeks. But in the face of all this potential tragedy what would the pair like their characters to do this year before the next Christmas collision?
"I'd like to get in a scrap with Tama," Hita laughs, "basically because I'd like to punch David [Wikaira-Paul, who plays Tama] in real life. It's one of those situations: we're both from the same tribe [Ngapuhi], but he is, like, the next sub-tribe over from me, so as far as we're concerned, they're our mortal enemies."
Meanwhile, a smirking Tuteao reckons they should change the name of the show to "Kahu's Clinic".
Oh dear. Nothing about helping Anne recover from her injuries ... could Anne be dead? Can it really be true? I guess we'll have to tune in for another year and find out.
By GREG DIXON