Pop CultureNovember 6, 2020

WTF: Carmen’s back on Shortland Street, but it’s not what you think


Call the police, Tara Ward needs to report a crime. Shortland Street nurse Carmen Roberts has risen from the dead, and the show seems to think nobody will notice. 

Drive a mack truck straight through my heart and throw me into an exploding Mt Ferndale because Carmen Roberts, the iconic Shortland Street nurse who died in 1995, just walked back into our lives. After a 25 year absence, actor Theresa Healey is back on Shorty, but not as we know her. You might remember her as Carmen, but this week, in the biggest switcheroo you’ll see on television, Theresa Healey is going to be “Rosalyn Mullens”. 

I’m sorry, whomst? A brand new character, with no connection to our beloved Carmen? This is more alarming than the time Waverley cut Nick’s hair while he was asleep, more upsetting than when Murray burned his cheese rolls. Rosalyn? Impossiblyn. If it looks like Carmen and it sounds like Carmen, then you don’t have to be a plastic surgeon with five wives and three secret sperm children to know there’s only room for one Theresa Healey character on a primetime New Zealand soap. Can I get an amen, Chris Warner? A high five is fine.

DEFINITELY NOT CARMEN. (Photo: South Pacific Pictures)

Not-Carmen sauntered back into our hearts and homes this week to celebrate Shortland Street’s first gay wedding (Maia and Jay’s was a civil union in 2006) between her daughter Maeve and nurse Nicole. Tensions were high, probably because Leanne could feel the ghost of Carmen in her waters, but it was a lovely ceremony. Rosalyn had a nice time and brides Maeve and Nicole were swept away with emotion, much like when the Toroa broke its moorings during a storm and Carmen went into labour. 

Nobody seemed bothered that the Ghost of Carmen was wandering freely around Ferndale, no doubt laughing about the time Guy’s vasectomy didn’t work. Carmen was Chris Warner’s sister-in-law, but even he didn’t notice anything weird about Maeve’s mum. Then again, Chris is dating the Ghost of Claire McLeod, perhaps he’s not the best judge of ghouly character. 

Love conquers all, but tell it to the judge, Shortland Street. Did they think we’d forget Carmen? Has the show gone through so many New Zealand actors that we’re starting over again? Lock them in soap opera jail and throw the key down the secret mineshaft located somewhere behind the IV, because by bringing Healey back in an unrelated role, Shortland Street wanted us to pretend one of the show’s most memorable characters didn’t exist. Not on my watch, Shorty. 

Ellen, Carmen and Evil Nurse Carla™ during the halcyon days of the 1990s. Photo: South Pacific Pictures.

Carmen Roberts worked at Shortland Street for two and a half years between 1993 and 1995, but when you think of Carmen, you mostly remember her death. She was killed after a truck ploughed through hospital reception, and died of a brain aneurysm on Christmas Day. It was the first and last time Shortland Street screened through the summer, and made for the worst Christmas ever. 

Fiancé Guy Warner was bereft, baby Tuesday would grow up without her mother, and some of us could never look at a glazed ham again without being reminded of that fateful day. 

The episode was designed to break our hearts, and it worked a treat. Carmen’s death was voted the fourth most important moment of Shortland Street’s first 25 years, and she was named one of the show’s most iconic characters of all time. Carmen lived a wild life in Ferndale, becoming addicted to prescription pills and winning Lotto by stealing a dead patient’s ticket. She was loyal and sharp and always backed the underdog, and she rocked the hell out of those legendary lemon uniforms. We loved her, we’ve never forgotten her, and *narrows eyes* we never will, Rosalyn Mullens.

Not-Carmen watches the first gay wedding/marriage on Shortland Street. PHOTO: South Pacific Pictures

Sure, you can argue Shortland Street is a work of fiction (fake news, your honour), or that Healey is just an actor trying to make a living (inadmissible evidence), or that 25 years is a long time and we should stop living in the shadow of 1995 (I object, last century was a lot of fun). It’s no big deal, I hear you say. Viewers who don’t remember Carmen’s death won’t give two hoots, but for us oldies who do, this feels weird. Rude, even. Please tell me that is not your ghost nurse, Rosalyn Mullens. 

Bringing Healey back is certainly a genius move, just as Shortland Street reunited the cast of Gloss earlier this year. It fills the heart to see these familiar faces again, and if Healey had indeed come back as Carmen’s ghost, or her secret long-lost twin, or even as a hologram paid for by Kanye West, then I’d have hoovered it down like Lionel’s last muffin. After all, this is the show that once featured a poonami as a storyline. The more ridiculous life gets in Ferndale, the better. 

But to bring back an actor associated with such an iconic role, and have her pop up as a new character without a cursory “you look like someone I used to know” from Dr Love? 2020 has been confusing enough. Justice for Carmen, justice for Murray’s cheese rolls. Shortland Street might want us to move on, but some of us will never forget.  

Shortland Street screens on TVNZ 2 at 7pm every weeknight, and on TVNZ OnDemand.   

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