Everybody needs good Neighbours – especially Marissa from The O.C.?!
This review contains spoilers for the first week of Neighbours: A New Chapter. Like Harold standing on a rock looking out to sea, please be careful.
What’s all this then?
Neighbours is back, baby. The long-running Australian soap that ended emotionally in 2022 has now risen from the dead, in a twist even Madge Bishop wouldn’t have seen coming. Last November – three months after Neighbours ended “for good” – Amazon announced they would revive the show that launched the careers of Kylie Minogue, Margot Robbie and Delta Goodrem. The rebooted Neighbours returned to TVNZ2 this week (and Prime Video from Tuesday September 26) with a mix of old and new characters, including one unlikely star who travelled all the way from Newport Beach: Mischa bloody Barton.
That’s right, Mischa Barton – who played poor little rich girl Marissa Cooper on iconic 2000s teen melodrama The OC – is the guest star of the Neighbours reboot. She may well be a surprising addition to the Australian soap, but never forget that Neighbours once featured a storyline about a golden labrador’s romantic dream. Marissa Cooper once shot a man who was beating up her boyfriend with a rotary dial telephone. Strap in, Mrs Mangel, we’re in for one heck of a ride.
The first thing to note about the Neighbours reboot is that although the show finished one year ago, the storylines pick up two years later. I have inputted this data into my abacus and prayed at the altar of Jason Donovan and it appears to me that Neighbours is now set…in the future?! Look, you can’t argue with science – just ask Susan Kennedy, who once performed an emergency tracheotomy on Lou Carpenter after he choked on a sandwich during a tornado.
It’s fine, because 2024 is clearly the year of the secret hotel heiress who has a steamy affair with one of her employees. Barton plays Reece Sinclair, a woman who’s obviously hiding something because she’s American, glamorous and staying in a janky hotel in suburban Melbourne for no good reason. She’s rich – she shops in David Jones, for crying out loud – but what exactly is she up to at Lassiters Hotel?
Her first line is a humdinger. “I need some help with my bags,” Reece tells the hotel porter, which is American for “let’s pash in the elevator”. After some quick room service, Reece tells her lover Byron that she came all the way from New Hampshire to New Erinsborough for a conference. “It’s been way too long since I had any time off, so I thought I’d hang around,” she explains. Alarm bells ring for Byron, who knows there is nothing else to do in Erinsborough other than walk back and forth across the little bridge outside Harold’s cafe.
Barton isn’t the only familiar face in the new Neighbours, of course. The show ended last year with Toadie marrying his one true love Melanie, and resumed with Toadie marrying his one true love Terese, who we last saw getting back together with hotelier Paul Robinson, who has seven children to six wives. The Kennedys are back (Susan’s secretly addicted to shopping, Dr Karl looks perpetually bewildered), Harold pops by for a visit and even Guy Pearce turns up again to play Mike, whose love affair with Plain Jane Super Brain is still going strong.
But nothing beats the drama of Mischa Barton’s character macking on in the Lassiters lift. Chaos ensues when Reece accuses the hotel receptionist of stealing her signature scent, which probably smells like Californian rebellion circa 2003. Lucy Robinson (whose impressive character arc has taken her from plucking her eyebrows on Scott and Charlene’s wedding day to running a global hotel empire) suddenly recognises Reece as the daughter of Lassiters’ silent American partner.
“She’s a spy!” Paul spits in disgust, but that’s not even the episode climax. Reece then finds a hair in her coffee (mmm whatcha saaaay), and fires long-haired receptionist Holly, who’s father is Dr Karl, Paul’s mortal enemy. Hopefully this will kick off some hectic smackdowns in the cul-de-sac of broken dreams, kind of like a middle-class suburban West Side Story, but with more jazz hands.
The new Neighbours is very much like the old Neighbours, but with the “WTF” dial turned up. Sadly Barton’s character is only an extended guest role, so no doubt Reece will fly back to the US as soon as she gets that hair out of her frapuccino. Still, there’s plenty of gentle, slightly batshit drama here to keep soap fans coming back for more, even if it is just to find out whether Reece Sinclair really is a “stuck up mole” after all.
Neighbours screens on TVNZ 2 every Tuesday-Friday at 5.25pm and streams on TVNZ+. It also streams on Prime Video from Tuesday September 26.