Alex Casey hits the televisual beach with a week of Home and Away, and discovers an unsteady sandcastle of drama featuring drugs, bums and cake christenings.
I haven’t watched Home and Away since my intermediate days, sitting cross legged in front of the television, filling the endless void between bell time and dinner time whilst eating small bags of sour cream and chive chippies (Lite Plus – I’m not crazy). They were sunny days, full of Smash Hits starlets like Rebecca Cartwright and Tammin Sursok, when Noah’s tips were frosted to oblivion and bronzed lifeguard Vinny was miles away from writhing bloodsoaked and naked in True Blood (I am yet to watch True Blood, though I assume this is accurate).
But things have changed for Home and Away since those glory days. In 2013 the tanned, swimsuit clad blokes and sheilas of Summer Bay paddled their way from TV3 to TV2, making choppy ratings waves for MediaWorks. And not the groovy kind of waves that you can surf. The kind that makes thousands and thousands of people tune out of your 5.30pm slot, therefore the 6pm news, therefore Campbell Live. Back in their homeland, ratings are now at an all-time low.
A hot tip during my breakfast segment on bFM suggested that the show had gone batshit insane lately, in response to a ratings dive in Australia. It was a sign. I realised it was time to head back to the bay. Stripping off my sarong of cynicism, I spent a week frolicking in the frothy waters of Australia’s second-longest running soap.
We open the week with an essential soap storyline: studying for exams is hard. Young bloke Josh is popping some kind of magic knowledge Molly during study sessions to excel at the learning. Basically the plot of Limitless, but confined entirely within high school practice exams. But Josh, pray tell why are so stressed about exams? There’s more to life than phylem and xylem, man
This guy is clearly out to prove something, not unlike the transitioning-to-greatness Bradley Cooper on the set of Limitless. His friends show up, and I catch the tail end of their loud conversation. “I took the cake out of the oven, completely christened to a pulp!” one of the youths guffawed. I went back and listened five times, he definitely said “christen”. Hard to know if we are in Summer Bay or Gloriavale at this point.
Talking of heavenly saints, Home and Away stalwart Leah needs money for… something. The locals band together for a fundraiser brainstorm, Irene wants a beachfront banquet and Chris wants a naked calendar.
Back to the safehouse of study stimulants, and Josh has ditched his friends to quickly rifle through papers whilst high on drugs. He hides the pills poorly under one leaf of paper as his mate walks in. “They are just for a headache, honestly,” he mutters, as a song sounding very close to national treasure Silverchair growls ominously in the distance. Please die Ana? More like please die Molly.
Chris is still hung up on his naked calendar idea, and pitches it to the elder jury like some X-rated version of Shark Tank. Shark Alf is steamed at the idea, as is Shark Irene. They reach a compromise – thanks to Roo’s event management background – a fancy beach banquet BUT ALSO with shirtless waiters. Thank my christened cake in heaven, I thought that was never going to be resolved.
It’s exposition time, made explicitly clear by the exposition poster hanging up in the classroom. Leah and Zac are still cobbling together their money, she’s waiting on a loan from her Grandfather and he is a crooked dude waiting to swindle it all out of her. Vinny never would have done this. Things are made still further stressful when Zac finds out he didn’t get the promotion to principal that he was waiting for, delivered perfectly in the style of The Room.
The episode ends as I’m sure they all do, with an unidentified hooded figure lurking in a bedroom, punching Josh in the head and pushing his limp body down the stairs. Closer each day, Home and Away.
Calendar Girls Chris is going on a witchhunt to find the hotties of Summer Bay to do some topless waiting for him. “YOU’VE GOT THE GREATEST PECS IN THE BAY,” he yells from behind the counter, to anyone who will listen. I’m worried that the banquet is going to end up with just Alf, top half naked but for a bowtie, handing out sandy devilled eggs on the beach.
Josh awakes from his violent stair attack, dazed. Doctor Nick wants to take him to the hospital, but we all know he can’t do that due to the fact his body is absolutely stuffed with whacky study pingaz. He tells Andy, in the second beautiful homage to The Room of the week:
Josh’s madcap drug munching has really got up everyone’s goat. His girlfriend Evie doesn’t even believed he was viciously attacked, instead claiming that “he was probably hallucinating Dementors”. Turns out he definitely wasn’t, and the hoodlum culprit is spotted in the long grass of the caravan park. He runs away, leaving behind only a creepy family picture of Leah and co.
“When I’m an architect, I’m going to build you a house” Josh tells Evie, still probably peaking out his mind. That’s from The Notebook you nong. Is nothing safe? We’ve had Harry Potter, The Notebook, Calendar Girls, Limitless AND The Room rehashed into Summer Bay here – and it’s only bloody Tuesday.
The evil hoodlum turns up at Charlotte’s house, and it turns out he is only her goddamn son. Didn’t see that coming. Further the last minute gasps, he’s also ZAC’s illegitimate child?! This is soap upon soap level of drama.
Hannah, someone I’ve never seen before, has been hitting an app called ‘Smouldr’ to get her fill of one night stands and vomit-fuelled mornings. Ah, Smoudlr. How I love thee fake soap names for real-life technology. MyLife. GameStation. Bless you all.
Boy is Hannah spewing. Maybe too much. Could she be pregnant? She is eating a weird amount of celery and chocolate spread and talking about cravings. Plus there’s that positive pregnancy test in the bin. Hmm. I guess we will just have to wait for someone to spell it out for me in pebbles on the beach.
Cue a gratuitous shot of Ash running sunblock on Phoebe’s butt for some reason. He wants her to “sunbake” naked, much like a christened cake in an oven. An interesting way to go about seeing someone’s butt, but at least it promotes sun safety.
Zac and Leah are having a barbeque, because everyone knows that financial strife = forking out for expensive meat for the whole neighbourhood. What Zac doesn’t know yet is that he has a secret son lurking down the road, which injects some sophisticated dramatic irony when he wheels out his finest “dad jokes” around the BBQ. He has no idea that his residential address is about to be changed from Summer Bay to Shit Creek.
Back on burnt-bum beach, Ash and Phoebe are taking a lot of selfies, but I’m too distracted by her throwback Thursday metal arm cuff. He tells her he loves her, all cuffs considered. What Ash doesn’t know is that the pregnancy test in the bin actually belongs to Phoebe, and that her tight metal arm cuff is currently cutting off vital blood supply to his unborn child’s brain. Unless it’s Kyle’s baby of course. Still following? Good.
So, will Phoebe keep the baby? And if so, will she take it to the Cake Christening Company? Ash still doesn’t know about the baby yet, and has obviously busied himself decorating his surf shack:
He sends her Phoebe a redundant, very bullshit txt of “Xxx”. But it’s the prior messages that have got me intrigued. What is this nonsense Ash? You can’t just walk around yelling “Picnic” like some crazed Cadbury overlord.
I pick up my phone and txt my boyfriend the exact same thing to see how a normal person would react. Here is a taste of Home and Away IRL for you:
Roo, the genius event manager, has a new man. Congrats on being a national icon via your name being Roo, just by the way. I can only hope that your new beau is called Joey. Now that, would be good. “You don’t have to hide the bloke away,” says Alf, as Roo well and truly hides her bloke away.
Back on the beach, Ash is trying to track down Phoebe, who is clearly hiding due to the whole unplanned baby disaster. He finally tracks her down, and she tells him the most exciting news since the Summer Bay Arm Cuff sale of 2015.
We spend some time with Alf, who appears to be doing great things with his new bespoke jewellery line:
He wants to meet Roo’s new boyfriend, as does Irene. I feel like all new characters must be screened by this pair, the cryptkeepers of Summer Bay’s sandy gates. An Alf and Irene lifestyle spinoff would be fantastic, like Kiwi Living but with more natural light. Today: Irene makes a quiche and Alf fashions a rustic bracelet out of nylon and a few twigs.
Still undecided re: her unborn baby’s future, Phoebe is picking up babies all over the place to see if she is cut out for it. Ash has decided to stick with her no matter what happens, gushing once again over how much he loves her.
Roo finally brings her new crush James out from the box she bought him in, and Irene and Alf slip back into Shark Tank mode. Irene is phased by James excusing himself after she brought out a deluxe cake for the table. “I HAVE SOME PAPERS TO MARK,” he spits, collecting up his things to leave. What’s going on James? Is it the flavour? The icing? Or is it that this make might not be… christened…
Guess I’ll have to find out next week. What a cliffhanger!
Home and Away screens weekdays on TV2 at 5.30pm
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This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.