With Shortland Street’s 7,000th episode screening tonight, Tara Ward salutes the soap for keeping calm and carrying on through level three lockdown.
It’s been one heck of a week on Shortland Street. Leanne lost her winning $8 million Lotto ticket, Louis slipped over in a pile of vomit, and Desi tried to convince Dawn that using sex toys would prevent her post-coital emotional breakdowns. Shortland Street’s staffroom has seen some hectic things during the past 28 years, and if it could talk, it would probably say: take the anal beads off the Formica, people want to eat.
Rude? I’ll show you rude. Sex toys and slippery spew aren’t the only things worth celebrating in Ferndale because tonight, Shortland Street celebrates its 7,000th episode. That equals over 154,000 minutes of dramatic dalliances, explosive cliffhangers and supply cupboard snogs. It’s more episodes than Leanne’s had psychic apparitions and even more than Chris Warner’s had hot girlfriends.
Regardless of how you feel about Shortland Street, reaching 7,000 episodes is a massive achievement. The iconic soap has established itself as an integral part of New Zealand culture and has managed to outwit, outplay and outlast every other piece of homegrown television. Somehow, Shortland Street has turned into the Bear Grylls of New Zealand drama – always brave, often ridiculous, and would probably drink its own pee to survive (look forward to seeing that in the 8,000th episode, by the way).
Shortland Street has seen us through the best and worst of times, but the 7,000 episode milestone took a bit longer to reach when TVNZ reduced the show to three nights a week during the Covid-19 lockdown. Luckily, it takes more than a global pandemic to stop Shortland Street. In a world where disasters and poonamis happen all the time, a national shutdown was but a tiny hiccup in Shortland Street’s diaphragm of drama.
Level four lockdown saw TVNZ ration out the already-completed episodes like they were the last batch of Lionel Skeggin’s muffins, and when level three kicked in, the Shortland Street team returned to work under strict physical distancing rules. Actors had to do their own hair and make-up, and fewer people were on set during filming. Most noticeably for viewers, there was no touching, hugging, and definitely no kissing. How would Chris Warner cope? Pashing is his life.
These socially-distanced episodes began screening this week, and they are a joy to behold. Shortland Street embraced the challenges of filming in level three in a variety of weird and wonderful ways without scaling back on the drama. Sure, it’s corny that Dawn and Marty can only convey their lust through a suggestively raised eyebrow, and a bit funny when you can’t fit everyone in the same shot, but when has Shortland Street ever been perfect? Never, and that’s why we love it.
When everything went down the shitter, Shortland Street soldiered on, bringing us vibrators and vomit when we needed it most. This week’s episodes capture the uncertainty of lockdown, a time when we retreated to our bubbles and tried to adapt to a world that was changing rapidly around us. In Ferndale, it was no different, and as Shortland Street celebrates another milestone, we pay tribute to the ingenious and creative ways the show kept Ferndale’s bubble intact, hot doctor sex and all.
Behold, the socially distanced triangle
Pre-Covid, the good people of Ferndale huddled together with reckless abandon, breathing on each other and wiping their grubby hands over every surface. Now, everyone must assume a two-metre triangle of safety, much like the work triangle between your fridge, oven and sink. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of social distancing. Never venture inside its waters.
The frantic sprint to the bedroom
Keep your hands to yourselves, horn bags. The merest whiff of a pheromone leads to a frenzied dash to the off-set bedroom, as the steamed-up couple maintain a two-metre gap at all times. Safety first, lovers.
The speakerphone is your friend
Because it’s unethical to Zoom during a botched boob job surgery, that’s why.
The ‘I’ll distract you with the return of a beloved character’ trick
Dr Emily Devine’s mysterious return was planned long before the lockdown, but her reappearance is still a welcome tonic. The brilliant pathologist from the 90s is now homeless and suffering early-onset dementia, and Emily’s story reminds us how Shortland Street often straddles both soapy drama and social commentary. It doesn’t help that last year Leanne threw a disguised Emily down the stairs and left her for dead behind a dumpster. How very dare you, Leanne.
Turns out you CAN have socially distanced sex
Be kind. Unite. Sanitise your hands.
How to take a socially distanced selfie
Whatever you do, DON’T LEAN IN.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.