Tara Ward pays tribute to the one true constant in New Zealand television: The Shortland Street Christmas cliffhanger.
If you’re going to watch one episode of Shortland Street, make it the annual cliffhanger. Each year our beloved New Zealand soap makes sure we step into summer with a big bang, bigger than Waverley’s hair in the ‘90s, bigger than Dawn’s power spew over Ali at the 2018 social club do. Nothing is off limits in the cliffhanger. Daring plane crashes? You got it. Mega explosions? No problem. Discovering your husband is a sex addict? Consider it done.
Shortland Street’s Christmas episodes have given us births and deaths, destruction and desire, stripteases and social club dramas, and let’s never forget the time Leanne’s Santa beard gave her a nasty rash. That one cut deep. The show’s most memorable festive episode was when a truck drove through hospital reception in 1995. Shortland Street screened through the summer that year, so when Carmen died on Christmas Day we sobbed into our wedges of ham and wondered what the point of anything was any more. Christmas hasn’t been the same since, no matter how many wedges of ham I eat.
Since then, Shortland Street has embraced a mid-December finale with a cliffhanger that gets bigger and better each year. The show builds up to this explosive night for weeks, weaving storylines together to climax in one spectacular episode stuffed full of surprise and suspense. It’s guaranteed to pull on our heartstrings and leave us dangling on a precipice of emotion, so that in January we’ll come running back to the Shortland Street altar quicker than Chris Warner getting hitched to a fresh wife. I do, Shortland Street, I really do.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and with Shortland Street returning to our screens this week, let’s revisit five of the most memorable Christmas cliffs in Shortland Street history.
1994: Stuart Neilson crashes Lionel and Kirsty’s wedding
“It was the blessed union of the most iconic couple Shortland Street has ever produced, until Stuart with the Good Hair stood up and spoiled the party,” we wrote back in 2017. Kirsty and Lionel’s wedding was Shortland Street’s inaugural cliffhanger, with the show taking a Christmas break for the first time. This episode ended with some sultry saxophone music and Chris Warner garbling something about nectarines, and we had to wait two whole weeks to find out which man Kirsty would choose. Simpler times, friends.
1997: Donna and Rangi discover they are lovers from another mother
1997 served up a big bowl of cliffhanger controversy when it revealed ambulance officers Donna and Rangi were not only lovers, but siblings. They could look forward to an especially awkward Christmas lunch, but spare a thought for Caroline, who was found guilty of murdering her best friend, and for Kirsty and Lionel, whose plane was about to crash. What use is a cheese and onion muffin when you’re plummeting uncontrollably towards the ground? No use at all, Lionel Skeggins. No use at all.
2007: the Ferndale Strangler is revealed
Guy Warner was a sweaty mess and a terrible driver. He may have endangered the entire Warner family in this cliffhanger car crash (rude? I’ll show you rude), but this year’s finale was all about the Ferndale Strangler. After six months of a gripping whodunnit serial murder storyline, 2007’s cliffhanger revealed the culprit as geeky nurse Joey, who pulled an IV line out of his pocket to strangle Tania Jeffries. The nation collectively recoiled in shock, making the Ferndale Strangler one of Shortland Street’s most memorable storylines ever.
2013: Chris Warner sings ‘Anchor Me’ as a bomb explodes under his deck
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. One minute Chris Warner was serenading the nation at his seaside bach, the next a bomb planted by nurse Josh exploded and threatened the lives of everyone Dr Love held dear. The biggest tragedy? Chris Warner hasn’t picked up a guitar since.
2015: Gareth Hutchins unleashes hell and Drew is shot by a blue-gloved meanie
This 90-minute extravaganza of tension and terror began on Harper and Boyd’s wedding day, and ended as lone gunman Gareth Hutchins took everyone at the Christmas party hostage. Poor old Len carked it, Wendy and Murray tried to save the day, and a mystery shooter attacked Drew. The worst bit was when Gareth shot a chocolate cake into smithereens, a terrible vision that has stayed with me since.
Shortland Street screens on TVNZ2 every weeknight at 7pm, and is available on TVNZ OnDemand.
This content was created in paid partnership with TVNZ. Learn more about our partnerships here.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.