Neighbours, review: Amazon's revival gives Ramsay Street a glossy new chapter

Ramsay Street matriarch Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) is among the returning cast
Ramsay Street matriarch Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) is among the returning cast - Amazon Freevee

Everybody needs good neighbours. And now, after a year’s absence, they’ve moved back in. Neighbours: A New Chapter (Amazon Freevee) sees the sun-drenched teatime soap reborn as a streaming series. Strewth mate, indeed.

The Australian import ran for 37 years and nearly 9,000 episodes before bowing out with a cameo-crammed finale last summer. The farewell was so warmly received, attracting 3m British viewers, it convinced Amazon to bankroll a surprise reboot.

An early look finds this gussied-up series treading a tightrope between wallowing in nostalgia and ushering in the new era. As Ramsay Street matriarch Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne) narrates over a misty-eyed opening montage: “Now the story continues. Together we are still the perfect blend.”

The narrative is cleverly restarted with a two-year time jump, meaning all manner of drama is already brewing in the sunny suburb of Erinsborough. An ingenious plot twist at the end of episode one makes full use of this device.

The stalwarts known on-set as “the heritage four” – Susan, her husband Dr Karl (Alan Fletcher), heroic Toadie Rebecchi (Ryan Moloney) and villainous Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) – are present and correct. Much-loved fuddy-duddy Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) also returns with a poignant plotline, while his local history book provides a link to the show’s past. So do glimpses of the fearsome Mrs Mangel’s infamous portrait. Clunky exposition is crowbarred into the script to fill in new viewers.

Mike Young (Guy Pearce) FaceTimes from London to whisper sweet nothings to “Plain Jane Superbrain” (Annie Jones), paving the way for special scenes set in the UK. The show somewhat painted itself into a corner by having him return from Hollywood for the grand finale and buy a house in Ramsay Street. Now he’s keen to “do right by the fans” and leave “respectfully” – testament to Pearce’s fondness for his acting alma mater.

Annie Jones and Guy Pearce
Annie Jones and Guy Pearce - Jonathan Birch/Amazon Freevee

The old guard are joined by marquee signing Mischa Barton, former star of The O.C., cannily cast to add international appeal. As a mysterious American stranger staying at Lassiter’s hotel, she’s a Dynasty-style femme fatale. Shaggy rescue dog Trevor proves a scene-stealer in the tradition of late, great Labrador Bouncer.

There’s a noticeable lack of the nuclear families around which soaps used to be built. These neighbours are all house-sharers, single parents, gay couples or blended families. A new chapter indeed. Other 21st century touches include teenagers constantly glued to their phones.

Thanks to the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, production values are higher. The look is glossier, locations are glammed up, an ambient synth soundtrack bubbles away. This is Melbourne via way of California. Not groundbreaking nor any match for its Kylie ’n’ Jason heyday, but as easy-on-the-eye guilty pleasures go, these new Neighbours make for fair dinkum viewing.

Neighbours: A New Chapter is on Amazon Freevee