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Comment > A Footstep Away: 7000 Reasons To Watch Neighbours by Si Hunt

Today in Australia (or early November if you're in the UK), Neighbours will be, something like around 7000 episodes young, more or less, give-or-take. It has more impact if you work out that to watch the episodes back, one per day, not even breaking for weekends, it would take you over 19 years. Wow eh? Suddenly those of us following the sporadic Neighbours - From the Beginning DVD releases realise we are destined never to finish them, if indeed they never stop.

This unrelenting output and massive existing stash of episodes mark Neighbours out as a show it isn't possible to possess in the same way that one can, for example, command a total collection of trivia and episodes for Friends, Doctor Who or The Simpsons. With Neighbours, you could probably never see it all, never watch it again in its entirety before you die and never know everything about it. Even such comprehensive websites as Perfect Blend must be missing some key fact or other mentioned in a mid-1993 episode that is only available to someone with access to the deep Grundy/Fremantle Media (or wherever) archives. Consider this - they may as well wipe every episode immediately after broadcast! No, wait, come back! The point is, Neighbours is not FOR mass re-watching and absorption; it's for experiencing. And this is a good thing.

For the most part, compulsive collecting is harmless but not especially healthy. And I say that as someone who owns every episode of Doctor Who. But by virtue of its very scale, Neighbours is something you do not own. How do you DO your Neighbours? I'm willing to bet that if you are a casual fan, then you watch it when you happen to catch it. Perhaps it is usually on when you get home from work. A more serious fan will have it on series link and habitually watch it back every day. And that's the point - even a serious Neighbours fan stops at making sure he or she never misses an episode. Neighbours is like life - if you photographed every frame of it to preserve you would spend your entire existence compiling photo albums and miss out on actually enjoying it. Neighbours forces you to enjoy it every day, to live along with the characters and to make them a part of your life. If you go away on holiday, you often have to bid goodbye to them for two weeks and catch up with them when you return. Yes, just like real neighbours.

The characters becoming "just good friends" is a big part of it. This is the nostalgic factor - and how Neighbours has seeped like honey into the sweet memories of generation after generation. Even people who don't still watch it (fools though they are!) know who Karl and Susan are. The older ones remember Kylie and Jason, and probably Madge, Harold and Jim as well. You can date any generation by asking them who they remember from Ramsay Street - it's usually who was a resident in the street while they were doing their exams. I think that's partly why I stick with it as a viewer - to build Neighbours memories for the future. I, like many, fell out of touch with the show for a few years after I left school, so I am left out of pub discussions of a certain stretch in the Nineties that happened to yield Karl's one-time infidelity with Sarah Beaumont, even though I can hold my own when Todd's death or Kerry's shooting by the duck hunters is recalled. Perversely for a show which is always made for the current generation of viewers, which maybe expects each generation to up and move on and be replaced by the next, Neighbours never ever forgets its own heritage, and bravely rewards long time viewers by bringing back old elements from the past.

This has been especially noticeable in recent years - yes, there are the returns that you don't need long memories to make sense of, for example the regular re-appearances of Paul's sister Lucy, but then there was the re-emergence of old Jack Lassiter and, indeed, the whole Brad and Lauren storyline. A lot of that must have seemed odd to viewers who didn't vaguely recall their original romance. So I think that's part of the reason for my own loyalty - I want to watch in the future and enjoy being part of the past. When a haggard, alcoholic Josh Willis returns to Ramsay Street in thirty years time I want to be able to nostalgically cry "Josh! How I laughed with you through your romance with Amber and cried with you through your abseiling accident!". Long-term characters like Toadie also make being a long term Neighbours viewer a treat - a lot of people have grown up with the character from school boy to wannabe wrestler, to bigshot lawyer. It seems incredible but Toadie, Neighbours' own Ken Barlow, may well one day be a character watched by kids whose grandparents grew up with him as an inspiration.

There are though, downsides to being the one who has to admit to "still watching Neighbours" at adult social gatherings. While the modern show enjoys the icon status of its older characters like Karl and Susan, Toadie and Paul, ironically the very core of what it is can easily be defeated by those with a detailed memory of the show. Because Neighbours is a serial for whatever time it is shown in, its storylines are cyclical. In many ways it seems designed for each generation to pick it up and put it down as they move on from the characters they can relate to. Every generation of Neighbours has its teen identification characters - and eventually these grow up, move on and try their hand at American drama. If you were at high school at a certain age, it was Todd and Cody, if you are a little younger it will be Billy and Anne. Or perhaps Zeke and Rachel. Or, these days, Amber, Josh, Imogen and Bailey. It works with the older characters too, and the same storylines do come round on a sort of script-writing merry go round. When the current tale of Karl ghost writing erotic novels in secret emerged, several Twitter commentators remarked on the similarity to the 'Philippa Martinez' storyline of the nineties. There are others - a female character revealing a dodgy past as an underwear model has been tried several times, as has two characters competing to become local councillor or mayor of Erinsborough. The 'eating disorder' storyline. The gambling addiction. And this is outside of those accepted recurring 'life' plots - the teenage lovers (at the moment Amber and Daniel are practically channeling Daniel's parents, Scott and Charlene), infidelity, pregnancy. For long-term viewers, watching Neighbours often becomes a game of guessing which storyline card is going to be pulled from the pack next - and this in itself can be fun.

How about the more guilty and personal pleasures of watching Neighbours every day? Watching for glimpses of Prisoner Cell Block H's Wentworth Prison building anyone? This enormous orange exterior looms high over the limited locations where they shoot the show, so it cannot help but make sneaky appearances in almost all the episodes if you keep an eye out for it. Likewise, Prisoner itself employed many hundreds of actors and lots of them pop up in Neighbours today on a regular basis - for example, Glenda Linscott who played Rita "the Beater" Connors and surfaces every now and then as Dr Jessica Girdwood, the surgeon who operated on Georgia and stopped her being able to sing ever again (a Neighbours hero if ever there was one). Watching the entire run of Prisoner at some point in your life makes being a Neighbours viewer at least four and a half times more rewarding.

Then there's tracking those famous Neighbours titles. Few other shows bother to feature all the characters in the title sequence. Why would you? As soon as one leaves they become out of date and you'd have to re-edit it. That Neighbours bothers to take this trouble is something I would like to warmly thank them for. Seriously, the Neighbours titles are a work of genius - an interlocking jigsaw of a mini-narrative that has to still make sense with characters regularly removed and different ones re-inserted. Harking back to the 1980's "cricket breaks a window" sequence, todays also features a cricket match albeit a slightly more contrived affair involving a splattering cake. But oh - those magical days when someone vanishes (seriously, how long was Mason there after the actor cleared off?) and a new character magically takes his place. But Paul still catches the ball, even though it's now been thrown by two completely different people! Brilliant. Days when the titles change, gloriously and without warning, halt dinner proceedings so that the new alignment can be wound back and studied - even though we'll only be able to watch it again every day for the next six months. And that iconic theme tune, an alchemic mix brewed up by Crocker and Hatch in the heat of the cheesy eighties, now ensures the show can never, ever be gritty or overly serious. How could it? The day Neighbours decides its a gun-toting rape drama, it will still be saddled by the warm charms of what sounds like a session singer crooning "That's when good Neighbours become good friends!". My campaign to bring back the pensive "Next door is only a foostep away" bit goes on, however. Then there's backdrops! And characters in beachwear on clearly windy days pretending it's sunny! And amazing little bits of intertextuality such as when Oliver Barnes wandered through Paul's kitchen humming Stefan Dennis' 1988 non-hit single "Don't It Make You Feel Good" or when Ringo played "Suddenly" at his and Donna's wedding.

But you know what. The best thing about Neighbours is that for all these enjoyments, it's simply perfect unwind-telly. Isn't that the truth for most people? It's not something you have to have complete on DVD, it's not something which you settle down to watch expecting Event TV. It's pure soap - a moment at the end of every day when you can chill out after work in the presence of safe, familiar faces. Yes, it's something to smile at or even laugh at, it's also something to grow up with, as new characters arrive and old ones leave - all of life there. Hellos, farewells, heartbreak and the odd re-acquaintance, all in the amber glow of familiarity that means you don't have to think too hard. Meanwhile every generation has its bar (be it Charlie's or the Waterhole) and its coffee shop, its nosy parker, its courting teenage couples and its big dramatic storyline they will recall in pubs in their thirties with mates of a similar age - remember when Karl cheated on Susan? Remember when Toadie got shot? Remember when Dee was driven off a cliff? At the same time the lovable cheapness of the thing is something to be cherished, for every wedding reception that has to be held in Charlie's and every character that really should return for a funeral but is unavoidably held up so they don't have to get the actor back.

I hope today I've affectionately explained why I love Neighbours so much, and maybe helped explain why you do too - something that mirrors our lives and tootles on in its own funny little world alongside our own should never really end. Imagine a whole generation who couldn't sing the Neighbours theme tune or who didn't have a gentle family of Ramsay Street characters to follow! It just wouldn't be cricket.