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Comment > Under My Umbrella by Alex

With nearly 30 years and 7000 episodes under its belt, many of today's television viewers could be forgiven for wondering what makes Neighbours so successful. After all, how has it endured when so many programmes have come and gone from the television schedules during that same period? Why is it that a daytime soap, set in a residential suburb of Melbourne is able to hold its own against the special effects and relentless thrills modern audiences have come to expect?

The answer to these questions, it seems, is a 'perfect blend' between skilfully crafted characters and storylines; comedy and drama; action and reflection; the ups and downs of life. Neighbours has always excelled in ensuring that the quantities of these ingredients are balanced, leading to captivating television for its viewers. This has become even more apparent recently in a series of 'umbrella stories'. Neighbours airs five times a week, each episode taking up around half an hour of a viewer's time. It is on all year round, with the exception of a short period of time over the Christmas holiday period. Therefore, it follows that anyone who watches each episode throughout the year is required to devote a large amount of their free time in doing so. To remain a loyal follower, one needs to care about the people on their screens, to accompany them on their journey through life. Characters that hold no interest to the viewer result in that person turning to one of the many other channels available. When we care about those we watch we laugh with them, cry with them, root for them in times of trouble, cheer with them in times of joy. We come back the following day to see what life is going to throw at them next.

This may seem obvious, yet what Neighbours does so well is to bring these characters together as a community, to share these moments. As a viewer, we feel part of the community, strengthening the way we already feel about those we watch, bringing us in to the action without the need of special effects, frequent explosions, car chases and whodunnits. When an event or a person creates conflict or challenge, it is almost as if it is happening to us, the loyal Neighbours followers. 'Umbrella stories' enable this to happen.

Over the past few years, there have been several 'umbrella stories', which involve many of those living in Ramsay Street. Highlights of these include Robbo Slade and his subsequent hit and run; Gemma Reeves; Paul's fall from the hotel mezzanine and, further back in time, Izzy Hoyland and Robert Robinson. All of these have had effects on many others in the community and we have followed each with baited breath, ready to find out how they will all end. Let's take a closer look at the story which ended up in a hit and run, and a character left for dead on the road: that of Robbo Slade.

Robbo burst onto our screens in early 2013, initially as an unknown character, pushing Lou to the ground in a burglary of Number 32, recently inhabited by the Turner family. Mason Turner had previously served time in a detention centre for a robbery committed with Robbo that had gone wrong. Mason has an inkling that Robbo is involved in the burglary, and this is soon confirmed when it is discovered that Mason is in the area. Robbo demands the money from the burglary which had successfully been hidden, causing both Mason and Bailey, who was also involved, to panic, stuffing the money into a garden gnome which ends up in Sheila's garden. Robbo is also revealed to be the secret boyfriend of Amber Turner. With the money missing, Robbo forces Mason to take part in another robbery: Lassiter's hotel. This occurs on the day of Sonya and Toadie's wedding and ironically the robbery is witnessed by Sonya herself. Sonya, however, is injured in the marquee explosion at the wedding and can't identify the robbers. Robbo flees Erinsborough soon after, knowing that Sonya could potentially identify him at any time.

By this point, Neighbours has already been successful on many levels, managing to integrate a brand new family and create a situation in which we care for them so soon after their arrival, intertwining the lives of many other members of the community with theirs. This is extended upon in Robbo's second appearance, with more characters becoming involved, widening the catchment of the 'umbrella story' it had become.

Robbo returns, trying to get Amber back on side, causing Mason to furiously punch him. With Mason already on a good behaviour bond for the robbery, Robbo holds all the cards, revealing that he won't report Mason for the time being. Matt tries to warn Robbo away from his family, but is unable to stop Robbo waging a war of intimidation on Sonya, threatening her and stealing Nell, which cannot be proven. Robbo adds another enemy to his list, by telling Josh to stay away from Amber. More of the Neighbours community become involved soon after: Paul invites Robbo to a poker game, trying to ensure he loses all of his money. When the plan works, Robbo sleeps with Amber then blackmails Mason with footage he had recorded of his evening with Amber. Wanting his money back, Robbo starts hosting poker games, tempting Lucas back into gambling and forcing Lucas into debt.

With an enemy list growing by the day including, but not exclusively, Mason, Josh, Lucas, Paul, Matt, Bailey, Imogen, Amber, Lauren and Sonya, the photo exhibition becomes Robbo's downfall. After spiking Sonya's drink, which Toadie consumes, Robbo leaves the exhibition and is promptly run over outside in a thrilling hit and run incident. We later discover the culprit to be Hudson, Chris Pappas' boyfriend, who had seen Robbo intimidating Amber and had driven at Robbo intending to scare him, but running him over instead.

As an audience we watched as most of Ramsay Street came under suspicion; we grew used to watching the Turners on screen and learnt a lot about them through the process of the storyline. And we got to take a peek at Sheila's collection of garden gnomes. With Robbo dead and gone, we look forward to watching our favourite television community dealing with the next crisis together.