We’re so used to romance on TV only being something that happens between young, beautiful people. Characters get past a certain age and it’s assumed that they no longer have the need for romance in their lives, and the same goes quite often for people who don’t conform to the mainstream idea of physical beauty. I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but during the run-up to Aaron and David’s wedding – the first same-sex wedding to feature on Neighbours – it struck me that Neighbours isn’t scared to explore some different kinds of relationships.
There was a time when most of the romantic storylines involved the younger residents of Ramsay Street. It used to feel like older couples only ever seemed to be shown as having marital problems, while it was the younger ones who were out there having all the fun. This is something that occurs all across movies and TV – once an actor hits a certain age they often transition into the parent role, which means no more steamy scenes for them. Neighbours refreshingly doesn’t conform to this convention, especially recently – there’s the Kennedys and their infamous blue box; Gary and Terese had the ‘limber ladybird’; Dipi and Shane are pretty fond of a bit of dressing up; and Sheila and Clive recently got down to it on the patio. If you stray over to the ‘other’ Aussie soap, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Summer Bay had a bye-law that banned sex for the over 40s, because none of the older characters seem to get much in the way of action over there.
It seems like everyone’s at it on Ramsay Street. In fact, it’s even something you prepare for as a family, as we saw with the startlingly weird scene where Susan and Bea helped Elly change the sheets before Mark came over for a spot of bedroom gymnastics.
There’s also the issue of how characters meet. It used to be that most of the romantic pairings on Neighbours occurred on the street, with residents working their way through two or three different neighbours during their time in Erinsborough. At this point it’s probably easier to name the past and present residents that Mark hasn’t dated, and let’s not forget how Tyler worked his way through both of Piper’s sisters before he settled on her. Mishti’s recent foray into online dating (albeit quite a niche kind) feels a lot more realistic to me than just hooking up with all the people on your street. There have been a couple of other characters on the show who’ve used dating apps, but they haven’t been a huge vehicle for any of the romantic storylines, which feels a little bit out of kilter with how most people find a partner in the real world nowadays.
Mishti’s storyline also explores another type of relationships that lies slightly out of the mainstream in the UK and Australia – arranged marriage. It’d be kind of nice to see a relationship that didn’t start with a clichéd meet-cute and have the characters falling in love at first sight, which we all know does not happen with the same regularity in real life as it does in rom-coms and soap operas. As much as Mishti’s practical, almost clinical, approach to finding herself a partner doesn’t appeal to some of her family, I think it would be interesting to watch her choose to follow through with the idea of an arranged marriage.
Then there’s Chloe, ever the maverick, turning dating into a business opportunity. I hope this storyline doesn’t go down the obvious route, which would be a cautionary tale where Chloe ends up on a date with a seedy client who wants more than she’s willing to offer. Let’s face it, you don’t have to be getting paid to go on a date for that to happen. I’d love to see Chloe thrive in this kind of venture, she’s certainly the type of person that could get away with charging for her company. If you’re rich and in need of company, I can think of worse ways to spend your money than on a fun night out with Chloe Brennan.
And talking of the Brennans, that brings me to Neighbours’ current big storyline – the wedding of Aaron and David. It’s the first same-sex marriage to feature on the show, and hopefully won’t be the last. It seems kind of ridiculous that it’s taken us until 2018 for a gay relationship to be portrayed with the same displays of affection as a heterosexual relationship, and be considered appropriate for a tea-time soap, but it happened finally. I’m writing this before the big day, so I’m just hoping that Aaron and David survived the usual soap opera wedding-based drama and that the whole went swimmingly…
The Neighbours writers seem hell-bent on trying to break as many soap conventions as possible recently, and I’m all for it. I love that they are mixing it up a bit. Relationships in the real world don’t all fit the cookie-cutter boy-meets-girl shape that TV relationships often do, and neither do people. Neighbours has a special place in my heart anyway, but it genuinely delights me every time they take another baby step towards being more representative. I don’t ever want them to stop doing their utterly bonkers, far-fetched storylines, because we all get enough of real life in real life, but I’m massively in favour of them populating those bonkers storylines with people who feel recognisably more real.