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Tube Talk: Take A Bow, Shortland Street

TUBE TALK: A weekly TV review


With John T. Forde

There were many noteworthy events on TV this week – David coming out to his mother in Six Feet Under, Aiden proposing to Carrie in Sex & The City, the unashamed hideousness of Michelle Boag’s teal pantsuits. But the week belonged, appropriately enough, to Shortland Street’s 10th Anniversary special.

Ever since Chris Warner shagged Suzie Aitken in the broom cupboard (Look! Real nipples!), Shortland Street has bored, infuriated and squirmed its way into our consciousness. “You’re not in Guatemala now, Dr. Ropata!” is up there with Bill Clinton’s "”I Did Not Have Sex With That Woman” as one of the defining one-liners of the 90s.

Shortland Street gave us our own teenage stars, who were more frequently amusing offscreen – turning up to the opening of an envelope before complaining about the pressures of celebrity status and decamping to star in Australian cop dramas (Martin Henderson, anyone?) Oh, how we laughed as we watched our favourite starlets leave the show to “pursue other projects”, only to come crawling back for much-needed career resuscitation.

My favourite Shortland Street years are from the mid-90s, where the writing managed to fuse the trash appeal of tabloid with some provocative story lines. When Annie and Meredith kissed, it set off a storm of screams in my university Hall of Residence in Dunedin. But it was there for all to see. Being gay wasn’t invisible anymore - even though the gay characters did have an odd habit of being written off to live in Dunedin. (We searched in vain for Annie and Meredith at Ladies’ Night at the Bowler pub, but to no avail.)

Similarly, teenage Minnie’s line, “I’ve gone ahead and lost my virginity and there’s nothing you can do about it” helped me liven up many an uneventful family dinner.

My favourite character was Theresa Healey’s Carmen – dry, witty, brilliant, and free to shag Craig Parker. Her untimely death broke my heart – until I changed channels and watched something else. A close second was Marge, whose cheery “KEE-Ora, Shortland Street!” was a welcome breeze of gauche Kiwiana in a sea of politically correct storylines.

TV2’s Shortland Street Special (optimistically called The First Ten Years) was a little short on historical moments. Asking fans to vote online for their favourite scenes, slapper nurses and sexy doctors seemed inspired – but the choices suggested an audience with no memory before around 1996. Where were the tribute clips to famous Shortland Street alumni Marton Czokas, Nancy Brunning and Madeleine Sami?

It also would’ve been nice to see an old star resurrected to host the show – strategically airbrushed for the occasion, of course – but instead TVNZ called Dial-A-Celeb and found some annoying, terminally smiley children’s show presenter whose name I can’t remember. “Family and love is what it’s all about,” she trilled, blithely overlooking the point that we watch TV to laugh at messed-up families who hate each other.

But in the end, the show delivered what we wanted to see – clips from the early bad old days of cheap sets, bad perms and wooden acting.

A review of 10 years in Shortland Street reveals a world where hair is destiny (witness Kirsty evolving from frizzy permed bimbo to sleek power-bobbed siren) and a fire-and-brimstone morality straight out of the Old Testament. Take drugs, have easy sex and cuss your Mumma, and you’ll pay! Sadly, Shortland Street’s juicy tabloid excesses seem to have dried up – uber-bitches Karla just don’t get dragged into the asylum screaming “I’ll get you! I’ll get you all!” any more.

But in TV – as in life – characters come and go, and new, skinnier people with better haircuts arise to replace the fallen. But simply by being around for so long – and for occasionally being good TV – Shortland Street deserves its 10th birthday cake. A hearty “KEE-Ora!” to you all.

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