A confession: tonight’s the first time I’ve tuned into Shortland Street in about six months. I’ve been completely out of the Shortland Street loop for the last eighteen months or so, but I really wanted to see tonight’s momentous 20th season anniversary episode.
Once again, the Shortland Street “curse” has struck: there’s a warning that the show may be distressing for some people, given there was a “distressing event” in Canterbury today. I quickly checked to see if there was a sudden earthquake (thankfully not) but learnt about a helicopter crash. The publicity for tonight’s episode included mention of a spectacular helicopter crash (ooh, will Chris Warner be finally written out?).The Shortland Street curse has been discussed at length over the years: there’s been an uncanny number of real life events reflected in the show, even though the show is filmed well in advance. Shortland Street, love or hate it, has reflected New Zealand culture and the changing issues in a way that no other show in New Zealand could after so many episodes.
To reflect on Shortland Street over the years is to reflect about a large chunk of my life. I was a little 3rd former sitting down with my family when I watched the very first episode. I don’t remember too much about the first episode, except that I felt very awkward sitting there with my parents watching Chris Warner have sex with a gym instructor played by Suzy Aitken. I don’t think the show went down too well with them and Neighbours was my only soap addiction for a few years. (Sorry Chris Warner but Todd Landers and Paul Robinson were my crushes).
My next memory of Shorty was also a rather uncomfortable one: my 4th form teacher who took us for form room and sports scored a role on the show. Mortifying for us students – and an endless source of gossip and jokes for the class – was the realisation that he was playing a policeman stripper. And yes, he stripped. Awkward much.
Shortland Street was in the backdrop all the way through high school. It was dissected by classmates, and even though I didn’t tune in, I had a fair idea of what was going on. A guy I liked dated an actress on the show. I knew I didn’t have a chance with him against her. I went to Massey High school, where a number of the cast came from including Karl Burnett and Angela Bloomfield. Angela came back to choreograph a school musical I was involved in. She was fantastic, professional, inspiring and oh so petite. Everyone looked up to her.
When I left home, Shorty became a regular fixture. It was perfect to have on while cooking dinner and I enjoyed watching Nick and Waverly, Tama and Shannon, Anne and Nelson, Dom and Delphi and of course my absolute favourite storyline with incredible ending: The Ferndale Strangler.
When my two little boys came along, I drifted away from Shortland Street. Was it me or was it Shortland Street? I don’t quite know. My routine had changed dramatically: dinner was shifted to 5:30pm and 7pm became the bedtime rush. TV watching time became more limited as I spent more evenings working and I became more ruthless in culling the list of shows I followed closely. My favourite characters of recent years had left (Libby and Gerald in particular) and I just didn’t connect with the new ones for some reason. When I see promos for the show, I’m reminded of the lyric “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know” – there’s a familiar feeling but I really am at a loss to know what’s been going on.
All this to say: Shortland Street has probably impacted in some shape or form most New Zealanders, even if in a small way, for parts of their lives. It continues to cover complex and serious issues that Aussie soaps like Home and Away won’t touch, continues to reflect Kiwi culture on screen and has been an invaluable launch pad for New Zealand actors and actresses’ careers.
A congratulatory toast to Shortland Street, to the lovely people at South Pacific Pictures and all the people who work so incredibly hard to bring every episode to our living rooms. Here’s to another 20 years! (Perhaps I will be back to cooking dinner at 7pm then… eek!)
And now, back to watching the show….