Sunday, August 7, 2022

Why Scott & Charlene from Neighbors were the original Ross & Rachel

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Bozer’s dream. The Olympic Games on Ramsay Street. Helen Daniels long-necked portrait of the battle ax Mrs. Mangel. Strewth, mate, the misty callbacks are coming thick and fast in this week’s final (sobbing) episode of Neighbors. Especially when the opening notes of “Especially for You” herald the much-hyped return of a certain soap opera supercouple: Scott and Charlene.

After 37 years and nearly 9,000 episodes, the Australian saga airs its final episode on Friday. To reflect the seriousness of the occasion, it was promoted from its traditional 9pm lunch and tea times to a prime-time slot. It’s the end of an Erinsborough era and Channel 5 is expecting record-breaking ratings. The nostalgia factor means millions of viewers will tune in to raise a farewell salute. For just one night, the action from a certain suburban cul-de-sac returns to event TV.

From Hollywood A-Listers to Christmas Panto D-Listers, Neighbors Alumni have lined up to stroll through Melbourne’s memories one last time. Jane “Plain Jane Superbrain” Harris (Annie Jones) takes old flame Mike Young (Guy Pearce) on a tour of the streets that brings back memories. Soap star Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) strikes a deal to sell the Lassiters hotel complex to old rival Shane Ramsay (Peter O’Brien).

Former residents – including Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (who played Donna Freedman), a house Star Jesse Spencer (Billy Kennedy) and popstrel Delta Goodrem (Nina Tucker) – stop by. The same goes for some other famous faces that I can’t spoil just yet. “It really feels like the end of an era,” sighs dear old fuddy-duddy Harold Bishop (Ian Smith), cheeks shaking with emotion.

All of this is just warm-up for the leads, though: Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, who make a magical comeback as the show’s original darlings Scott Robinson and Charlene Mitchell. Expect squeals of joy from the sofas across the country as they roar back onto Ramsay Street in a spruce but chic Mini Cooper – a car presumably chosen with British audiences in mind.

When the imported soap was in its glory in the late 1980s and aired on BBC One, Scott was the golden boy of Ramsay Street, youngest son of neighborhood patriarch Jim (Alan Dale) and grandson of painter Helen (Anne Haddy). In 1987, Scott acted heroically against a burglar breaking into Madge Ramsay’s house next door. He was hit on the mouth for his trouble before the intruder took off their caps and long hair fell. Of course, it turned out to be Madge’s estranged daughter, Charlene, who had just arrived from Queensland. There’s a nice nod to that cute meeting in Friday’s finals.

At first, Scott the geek and Charlene the lippy tomboy hated each other. But, in textbook romcom style, they soon found that they loved each other. It was classic teenage syndrome where anger was actually attraction. Their argument turned into a flirtation. With a little understanding of what the title song says, they found the perfect mix.

years before Ross ‘n’ Rachel friendsor Mulder ‘n’ Scully X-Files, Scott ‘n’ Charlene were pop culture’s original will-they-or-won’t-they couple. Viewers mirror our own romantic longings and wanted them to get together and stay together. Milkshakes at Cafe Lassiters were a precursor to Central Perk’s cappuccinos. Even the real lives of the cast evolved in tandem – Minogue’s career would eclipse Donovan’s, just as Jennifer Aniston would later eclipse David Schwimmer. Both women would also be patronized in the mainstream media as “unlucky in love™”.

The Robinson and Ramsay clans had feuded for years. Hardworking sixth grader Scott and dungaree-clad auto mechanic Charlene became the show’s Romeo and Juliet – hapless lovers in stonewash denim. In the gray ’80s, the Sunshine Soap from Down Under felt fleeting, exotic, and aspiring. It had already proved to be a surprise hit in the UK. Scott and Charlene struck a chord with teenage viewers and turned it into a runaway phenomenon.

Hormones exploded, the couple kissed and the world’s media went wild. The likeable couple have graced the covers of teen magazines and tabloids alike. Speculations of an off-screen romance between young Minogue and Donovan – which they later confirmed lasted two years – further fueled the public’s obsession. Both signed to Stock Aitken Waterman’s record label PWL and released pop hits on the back of their soap fame. You really should be that lucky.

Following the couple’s rocky on-off ad, 20 million British viewers tuned in with eye-dabbing tissues for the couple’s November 1988 wedding. Charlene wore peachy-white Chantilly ruffles and a perm. Scott tastefully paired his tuxedo with a frost-tipped surfer mullet. Charlene walked down the aisle to her “love theme,” Angry Anderson’s “Suddenly.” It shot to number three on the UK charts. Prior to that at number two was Minogue and Donovan’s own sloppy duet “Especially for You” (which Cliff Richard eventually knocked out at the top). Even the revelation of Charlene’s middle name — bizarrely, Edna — at the altar didn’t dampen the occasion.

The next year, Minogue quit Neighbors to focus on her music career. Against all odds, she’s still doing well today, making her Australia’s best-selling artist of all time. Donovan soon followed him. His boring power-pop didn’t have the same staying power, but he’s since been a regular on West End stages and reality TV. Clever producers didn’t kill off the characters, leaving the patio doors open to a possible return. The couple instead moved up the east coast to Brisbane — sorry, “Brizzy” — to start a family off-screen. Despite regular offers and pleas from fans, they’ve never been tempted again…until now.

Before water dispensers were invented, let alone social media, Scott and Charlene’s wedding was one of those unifying moments on TV in the ’80s — up there with the wedding of Charles and Di, the “gender bender” Boy George top of the pops Debut, Grange Hill’s anti-drug campaign “Just Say No” and “Who shot JR?” in Dallas. Now, their era-defining romance is finally getting its final chapter.

It seems Scott and Charlene are still happily married after 35 years. Rumor has it that the returning couple will have the final words about it Neighbors, which closes a decades-long love story. “Especially for You” is even getting a limited re-release on vinyl and cassette (80’s formats only, you know). As the lyrics say, now they are back together and their hearts are oh so true. Not even Bouncer dared to dream of such a happy ending.

Neighbors: The Finale airs on Channel 5 on Friday 29 July at 9pm

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