Shortland Street is turning into a metaphor for the Trump White House

by Diana Wichtel / 20 September, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Shortland Street tv review

Thomas Sainsbury.

An extra night of Shortland Street won’t change the psycho storylines or the mad characters who act without consequence.

My relationship with the national soap, chugging along on our screens for an impressive, if startling, 26 years, is like my relationship with religion: I turn up for weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs and mostly give it a swerve the rest of the time.

Actually, I’m not sure there’s been a bar mitzvah in Ferndale. It can only be a matter of time. The gods of television have decreed that the universe is not nearly absurd enough, so Shortland Street will screen six nights a week until the end of the year. It’s some sort of soap world record, apparently, and the inaugural Shorty Sunday was a celebratory hour long.

I can’t keep up as it is. The last time I watched, the show’s 25th anniversary was being marked by the eruption of that hitherto harmless landmark, Mt Ferndale. The denizens of Ferndale coughed a lot, got dirty and stoically carried on trying to murder each other. Pregnant oncologist Eve Reston wandered off into the eruption and returned like a wild-eyed prophet: “This is a purge. It’s a cleansing fire! Only the strong will survive.”

Sadly, this was not to be the case. The evolutionary cul de sac that is Ferndale remains populated by the mad, sad and a disproportionate percentage of the bad. Eve turned into some sort of crazed bodysnatcher. Maybe it was the “volcanic gas”. To the dismay of their father, surgeon Boyd, she ran off with their twin babies, named Romulus and Remus, because with parents this idiotic, they’d be better off being raised by wolves.

Dylan seems a nice chap if you overlook the fact that he’s killed a couple of wives. He goes around announcing, “I’m secretly a serial killer,” but everyone ignores him because soap psycho storylines are there to be milked in a manner specifically designed to sap a viewer’s will to live.

That’s the upside to the long-distance soap; you can tune back in after a year and feel like you haven’t missed a thing. Characters still constantly lurch up to each other and bark, “We need to talk!” And, by everything Hippocratic, has any group of health professionals made so many extravagantly poor life choices? Eve sneaks back into Ferndale with the babies. One of them is sick. Boyd steals the identity of another baby so he can perform a sneaky major operation on his own child without his colleagues noticing and then whisk him away again as if he’d never heard of adequate post-operative care. Eventually he blurts out the truth. Nothing happens.

There’s Sebastian, formerly healthcare assistant with a dark side, Jason. Jason went to therapy, changed his name to Sebastian and declared himself a new man. As he chirps reassuringly, “Nobody wants a stabby stalker freak show, am I right?” Played with scenery-chomping glee by comedian and merciless politician-impersonator Thomas Sainsbury, Sebastian counts as a highlight, despite a line in double entendre so punishing he sounds like he’s auditioning for a remake of Are You Being Served? On the plus side, he has a therapy parrot who makes more sense than most of the rest of the core cast.

If you squint hard enough you could see Ferndale as a metaphor for the current situation at the White House. Here is a world where you can do any mad thing, behave like a complete stabby stalker freak show and there will be no consequences. Clinic motto: Whatevs.

Six nights a week – you have to admire the commitment. Do the actors now just live on set? Or maybe they’ve been replaced by robots – it can sometimes be hard to tell – and get recharged overnight. Shortland Street: The Musical opens in November. Like it or run screaming like an evacuee from Mt Ferndale, there is no escape.

Shortland Street, TVNZ 2 weeknights, 7.00pm and Sunday, 7.00pm.

This article was first published in the September 22, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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