As everyone's favourite never-ending soap celebrates its 25th anniversary, two patriots take a trip down memory lane.
As any patriotic New Zealander will know, Shortland Street turns 25 today, another glorious milestone for our longest running soap and national treasure - and what a 25 years it has been.
Ferndale may be fictional but it is also a place near and dear to our hearts - the space in which our Kiwi fantasies and fears, dreams and nightmares, wants and want nots, play out before our very eyes to build a collective national consciousness enjoyed by few.
Tonight’s anniversary episode, it is said, will feature a "cataclysmic event" and for that we could not be more pleased.
Yet while ol’ Shorty is often spoken of only in terms of its scandals, cliffhangers and Christmas specials, for every meth explosion or gruesome murder there will be 100 nurses strikes, 50 DHB bureaucracy problems, and approx 7000 social netball events.
Yes we all loved Joey the Ferndale Strangler (and his new single out now!) but for true fans, Shortland Street is not a drama laden thrill-fest: it is a document of the day-to-day dysfunction of an oddly clean, yet utterly inefficient public (or private?) hospital, populated entirely by sexy doctors and their teenage children.
For the truly devoted, we present to you the real memories.
Sarah’s son feeds her dog food
Sarah Potts was a wonderful character, so beloved and adored that when she died everyone freaked out and made Facebook memorials as though she was a real person. Now that’s love. Not everyone, however, always felt such affection towards Sarah.
Having made the choice to tell her little brother Daniel that he was actually her illegitimate son, Sarah was surprised to find he was none too pleased. Sullen and cruel (as children are wont to be) he immediately set about making life for his poor mother a living hell, a project which culminated in him preparing and feeding her and partner Andrew (a dashing Paolo Rotondo) a pasta dish made with dog food. Not long after this the choice was made for Daniel to live in Samoa with his father where he spent his adolescence turning into Ido Drent (as children are wont to do).
Soap operas have notorious difficulty incorporating references to contemporary trends and culture. They’re written sometimes, oh, entire weeks ahead of broadcast and therefore cannot always anticipate what people are going to be talking about when they actually reach our screens (leading to a lot of dialogue along the lines of “let’s go see that new movie”. Y’know. The new one).
Sometimes this has wonderful results - like when Ferndale youth Tama became wildly obsessed with seeing new action flick The Commandernator (this was before bored teenagers like him were scouring Pirate Bay and draining local cinemas of income like the parasites they are). Imagine the hours of thought and preparation and furious brainstorming on many, many whiteboards that resulted in that title being the one they went with. At least we can be sure that it was a better cinemagoing experience than Terminator: Genisys.
God comes to Ferndale
Shorty Street has had an interesting relationship with the Almighty. Remember when hospital boss Sophia thought that she had been electrocuted as punishment for her divorce? Or when “Serenity Church” member Baxter converted his presumably Jewish girlfriend Claire Solomon to Christianity only to ditch her to become a faith-healer (would love to have been in the writers' room the day they pitched that one).
But most fondly remembered of all is when struggling artist Marshall found himself haunted by a deceased vagrant. Was this a descent into full on horror movie territory? A sign that former advertising exec/drug addict Marshall had finally gone off the deep end? A commentary on Auckland’s housing crisis years in advance? Nah, it turns out that dead homeless men are God’s preferred recruiting tool. And so after a brief natter with corpse-hobo, ol’ Marsh decided to run off and become a minister.
This confirmed a few things: God exists in the Ferndaleverse, he is a Protestant God, and he prefers to communicate with his chosen in the most unnerving way possible.
Matt has a Cow
Remember the Cow Parade? Back in (checks Google) 2003, it was all anyone was talking about - cows littered about Auckland, transformed into works of astonishing beauty by local artists (“the cow is a universally beloved animal” their website claims. Yeah, I got nothing against them I guess). Even Shortland Street got in on the act - albeit using them not to spread joy and cow-love, but in a tale of manipulation, deception and subterfuge - everything the Cow Parade presumably stands against.
Dastardly CEO Victor, still sore that romanticist prankster Matt had briefly usurped his sister’s position as Nurse Manager, decided to punish him by tasking him with painting Shortland Street’s own bovine canvas. Matt, despite having shown an artistic bent when he wrote and directed a full length musical starring the hospital staff, was not up to the task. Fortunately wandering painter Marshall stumbled across his feeble efforts and, because artists are quite happy to attempt full scale projects for no money and for no reason, did the job for him.
Victor was briefly convinced he had misjudged Matt - until the dope confessed he was not the mystery Picasso responsible. As the old saying goes - “Don’t let another man have his way with your cow”. Or something.
I Dream of Nick
There are many ways to denote a dream sequence in filmmaking. Arty black and white photography, dutch angles, backwards talking dwarves dancing to jazz music etc. Shortland Street didn’t bother with any of that tomfoolery when lovesick Waverley dreamed that one-time BF Nick returned from the UK with a pregnant girlfriend in tow.
Instead it looked like regular ol’ Shorty Street, edited together with “real” scenes creating a Brechtian sense of alienation where you could not be sure what was genuine and what was fantasy. Fortunately when Waverley woke Nick turned out to have no girlfriend, no money.
He and Wave settled down for years of unexciting domestic bliss, untroubled by the fact that there was no way of telling if reality had reasserted itself or if everything subsequent to this was a crazed delusion existing inside the diseased mind of the beloved receptionist who had fallen into eternal slumber. Perhaps the most existentially horrifying episode in the show’s history.
The Curious Incident of the Rangi in the Nighttime
Rangi was an odd fellow. Having finally married the woman he’d ascertained, presumably conclusively, was not his sister as he’d once believed, he settled down for a lifetime of happiness and explaining to people that no, his wife was definitely not his sister.
Then he surprised everyone by getting murdered and turning out to be having not just an affair but a full blown double life with secret storage units, tell-tale lockets and so on. When this occurred it proved baffling to some viewers that he’d had the time for any of this between being an ambulance officer, a husband and a spokesman for those afflicted by accidental incest.
Despite the slight downside of having had his nude corpse dumped in a ditch by his loopy mistress’ hubby, Rangi is in fact an inspirational figure of sorts - a go-getter, a doer, who didn’t let anything stand in the way of his ludicrously elaborate infidelities. You could learn something from this man, millennials.
Musical: The Musical
Haven’t we all dreamed of some great artistic endeavour - whether that novel we keep meaning to finish, a webcomic we always thought we could totally get people to read if we ever figured out how Tumblr worked, a complete re-write of Outrageous Fortune season six to remove that weird Pascalle/Judd thing that never made any sense - only to find our efforts stymied by lack of enthusiasm, money or good old fashioned talent?
Having suddenly recalled that he wrote a musical at high school (a High School Musical if you will) Nurse Matt leapt at the chance to stage a charity production of Beauty Mine with hospital staff all singing and dancing and, yes, rap battling while dressed in fabulous costumes.
Local curmudgeon Rachel McKenna for some reason consented to play Beauty with Chris Warner oh-so-metatheatrically playing her love interest (would those crazy kids ever get together?). For Matt it was an opportunity to show his overbearingly masculine father (who - SURPRISE TWIST - turned out to be gay) that he could indeed be a success treading the boards. Having no doubt put in an immediate application for a cheapo reprisal at the Basement Theatre only to be swiftly and justly rejected, Matt was left to spend his days passive aggressively pining after fellow nurse Toni and trying to flog soundtrack CDs on TradeMe.