I wept my way through the soppy, hallucinatory last episode

How do you end a beloved soap after almost 9,000 episodes? In Neighbours’ case, with a drunk, balding bloke threatening to maim his romantic rival with a turquoise bedside lamp.

The scene – just one of the many joys of the momentous double-episode finale – was pure Ramsay Street, concluding with a concerned, cardigan-sporting bystander (Harold Bishop, who else?) valiantly breaking up the scuffle by squirting the brawling men with his garden hose.

It was a bittersweet reminder of all the delightful absurdity we’re going to miss now that Neighbours has finally signed off after 37 years. Something that could be said for the finale as a whole – which, I am happy to report, was a tear-jerking, star-packed nostalgia fest that would have satisfied Neighbours fanatics and lapsed fans alike as they tuned in to bid an emotional farewell to Erinsborough.

Neighbours usually likes to honour season finales with a great big serving of disaster. Remember 2004’s devastating Lassiters fire? Or when Harold (Ian Smith) tried to strangle Paul (Stefan Dennis) the following year? But as the show bowed out for the very last time, it inevitably chose big-hearted nostalgia over explosions.

This was an unapologetically soppy, self-referential affair studded with flashbacks to iconic Neighbours moments (Karl and Susan’s marital strife; Scott and Charlene’s 1987 wedding) and the return of legendary characters. As predicted, the ghost of Harold’s late wife, Madge (Anne Charleston) made an appearance. Then there was the grand homecoming of the soap’s illustrious Hollywood and pop alumni – Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Margot Robbie, Natalie Imbruglia, Delta Goodrem and Holly Valance all returned to honour the street that made them stars.

There was still some light jeopardy to keep us interested, though. A heavily meta storyline saw the residents gearing up to say goodbye to each other after, in a neat coincidence, all simultaneously deciding to sell up and move on to pastures new. “It certainly feels like the end of an era,” sighed Harold, as he asked Karl (Alan Fletcher) and Susan (Jackie Woodburne) to be custodians of the Ramsay Street history book that the neighbours were compiling.

Meanwhile, the characters’ love lives were in the usual mess. Clive (Geoff Paine) tried to drown his sorrows after suspecting that his girlfriend Jane (Annie Jones) still had feelings for her recently-returned old flame Mike (a show-stealing, gorgeously invested turn from Emmy-winner Guy Pearce). Stumbling home from the bar, Clive happened upon Jane giving Mike a cosy tour of the street. Cue: lamp-gate.

There was little drama… except lamp-gate (Photo: Fremantle/Channel 5)

Meanwhile, exes Paul and Therese (Rebekah Elmaloglou) were struggling with their unresolved feelings for each other, not helped by Therese lurching in to kiss Paul under Toadie and Melanie’s heart-shaped wedding arch. (“I can’t. Sorry,” yelped Paul.)

Ah yes, the wedding. The main event here was Toadie (Jarrod Rebecchi) and Melanie’s (Lucinda Cowden) nuptials, which I feared wouldn’t spell happy-ever-after. In my Neighbours viewing heyday circa 2003, after all, I watched distraught as Toadie ended his wedding day by accidentally driving his new wife Dee into the sea. Thankfully, the most dramatic thing that happened here was Toadie accidentally letting off a confetti balloon too soon.

For many, the primary draw was the guest stars. The most anticipated duo, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, exuded a genuine delight to be back as Charlene and Scott paid a visit to Ramsay Street, even if they only had about three lines between them. Kylie, in fact, uttered precisely four words, “Home, sweet home,” and “Harold!” – and the duo mainly spent their time giggling performatively like slightly unconvincing extras in a play. But it was an undeniable thrill to watch as they pulled up in their green Mini to the soundtrack of their 1988 hit “Especially For You”, Kylie rocking an 80s-throwback blonde perm.

Many of the returners were just talking heads on video call as the newlyweds watched messages from “some of our old neighbours who couldn’t be here”. But the appearances were still so touchingly sincere you suspected stars were in part articulating their own feelings. “My years living on Ramsay Street were honestly some of the best in my entire life,” gushed Margot Robbie’s Donna, while Delta Goodrem aka Nina promised she was “with you wholeheartedly in spirit”.

And not everyone resorted to Zoom. One segment involved a very game Natalie Imbruglia and Holly Valance – who played, respectively, Beth Brennan and Flick Scully – meeting by chance in a park: “It just shows wherever you are in the world, Ramsay Street can bring you together.”

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The drama-hungry part of me was momentarily disappointed there wasn’t any of the flamboyant tragedy the show does so well. But you can’t conclude with a cliffhanger. Instead, everything was wrapped up neatly, with the street’s many troubled couples finally working things out (fans of #Chelly will have been delighted that Chloe and Elly finally got back together).

Don’t get me wrong: there was low-stakes drama and absurd emotional U-turns aplenty. You really needed to suspend disbelief, for instance, when, just in time for the ending, everyone decided that they’d rather not leave Ramsay Street after all. But this was most of all a wistful, heartfelt ode to community, with writers saluting how much the show has meant to its actors and fans.

“Everyone deserves a place in the history of Ramsay Street, even those who watched us from afar. Together we have been the perfect blend,” said Susan, in an overt message to viewers as she gazed around at her fellow residents in the slo-mo final montage, which included everything from an aggressively horny shot of couples snogging in the wedding marquee to a glimpse of – yes – Madge’s ghost.

It was cheesy, heart-rending and faintly hallucinogenic. In short, the essence of Neighbours and a completely perfect way to end – if it didn’t leave you in tears, I’m worried about your capacity to feel. Though there were no explosions, the soap definitely went out with a bang.

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