Home and Away is an Australian prime time soap opera that has inexplicably lasted 21 years. It chronicles the daily to-ings and fro-ings of the most beautiful, unluckiest fools in the country.
Look, I'm the first to admit it - I enjoy a little Home and Away once in a while. Who doesn't? Does that make me a bad person? Probably? Do I care? Probably.
Every once in a while, though, (read: about every eight days) even the most avid fan has to avert their eyes and pretend that their favourite soap on the box hasn't completely fucked itself to the point of no return. Today I'll chronicle, for your enjoyment, a number of fairly recent plotlines that takes what could've once been a good Aussie drama into are-they-fucking-kidding-me-with-this territory.
Roman Harris is a complicated guy. Apart from rocking up in Summer Bay at the end of 2007, living out of a panel van yet somehow being able to afford to buy himself a diner, his past has been littered with illegitimate teenage daughters and secret SAS careers. It's when both of these collide that creates a 2008 story arc of unbelievably stupid proportions.
Elliott, the brother of Roman's dead SAS buddy comes to town and hooks up with Roman's daughter Nicole. Roman is cautious because A) the guy's about ten years older than high school-aged Nicole, and B) he thinks Elliott blames him for his brother's death and is just using Nicole as a pawn in some sort of evil plot. Why would he think that, you wonder? Because this is Home and Away. It's happened before.
And I daresay it'll happen again.
Turns out, everybody's favourite six foot tall, wife-beater-wearing, commando-turned-chef is bang on the money. Elliott takes Nicole diving, messes around with her oxygen tank and leaves her to die, then jets back to shore when he traps Roman in a cat-and-mouse game that involves landmines and arrows. Want to know how it ends? Well, to be honest, I haven't quite worked out how it is Roman manages to escape, unless sheer manly awesomeness trumps landmines and arrows nowadays.
Death is no match for a man in a wife-beater.
And as for Nicole...well heck, she's fine. She just ends up stranded on an island in nothing more than a bikini, but if we've learned anything from Lost, it's that there's plenty to do on a deserted beach with a big, strapping shirtless love interest to keep her company. (That's the lesson we were supposed to learn from Lost, right?)
Twins are nothing new in Home and Away land. After all, they're just plain handy. Just when you think you've exhausted a character, in comes their long-lost twin, reviving them for a couple more months at least. Sometimes, of course, twins come to the Bay together, and that can create a whole new set of problems.
A different sort of problem.
In 2004, the Hunter twins arrived in town. If you've seen Home and Away before, you've probably heard of one of them -- Matilda Hunter, who in the coming years would go on to become Summer Bay's perfect golden girl. The other twin, Henry, only stuck around for a year and a half, but together they provide us with the first reason why introducing twins are a bad idea -- if one of them is suicide-inducingly boring. This is certainly the case with the Hunter twins.
While Matilda may be an annoying brat (well, she was before she had the personality transplant all annoying brats have a few months after their annoying brattiness gets old and the writers decide it's about time they became regular, non annoyingly-bratty members of society), she's at least interesting. There are a lot of places you can take her character -- she's young, she's pretty, she's a bit spunky. To put it simply, she's got potential.
None of this can be said for her brother, Henry. Henry's quiet, he's easily-led, he's...well, he's as boring as you can get. And in an event-a-second town like Summer Bay, this just won't do. So what to do with this blonde-haired bore nobody wants? Send him to tap-dancing school. That's right, tap-dancing school. And does poor old Henry get a proper send off? Nyehh, that's for exciting characters who actually do something other than wear headphones at the dinner table at get bullied. (Hel-lo, tap dancer?) Henry leaves for tap-dancing school the way he does everything in life -- so quietly that the next episode his mother actually has to remind the audience with a loud, "Gee, it's going to be quiet here now that Henry's gone to tap-dancing school! Wink, wink, you guys!"
Of course, the most famous Home and Away twins, Jade and Kirsty Sutherland, never had this problem. Jade's the smart, determined spunky blonde, Kirsty's the rebellious, cheeky and yes, spunky (slightly darker) blonde. But even the Wonder Twins suffered some sort of twin-related quandray, even worse than the Hunters' polar-opposite appeal -- this particular set of fraternals looked nothing alike. And not in that they're-not-identical-but-you-can-tell-they're-sisters way, either. This was blatant example of miscasting -- Kirsty and Jade didn't even look as though they shot out of the same womb.
Peas in a fucking pod.
For years, they graced our screens in all their sisterly glory, presumably while the writers sat back watching with their hands over their eyes going, "God help us if these people notice they're not even the same age." Well, uh, yes. Yes, people noticed. Yes, people talked about it. And so it happened. Four years passed and the writers worked out that their audience wasn't quite as stupid as they thought, and all was revealed -- Jade was not a Sutherland. She and Kirsty's real twin were switched at birth. Gasp, shock, horror. This also led to the actress playing Kirsty, Christie Hayes, to have to play her own twin in a series of episodes, which brings switched-at-birth stories to an all new level of ridiculousness.
If you've ever seen an episode of Home and Away, you know Belle Taylor. Orphaned street kid taken in by that kindly kid-collector Irene who discovers her mother is alive and, in case you're wondering, turns out to be the town ho-bag. In 2006, bad luck seemed to befall our alread tragedy-savvy heroine in all new ways.
A wedding is usually a time to celebrate, but not when a crazed stalker sets off an explosion that doesn't actually kill anybody but herself, yet manages to severely injure the town's residents...including the lovely Belle. Being such a small town, the hospital isn't fully equipped to deal with this kind of severe emergency, so a visit to the city for six of the lucky burns victims (including -- yep, you guessed it -- Belle) seems just what the doctor ordered.
As if the excruciating pain of the burns and shrapnel wounds wasn't misfortune enough, the helicopter crashes in the middle of the desert, causing our pint-sized teen heroine even more pain and a severe sense of hopelessness. Obviously Belle's on the receiving end of some shit-bad karma, because being stuck in the bush, dehydrated and hungry isn't quite the end of it. God decides that Belle simply hasn't had enough. Maniacally wringing his hands, he chuckles, "let's see how the bitch copes with a spider bite."
Somewhat surprisingly, this didn't happen.
In case you're wondering, Belle and the other survivors did eventually get rescued, and Belle returned to good ol' Summer Bay, where she lived happily ever after...at least, as happy as you can be while your boyfriend diddles your mother, you get kidnapped by your aunt and your crazy stalker on two separate occasions, you develop a drug addiction, and you get targeted by a bunch of construction workers seemingly unhappy with your meddling. Oh, and in 2009, Belle, like, died of cancer. That probably wasn't the funnest day for her, either.
Belle Taylor (last known photograph)
Sally Fletcher is Australia's favourite foster child-turned-foster mother. A character spanning twenty years in any soap opera is bound to have a few skeletons in their closet -- but not Sally. She's Sally, for God's sakes. Butter wouldn't melt in her microwave. So when it's big mystery time for The Fletch, what do you do? We've grown up following her every move; there's nothing we don't know about her. And according to Home and Away rulebook, if you run out of storylines, just borrow ones straight from the movies.
You can almost picture their thought process -- "But what to do this time? We used Lord of the Flies last year, and we gave Roman some definite Rambo-esque running-around-in-the-jungle to do...hey, let's go with an eighties classic this time, perhaps something with Tom Cruise in it. He's still cool, right?"
Short answer: no.
The avid, most loyal (read: sad and pathetic) fan will recall that when Sally first came to Summer Bay as an eight-year-old, she had a beloved imaginary friend by the name of Milco. Milco used to go everywhere with Sally; she was never without him. Fast-forward twenty years to a derelict wandering along the beach. Wonder what one thing has to do with the other? Well, the derelict sees Sally on the beach, playing with her daughter, and stares at her. Not flirty look-then-look-away staring (which, let's face it, would still be kind-of creepy in this case), but direct, spooky staring. Then he grabs a big stick (think Rafiki from The Lion King) and writes the word 'Milco' in the sand in gigantic letters, freaking out dear old Sally no end.
So who is this beach-loving vagrant anyway? It's none other than Miles Copeland, the twin Sally never knew she had. Well, sort of. See, it seems that the name of her ex-imaginary friend is just what she used to call brother dearest when she was a girl (Miles Copeland? MilCo? You get it? Take your time.) But oh wait, doesn't that sound awfully like this little movie we once saw way back when, where the main character has an imaginary friend called Rain Man but years later realises it was actually a brother he never knew about called Raymond? Don't judge H&A too harshly, friends. After all, it's not like it's exactly the same premise or anything.
He may be fully creepy, but he's an excellent driver.
The thing about the main characters in Home and Away is that you really learn to love them. They become family to you. You want to see them happy, doing well, living large...even though you know that living in the Bay is nothing if not really difficult, tragic, and at times just plain strange. So in 2003 when an accident befell not one but all of our favourite Summer Bay teens, you had to realise that not everyone was going to have a happy ending.
On the way home from an excursion, Nick, Jade, Seb, Kirsty, Mr. Fisher and several uniform-wearing high school extras are involved in an horrific bus crash. Now, the writers are left in a bit of a pickle -- not all the school kids could've walked away from such a nastly bingle with a couple of unconvincing cuts and bruises. Should they kill of some random extra no one gives a shit about? Could they possibly write out one of our favourite youngsters? No, none of these solutions will do.
So begins an arc involving Nick being paralysed from the waist down. It's a terrible fate to befall such a young boy so full of life, and it poses the kinds of brooding-inducing problems and character developments that are pretty much a TV writer's wet dream. "Nick's gonna be, like, so sad and angsty, y'all. It's soap opera gold! Why didn't we think of this sooner?"
Weeks pass, and suddenly remorse hits the once-proud creators. You see, what they neglected to think about is that when you paralyse one of your main characters, you kind-of have to follow through with it. What starts as teary yet ill-conceived storyline about the tragedy of paralysis ends with a very quick rewrite that basically says, "Oops, sorry guys! We don't actually want Nick to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, so next week he's going to miraculously regain the feeling in his legs and we can be done with all this shit. Thanks for playing."
As if this cop-out couldn't get any more unbelievable, try having the same thing happen two years later to Nick's best friend Seb. Oh yes, they went there again, and in an even less believable fashion than last time. Yeah, I said less believeable.
When Seb's girlfriend Jade (who was Nick's girlfriend last time, and will forever be known as the Paralyser) ends up a passenger in a drag race, Seb does whatever he can to save her. In a classic if-he's-so-smart-why-is-he-so-dumb moment of misplaced bravado, Seb thinks it's a good idea to jump onto the hood of the speeding car just as it plummets off a cliff. It's not, by the way, and poor old Seb ends up in the same hospital room as his old pal Nick with that same itty-bitty problem of his legs not being able to move.
Unfortunately, the friends that share girlfriends and ailments don't always share miraculous cures, and that pesky paralysis problem never did clear up for dear Sebastian. While modern medicine is advanced in Summer Bay, it occasionally takes a step backwards.
Cults are bad news. Let's just put that out there. Whatever they say they're doing -- growing organic veggies, worshipping the sun god or whatever the fuck they're on about this time -- it's just not the best idea to trust them. Of course, common sense is not exactly on the teaching agenda at Summer Bay High, and if you're a pretty, naive young orphan girl, you'll find it difficult to resist the cult's natural charm.
About now you're thinking, "this sort of storyline is mind-bogglingly stupid. How could the writers think we'd swallow that?" A good point, reader, but please bear in mind that they've done it twice. Twice. As in, more than once. Yeah.
In 1996, Selina, one of Irene's pretty, naive young orphan girls, is tempted into a cult in the neighbouring town of Yabbie Creek. (The lesson here, in case you're wondering, is stop letting Irene look after kids.) She says "see ya" to Irene, moves into the commune and is brainwashed by the shifty, bearded, non-showering cult leader Saul. Eventually, even clueless Selina realises that Saul is just another creepy old dude using his cult status (insert ba-dum-tsk sound effect here) for the purpose of seducing Summer Bay's best-stacked young hotties.
In Saul's defence, though, this is Selina.
After miraculously escaping with her life, Selina thinks her nightmare's over...but it's not. The next year, on her wedding day, Saul finds his way back to her and, apparently learning no lesson from the last time he tried to abduct the bitch, tries it again and this time gets a bullet where you really don't want to get a bullet. Well great, I hear you say, let's dust our hands clean of all this cult bullshit. But wait, I'm not finished.
A decade passes, a new cult is on the scene, setting their sights on a new pretty, naive young orphan girl being looked after by Irene. (Seriously, have they learned nothing?) This time it's too-blonde-for-her-own-good earth child Tasha who's the victim, lured into the Believers cult by their organic, nature-loving way of life.
Led by Mumma Rose and her son Jonah (this rings no alarm bells, really?), the Believers certainly do a number on Tash. Even when her BFF Martha stumbles upon a Believer-built Tasha-shrine and is kidnapped by Jonah, Tasha chooses to take the word of those nice weirdos who adore fresh veggies way too much over that of her very bestest friend in the whole wide world.
Fucking RUN already, Tasha!
It's only when she's drugged and raped by Jonah that she finally realises something's not quite kosher. But uh-oh, too late -- she ends up pregnant, carrying what the Believers think is their very own baby Jesus. Months later, Tasha is hunted down, chained up and given drugs to induce labor. You see, Mumma Rose is done with poor old Tash; all she's interested in now is her squeezing out the Sun Child or whatever the fuck the creepy hippie woman's into this year.
Of course, Tasha and her kid escape relatively unharmed, and the evil cult queen serves out the rest of her days behind bars. In yet another example of whatthefuckism, Tasha's aforementioned BFF Martha actually ends up in a serious relationship with Jonah. The same Martha who divorced her husband because she didn't like his job ends up dating a paedophile rapist cult member who once locked her in a barn for days on end. I just...I don't even know.
In case you're interested, Tasha and Baby Jesus 2.0 moved to Boston, and the cult disbanded, never to be heard from again. That is, until Irene finds her next pretty, naive orphan girl...
Watch out, Annie!