In the opening scene of last night’s Neighbours finale – a ratings jackpot for Network 10 – Harold Bishop gave voice to what was on all of our minds: “Younger people become older people. And older people become even older. It all goes so quickly.”
Harold was of course the exception that proves the rule, having looked exactly the same for my entire life – but the episode was mostly full of faces both familiar but different. Looking, for the most part, like people who had aged. Neighbours began as a show about young people railing against controlling oldies but by the final episodes, they had become them – just like us.
In this sea of characters we once knew, one made a particular splash. Like a delicious cheese, better with age and snacks, he rolled into Ramsay Street without a hint of PR stunt or poking fun.
These opening paragraphs are actually a long way of saying: Guy Pearce can get it.
Twitter especially couldn’t get enough of the Mare of Easttown star – he was still trending the next morning.
It would have been easy (I’m assuming, having never been an actor) to have phoned it in. Nostalgia entertainment is like that: it’s an in-joke that rewards the longtime fan who recognises an old character or obscure storyline. That’s why we now have so many reboots, so many sequels and reunion shows. It’s why we still have Rick Astley.
That’s mostly what happened in the finale, too. The promised cameos turned out to each be a handful of seconds in a video montage – which, in fairness, is what we expected, and we still went “LANCE!!!” when he came on screen. Other returns were even less convincing: Kylie Minogue’s much-hyped appearance happened in almost complete silence, leading fans to speculate that no one could figure out how to explain her London accent.
It didn’t detract from the episode, which was always going to whack its audience with a map of memory lanes, but it did highlight Pearce’s investment by comparison.
Perhaps it’s obvious that an Emmy-award winning actor would put in a strong performance, but it seemed there was more to it than that. Pearce was one of the few international stars to make a physical return to the street in its final week, and the only one to tackle a real storyline.
And no shade on those who couldn’t do the same for completely fair reasons (although: a little shade at those blaming cancel culture) – but it did make Pearce an outlier. There was a gratitude to his acting that reflected what the show has given him, and what he has now given it in return. It was gracious and generous.
Despite his fame and success – or perhaps because of it – he delivered this old role with exactly the professionalism and dedication he would any other. Hollywood? Nunawading? Same same.
Pearce was so energetically invested in the love story from his past – the actual past, all those years having truly gone by – that he gave us an opportunity to imagine the life lived between then and now. At the risk of overstating it, because this is afternoon soap opera and not a Guillermo del Toro flick, he invited the audience to reflect on their own passage of time.
He wasn’t a walk-on. He wasn’t a pixelated face on a TV screen. When Guy Pearce returned to Erinsborough this week, he was utterly believable and completely transfixing. He was, for a couple of nights, Mike Young.
Neighbours’ final episode will be broadcast in the UK on Friday 29 July at 9pm on Channel 5