If you cast your mind back over some of the plots in Shortland Street’s impressive 20-year history, you realise the challenge the show’s writers faced was coming up with a storyline worthy of tonight’s momentous anniversary.
From murder to incest, straight weddings, gay weddings and even weddings where the bride was left at the altar, births and every kind of death imaginable, from drowning to falling to virus pandemic, the Kiwi-made drama’s had it all.
Based around life at a hospital, the show has naturally featured illness and accidents as regular fare. Even the clinic itself has not been immune – in 1995, a truck crashed through the walls, then four years later one of the show’s best bad girls Dr Mackenzie Choat blew the place up.
And tonight things again came crashing down around the doctors and nurses of Shortland Street as a helicopter carrying a donor heart destined to save the life of Libby Jefferies’ husband Gerald plummeted to the ground.
Of course, since this was a 90-minute 20th birthday special, there were quite a few dramas before we got to the real action.
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Shortland Street stalwart Dr Chris Warner (Michael Galvin), who was caught having sex with an aerobics instructor in the first-ever episode, again finds himself in a compromising position when he goes to rescue the deranged stalker Hayley who is trying to destroy his life.
Hit over the head by her dastardly boyfriend Drew, Dr Warner wakes up next to a badly injured Hayley holding a suspicious-looking lump of wood. Cue arrival of son Phoenix who can’t help thinking his poor old dad has become a fighter, not a lover, of women.
Meanwhile, back at the clinic, addict Bailey has returned to try to score some drugs and ends up holding nurse Roimata Ngatai hostage with a pair of scissors. After being chased through the hospital by his sworn enemy Callum and TK, Bailey heads to the helicopter pad on the clinic roof, causing the helicopter pilot to abort his landing and crash the aircraft.
This set the scene for a lot of anguished searching – first Maxwell and hunky doctor Josh Gallagher, who makes his first appearance in tonight’s episode, search for badly injured nurse Nicole, who was on board the chopper.
Then our new hero Josh and Libby search for Gerald’s heart which has been flung into a tree but fortunately survives to make the transplant.
For some light relief, the Coopers are holding a party to celebrate the purchase of a new house which turns into a catwalk down memory lane as current cast model several of the nurses uniforms from Shortland Street’s 20 years on screen. A salute to some of the gone-but-not forgotten characters via their old name tags is a nice touch for an anniversary show.
But receptionist Bella’s reference to her knickers with “hungry bum syndrome” is not a patch on nurse Carrie Burton’s famous “You are not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata “ line from the first episode.
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Just before the credits roll, there is time for one last drama as Hayley dies, leaving Chris under arrest for her murder. If he gets 20 years with no parole, his release could be the focus of the 40th birthday special. Even if you are not a big fan, you have to hope we can keep a home-grown show on our screens for that long.
Tonight’s feature-length episode was only the start of Shortland Street’s birthday celebrations. There are more salutes to the past to come with the return of the clinic’s original receptionist Marjorie Brasch later in the week. The birthday week wraps up with a bloopers show screening on Friday night.