Neighbours used to be a bit of a laughing stock, didn’t it? Shaky sets, even shakier acting… but somehow, over the last few years, it’s become perfectly acceptable to admit in public that you actually think that it’s, well, good. Sure, you can sometimes see storylines coming a mile off, but at other times they just get things bang on. Take Fraser and Rosie – they’re fully-formed, warm, witty characters who have been a genuinely great addition to the street.
But even when Neighbours was more of a guilty pleasure, there were two characters it was always ok to like – Dr Karl Kennedy and Susan Kinski/Kennedy/Smith. They’ve gone through some pretty ridiculous things, admittedly (did no-one think to mention in the recent trial that Susan once lost her memory for quite a significant amount of time…?), but there’s always been a realness to their relationship that’s endearing and utterly engrossing.
At the moment, that relationship has to be stronger than ever, of course, as Susan has been diagnosed with suspected Multiple Sclerosis and lost her sight – maybe temporarily, maybe not. As her illness came to a head last week, Susan’s real life alter ego, Jackie Woodburne got to show off her excellent acting. As her vision went, and later as she was put into the MRI scanner, Woodburne portrayed real fear and panic – a panic that could only be soothed by the presence of her life-partner and soul mate Karl.
Karl, AKA Alan Fletcher, is something of a student legend of course, but he’s not being laughed at; he’s being laughed with – he takes the mickey out of his own music on the show all the time. Against Susan’s unimpeachable morality, Karl’s failings (ego, mainly) are all the more evident, but under his self-love he’s a hero, just like his wife.
Memory-loss and drinking-related abberations aside, the writers have always got the relationship right. The banter, the love, the betrayal. Until last week, the best moment was the couple’s gradual reconciliation after Karl’s affair with Izzy. It came about because things happened which only they and their children could share: the death of Cassie the sheep, and the worsening of Karl’s father’s health. There was a recognisable truthfulness to the idea that it would be these sad and very personal things that eventually brought them back together.
For going through so much, for reuniting, and for being one of the most realistic couples on TV, I declare Karl and Susan true Small Screen Icons.