In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC1
Australia’s ABC1 has been undergoing something of a drama renaissance over the past few years. In between 2005 and 2011, the channel produced absolutely no long form drama at all. Then along came Crownies - essentially an Australian This Life about a group of novice solicitors - and the channel hasn’t looked back, giving us the likes of Serangoon Road, Rake, Redfern Now, and The Doctor Blake Mysteries, to name but a few (or maybe all).
Crownies only lasted for one series though, but even as it aired, the possibility of a spin-off series involving some of the characters was being worked on. Lo-and-behold, we now have Janet King, featuring guess which stand-out Crownies character?
It doesn’t take long for anyone who hasn’t seen Crownies to realise this is a spin-off, since the show delivers on a plate a big set of characters with pre-existing relationships and acts like we’re supposed to understand what’s going on. It does make a few concessions, not least to the question of what King’s been up to since Crownies - she’s been having a baby with her lesbian life-partner - and for a perilously long time, it looks like Janet King is going to be an innovative new format of TV programme, the legal/childcare advice show, telling us how to prosecute paedophiles while trying not to accidentally express breast milk.
However, initial introductions out the way, it does settle down and start to give us some story that doesn’t entirely rely on either other lawyers being miffed that King is back to work and apparently being prioritised over them - the show does do a good job at hinting at less overt forms of sexism, as well as overt - or babies needing looking after. It’s a two-strand piece, with an artist being accused of paedophilia and a top cop accused of murdering rather than euthanising his sick wife. The former has a decent visual payoff that requires the viewer to have paid attention, while the latter is a story set to continue in subsequent episodes.
As with a lot of legal shows, Janet King seems to rely on the police not having done much investigating, leaving it up to the lawyers to do it instead. In Janet King’s case, that’s the same lawyers who didn’t have time to prepare for their trials and missed important legislative changes that would have enabled them to send the accused down, so isn’t a great plan. Indeed, much of the first episode sees King mucking up almost constantly, getting things wrong, over-compensating, and more, making it hard to see why she’s so well regarded.
The show’s much better when it’s in the court room than out, and with the Australian legal system so similar to the UK’s, it’s easier to understand for UK viewers, too. Although the show sometimes feels like someone wanted to make “Julia Gillard: Crown Prosecutor”*, King’s Crownies wow factor isn’t much on display and unless you’re a Crownies fan, you’d be hard pushed to come up with a reason to watch what is a relatively ordinary lawyer show.
Worth a try if you want to see a good collection of female professional characters or you’re a Crownies lover; otherwise, I’d say give this one a miss.