A good stretch at Wentworth

Last updated 08:43 25/06/2013

I was a bit mean about a TV2 show yesterday. Oh, I'm not apologising - Please Marry My Boy is bloody terrible. The more I think about it, the worse that show gets. A horrible reality show like Please Marry My Boy makes My Kitchen Rules look like Breaking Bad in comparison.

20130625But it's nice to know TV2 isn't all bad. As vomit-inducing as its Friday night reality lame-fest might be, it's Monday night counterpart is pretty damn good. I'm talking, of course, about the rather brilliant Wentworth.

Described as a "contemporary reimagining" of the classic Aussie drama Prisoner (which I remember as Prisoner Cell Block H, the name it assumed in the UK to avoid being confused with The Prisoner; I can vaguely recall seeing adverts for it on television as a kid, though I would never have been allowed to watch), Wentworth stars our own Danielle Cormack as Bea Smith, a battered housewife sent to the prison on remand for attempting to murder her abusive husband.

The Kiwi connection continues with Robbie Magasiva and Aaron Jeffrey, and the cast is rounded out by an array of vaguely familiar Australian actors (Nicole da Silva, Leanna Walsman).

My relationship with Australian dramas is a rocky one (Packed to the Rafters? Yuck.) but I've taken to this one quickly, thanks to a strong cast and an interesting narrative structure: there are longer story arcs in play, and each episode seems to revolve around an individual character and explore them in more depth.

I loved the second episode (last week), which had both sides of the structure working in perfect harmony: Bea dealing with communication problems at home, while Doreen (Shareena Clanton, in her first major role) took a gutsy step toward protecting Kaiya, a child living in the prison who we'd been led to believe was her daughter but who actually belonged to her cellmate. Doreen's back story was heartbreaking; Clanton played it beautifully.

I also love that the cast is primarily female. I don't really think of myself as a feminist, but I do believe that television casts are - unnecessarily - male dominated.

Even when a show does boast a cast of female characters, it's nearly always in a context that reinforces outdated gender roles: the homemakers/wreckers on Desperate Housewives or the bitchy shopaholics of Footballers' Wives, for example. There is a strange dichotomy between the strong, intelligent women I know in real life, and the majority of jealous, relationship-obsessed female characters I see in the course of my regular viewing.

It's a joy, then, to consider that there are long stretches of Wentworth that don't feature any male characters. Even the authority figures at Wentworth - the warden, most of the guards - are women. I'm not sure how well the Bechdel Test (which considers gender bias in film) measures television, but I'm sure Wentworth would score through the roof.

It would be a well-deserved score, that much is sure. Wentworth is a brilliant show, well written and performed, and a welcome addition to Monday nights. It's a must-see for me. And I can't wait to see what happens next.

Have you been watching and enjoying Wentworth? What do you like most about it?

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