janet king season 1
TV, 2014, 4.5 stars
Janet King (Marta Dusseldorp) is a high-powered chief barrister in the Crown Prosecutor's office (for Americans, she's an Assistant District Attorney, and then goes on to become the DA). On her first day back from a year of maternity leave, having borne twins with her partner Ashley, Janet is handed a difficult case involving the death of a veteran cop's wife which looks like assisted suicide. Janet isn't so sure though, and she quickly draws the ire of the police (normally her allies) as she throws the book at the cop for his role in his wife's death.
Then there's a twist - the cop himself is found murdered. Are the deaths coincidental, or is something more sinister going on here? Janet continues to get heat from the cops who just want a quick conviction for the death of one of their own. They pursue an obvious suspect, but Janet has her doubts and rallies all the resources of her office to launch an investigation of her own. She starts to uncover details of the cop's underworld ties and connection to an internet child pornography ring.
This series contains a whole cast of characters who have a relationship, either personal or work, with Janet. Janet King is in itself a spin-off of another Australian series called Crownies, which was set in the world of the Crown Prosecutor's office, with Janet playing an important but largely supporting role.
Some of the key characters from Crownies have migrated to Janet King, including Richard the nerdy researcher, Erin the firebrand barrister-to-be (and Janet's protege who has a tiny crush on Janet), and Lina the dedicated lawyer investigating sex crimes whose husband is one of the pissed-off cops. This team have their own issues to deal with, which provide great character exposition and eventually dovetail into the main storyline. When shit starts to come down, they all rally around Janet, providing support, legal opinions and a shoulder to cry on where needed.
On top of the job pressure, Janet is a new mother struggling to keep her family commitments as her partner Ash copes with the day-to-day of raising children, a role not coming easy to her. Ash loves Janet and their family, but struggles with feeling useless. She sits and wallows as her dreams are shelved in the service of childrearing.
Everything is brought into perspective as the case veers into dangerous territory and Janet's work and personal life collide when the lives of her and her family are threatened. In these moments Janet is like a caged animal, stalking the limits of the bars that imprison her while lashing out at those that have forced her family into protective custody. She becomes a woman possessed with finding the truth and protecting the ones she loves.
Dusseldorp displays both a steely-eyed intensity and a revealing fragility, whichever is called for. She plays Janet as a loyal soul - to her colleagues, her wife, and her integrity. She's black and white. She refuses to back down, she retaliates when threatened, but she struggles with personal relationships and is deeply wounded if she sniffs any hint of betrayal. Her passion is exhilarating, and her fierce stubbornness is both a strength and a weakness.
Janet is also unabashedly, unashamedly gay. She takes no crap where her sexuality is concerned. She will defend her precious family to the death like a true warrior. She's tough skinned, suffers fools not at all, and gives a walloping to people who dare mock or challenge her for her sexuality. She is without a doubt one of the strongest, most implacable lesbian characters I've ever seen on TV.
I rail against Australian drama too often to not celebrate when the good stuff comes along, and this is very much the good stuff, portraying Australian women how they deserve. For lovers of strong police procedural dramas, this will truly satisfy you. This is pretty close to as good as this genre gets.