During the dim distant 1980s, a definite guilty pleasure of being home sick from school or work was the chance to catch a dizzying episode of Australian soap Prisoner.
Remembering that there were no home video recorders in that era, the afternoon-screened series about women inmates and their guards – extremely racy for the times – attained an especial mystique.
School kids would swap post- flu updates about how the seriously scary alpha female, Bea, was maintaining her terror reign; whether that nice, innocent Karen was ever going to get justice; where old Lizzie’s next booze fix had come from; and most excitingly, what latest atrocity had nasty guard Vera (aka Vinegar Tits) committed.
So it’s inevitable that for viewers of enough vintage, the remake, Wentworth, TV2 Mondays, is going to lack a certain illicit allure. However, the spirit of the original Prisoner – that of slow-burning but omnipresent evil – has been adequately recreated.
The nifty concept is to go back to Bea’s earliest days in prison, after being charged with the murder of her horrible husband, and chart her trajectory to Top Dog. Let’s admit right now that the original Bea, Val Lehman, never looked like this: Danielle Cormack with pre- Raphaelite locks and a soul-sick vulnerability. But faced with some pretty awful cellmates, notably the vampirically predatory Frankie Doyle, she’s already locating her nascent inner bitch after just one episode. She wants to stay out of the swim, but the intricate customs and obeisances of prison life are impossible to avoid completely.
Most ominously, the existing top dog, who looks uncannily like Martha Stewart, has failed to extract the expected humility from Bea, casting her automatically as a new soldier for the opposing camp. The resultant battles and political manoeuvrings have the potential to be every bit as invigorating as those in Game of Thrones.
More grittily realistic, despite its quaint title, is The Jack Taylor Mysteries, which kicked off last night on Vibe. Iain Glen – Danaerys’s offsider in Game – stars as a disgraced but gifted former member of the Irish police, boozing and intuiting his way through a new career as a “finder” – a gumshoe.
Set in picturesque seaside Galway, which is effectively Glen’s ravishing co- star, the series is winningly free of self- conscious blarney. Despite the scenery, this is not a jolly wallow in picture- postcard Irishness. It’s about human frailty, from Glen’s own – his arrogance and indiscipline – to that of victims and perpetrators of crime. As they might say on the Salthill promenade, it’s more than just a crack.