Janet King is the phoenix rising from the ashes of Crownies.
Anyone who stuck with the 2012 ABC series knows too well that the more Crownies progressed the better it got. Its clumsy double-episode premiere, dominated by sexed-up young prosecutors, was a shallow attempt to try and win over a younger audience for the network. The balance between soapie storylines and legal cases was largely an ill-fit, despite the talents of cast members.
But to ABC’s credit they have revisited some of the key attributes and built upon these as bedrock foundation for a darker, maturer series in Janet King.
Central to all of this is Marta Dusseldorp, as the DPP’s star prosecutor Janet King. Cleverly, the writers see her re-enter the workforce after a year on maternity leave. In that time she has given birth to twins with her partner Ashleigh (Aimee Pedersen) ….Is House Husbands the only other TV drama with a same-sex parented family?
Stepping back into the office there are some familiar touchstones, but subtle change. Tony Gillies (Peter Kowitz) is now Director of the Public Prosecutions (previously a position held by Lewis Fitz-Gerald). Also returning are Erin O’Shaughnessy (Ella Scott Lynch), Lina Badir (Andrea Demetriades) and consummate young lawyer Richard Sterling (Hamish Michael). Meticulous office manager Tracey Samuels (Jeanette Cronin) is back to keep them all on point.
Tatum Novak (Indiana Evans) and Det. Andy Campbell (Christopher Morris) also return.
They are now joined by former detective turned Crown Prosecutor Owen Mitchell (Damian Walshe-Howling) and, in a pivotal role, Chief Superintendent Jack Rizzoli (Vince Colosimo).
Another key change is to abandon a case-of-the-week format, replaced with a complex series arc which promises twists and turns as the 8 episodes progress.
The story begins when a Police Assistant Commissioner (John Howard) stands accused of the mercy killing of his terminally ill wife. Janet King, whose first case back on the job involves a photographer (Darren Gilshenan) accused of grooming a young girl over the internet, is tasked with the prosecution of the high-ranking officer. Chief Superintendent Rizzoli tries his best to influence the DPP, but King is faced with the question of whether to push for a manslaughter charge.
While King is pushed and pulled from all sides, it’s not hard to presume she will be faced with a string of moral dilemmas across this series. Dusseldorp is razor-sharp but measured in her resolve as Janet King, rising to the occasion as a force to be reckoned with, but showing a vulnerability for the human side of such cases. It’s rather fabulous that she has been planted as the centre of this new universe.
While the question of assisted-suicide will comprise a major theme of Janet King, it allows for political, legal, personal and ethical issues to be explored. These are facilitated by a more sombre tone than the flashy Crownies, that hints to former ABC dramas such as MDA, GP and Janus. There are hints of other story threads, including one with Deborah Kennedy, that will doubtless rise and fall as the plot develops.
The look is also darker and richer, with more elegant transitions. Conflict is wrapped in subtext and it’s easy to see there are actors poised for some juicy scenes. That said, I’m hoping Colosimo’s role has some vulnerability to it -how many times can we watch him swagger around on screen?
One hopes that the success of Dusseldorp in Seven’s melodrama A Place to Call Home, now brings a broader audience to Janet King. She will not let them down.
This reinvention of Crownies (it’s hard to call it a spin-off) has discarded its weaknesses and put is best on show. There’s no need for the jury to be out this time round.
Janet King premieres 8:30pm Thursday ABC1.