Top Dogs and Other Freaks: Wentworth and the Re-imaging of Prisoner Cell Block H



Publication Details

Turnbull, S. "Top Dogs and Other Freaks: Wentworth and the Re-imaging of Prisoner Cell Block H." Television Antiheroines: Women Behaving Badly in Crime and Prison Drama. Ed.M. Buonanno. Bristol, UK/Chicago, USA: Intellect, 2017, 181-198.


In all the excitement about the emergence of a new female antiheroine in the post-Sopranos quality TV present moment, I want to make a case for recognizing the antiheroines of the past. Delighted as I was, and still am, about the female detectives in the Scandinavia crime series, Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Bron!Broen (The Bridge), I could not help but think of them as the flawed and complex 'daughters ofJane Tennison' in Charlotte Brunsdon's terms (2012). As Deborah Jermyn has already reminded us, when Tennison first appeared, 'the sheer originality of a female cop as driven and yet as nuanced as Tennison' took audiences and critics entirely by surprise (2010: 3). Contradictory, selfish and aloof, Tennison was also vulnerable, empathetic, ambitious and smart. Thus equipped with a rear-view mirror, when the prison drama Orange is the New Black appeared courtesy of Netflix in 2013, I could not help but think of Australian television's own early foray into this genre, the now cult soap opera, Prisoner (Network Ten, 1979-1986), in which there was not one antiheroine but many, encompassing both the prisoners and their guards, whose narrative trajectories over the course of a long-running soap opera were at least as complicated as those of such recent criminal bad boys as Dexter Morgan (Dexter) or Walter White (􀀇reaking Bad). Although Prisoner has been in syndication ever since, in 2012 (just ahead of Orange is the New Black), Prisoner was revisited in what producers Lara Radulovich and David Hannam described as a 're-imagining' of the series for the Foxtel Pay TV network in Australia (McTighe 2015: 52), where it proceeded to gather critical accolades, awards and a whole new generation of fans.

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