Janet King Set To Heat Up Your Screens
Australia’s favourite lesbian lawyer is back on our screens in a few short weeks! Watch this space for weekly recaps!
This is definitely a show you will want to get yourself invested in. And just because I LOVE Janet King so much, I’m going to do you the very big favour of catching you up on the development of this incredibly multi-layered, nuanced lesbian character and the story that’s led her to where we are now. As a queer female writer, and lover of good quality television (and may I add that Australia rocks in this area significantly!), this show ticks all the boxes for me. There’s a queer lead character whose sexuality is presented to us as just a matter of fact, excellent writing with the courage to tackle difficult subjects, edge of your seat drama, outstanding production, interesting and varied characters including a host of strong and capable women, all led by the gloriously talented Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King.
Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King.
Credit: Tony Mott
Back to the beginning (BIG spoilers ahead for Series 1 and 2)! In 2011 ABC premiered Crownies, a 22 episode legal drama series. Set in the Department of Public Prosecutions in Sydney, it followed the loves, lives, crimes and cases of a group of young solicitors new to the DPP. Close to the top of the pile – with her own office even – was the highly professional, extremely knowledgeable, yet very aloof, Senior Crown Prosecutor Janet King. Very much in awe of Janet, the young solicitors vied to be chosen as her instructing solicitor - a highly sought-after privilege that would provide them with invaluable experience on the law and how to conduct themselves in the battle of the courtroom. There were few as talented - or formidable - as Janet, sitting opposite a defence lawyer when she was in full flight prosecuting a case.
Early in the series in was revealed that Janet was undergoing IVF treatment and upon hearing of Janet’s success in conceiving, young solicitor Erin congratulated Janet and her partner: “He must be very happy.” Without so much as a blink of an eye Janet replied, “She. And yes, she is.”
Yay for Janet, yay for Crownies and yay for lesbian visibility!
Janet and long-term partner Ash.
Soon we met Ash, Janet’s partner of 9 years, who had been the one trying to conceive, but due to complications was unable to fall pregnant. Thus the responsibility had fallen to Janet – a very driven career woman for whom the whole ‘pregnancy thing’ was a bit of an inconvenience. Without going into the ins and outs of all the cases throughout the series (but it’s definitely well worth tracking down to have a look), Janet and Ash are the picture of a happy and loving couple as Janet’s pregnancy progresses to the birth of their twins in the final episode. Apart from a couple of lewd comments about Janet’s lesbianism from solicitor Ben - the boy born with the silver spoon in his mouth, which reveal more about his character than anything else - nobody gives it a second thought. Least of all Janet.
Janet and Ash with their newborn twins.
Crownies was not renewed for a second season, but the ABC decided on a spin-off with a different format, with its most popular character at its core. Yep, you read that right. The show’s most popular character was the hard-nosed, yet very human, queer woman - balancing career, pregnancy, relationship and brand new motherhood. Her ‘realness’ resonated with audiences and thus Janet King, the 8-part legal drama and political thriller, was born.
First day back to work.
Series One of Janet King premiered on ABC TV in 2014, and saw more twists and turns than a python wrapping up its prey. It begins with Janet saying goodbye to Ash and their twins as she heads back to work after a year’s maternity leave. Simultaneously, a former Police Commissioner is administering a fatal dose of morphine to his terminally ill wife and will soon be prosecuted for murder. Upon Janet’s return she is thrown in the deep end prosecuting a man on child pornography charges, a trial she loses, and the defendant goes free.
Janet King - Senior Crown Prosecutor, Series 1.
As the murder investigation continues and the former ex-Commissioner is himself murdered, the prosecution takes Janet deep into the intertwined and intriguing layers of corruption that play out across the highest levels of power. Someone is trying to undermine Janet’s investigation by spreading the rumour that she is having an affair with Erin, who confuses the rumour with truth by kissing Janet while Ash and the kids are in hiding after Janet’s car is blown up outside their home. By the end of the 8 part series, after threats to her life, career and family, the mysteries are solved and all appears good in the world of Senior Crown Prosecutor Janet King.
Janet King - Royal Commissioner Series 2.
Janet King was commissioned for a second season and “The Invisible Wound” premiered in 2016. This time, Janet is taken out of the courtroom and placed as head of a Royal Commission into the smuggling of illegal guns. It’s three years down the track, the twins are 4 years old, and Janet is still trying to deal with the two-year-old unsolved shooting murder of her beloved Ash. Yes, I know what you are thinking – another dead lesbian (*roll eyes*) – but it was an integral part of the motivation of Janet’s character, particularly when it’s discovered early in the piece that DNA left behind at the murder scene of a small bit player in this series’ mystery, is the same as from the person who also murdered Ash. Suddenly the Royal Commission is personal.
Janet is wracked with guilt as well as grief over Ash’s murder, knowing she was the intended recipient of the bullet, but while the murder remains unsolved she can’t bear to let Ash go. She does, however, decide to stop her counselling, citing “…a recent experiment on mice proved that what really helps memory is sex. Although, if I meet someone, I can't really walk up to them and say, 'Hello, gorgeous woman, please sleep with me so I can place my trauma in long-term memory.' Although, at least I could try.”
Will there be a rose ceremony, I wonder, because there’d be more than a few queer women lining up to help a sister out, I’m sure!
Enter Federal Police Sergeant Bianca Grieve, played by Anita Hegh, seconded to Janet’s team as a specialist undercover and surveillance officer. She doesn’t take long to let Janet know that she’s also a lover of the ladies, and her not-so-subtle flirting as they work very closely together, results in the ultimate – a lesbian sex scene on mainstream TV!
Janet and Bianca making some sweet, sweet love!
Of course, it’s not all just about the bubbling sexual tension and chemistry leading up to that scene between these two gorgeous women – there’s some serious crime cracking as they solve the thrilling case of where the illegal guns are coming from, as well as the threats to Janet’s life, career and children (it is her show after all) by a deranged psychopath. The week after Series 2 ended, Series 3 was announced to much jubilation from its legions of fans, with the main question on the lips of queer women everywhere – where does this leave Bianca?
Bianca to the rescue of Janet and the twins – end of Series 2.
So here we are with Series 3 almost upon us. It once again skips into the future, this time by 4 years. Janet is working in Fiji with her 8 year old twins, when she is invited back by her former boss Tony, now the head of the National Corruption Commission (NCC) to head up the investigation into the death of a young cricketer. With the help of crime-busting partner, Sgt Bianca Grieve (yes!), she uncovers a web of organised crime – where the public face of professional sport meets the underworld of match fixing, performance enhancing drugs, money laundering, kickbacks and murder.
And what of their private lives, Janet’s and Bianca’s? Let’s just say I have it on very good authority that their ‘partnership’ extends far beyond a working one…
Looks like Bianca is feeling pretty happy about it all too!
Janet King returns on ABC1 on Thursday 25th May at 8.30pm in Australia, and will follow soon after on Acorn TV in the USA. Series 1 and 2 and Crownies are available on DVD through the ABC Shop and major retailers in Australia, and in the US on Acorn TV (Crownies is also known in the US as Janet King: The Early Cases).
Watch this space for upcoming interviews with cast members and weekly recaps from 25th May onwards.