What happened to Australian soapies?
IHAD never watched one minute of Prisoner until last week. I’d seen The Prisoner, a disturbing show about people on a scary island they can’t get off, which sounds like the same thing but isn’t.
So I get invited to Foxtel’s launch of the repeats that started on 111 Hits this week. They had it at the Old Melbourne Gaol. It was terrific, instead of a gift bag they gave everyone a cavity search, and I think maybe it’s time I watch an episode.
I hardly know how to say this. I really liked it. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t quite manage to get through all 692 episodes, but the first five were very good. And if they were being made again now, there is no way on earth they’d be allowed on a commercial network at 8.30pm.
It’s not just because there are so many women in it. And not just young women either. There are women killing their husbands and not feeling very bad about it. At least one bloke is a vile wife beater though, so he deserved to get his chest aerated by a Wiltshire Staysharp knife while he took a shower. It’s a tepid but thoughtful homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Again, not the kind of thing you would ever see now on Network Ten at 8.30 at night. Unless it’s MasterChef, true. Do they still make Wiltshire Staysharp knives? I notice the wife doesn’t keep hers in the scabbard. She must’ve had to run it over a steel to make sure it stayed sharp enough to stab her husband to death.
Apart from the two men who get knifed by women who’ve had all they can take, this first week of episodes also includes a third husband who gets shot at close range by a woman using a very small, pretty handgun and wearing a nice dress and blow wave.
There’s also a suicide — hanging — with the dangling legs. This would never be shown now. No way. And to round things out, the doctor smokes in his surgery.
It’s hard and it’s soft. At least one prisoner is clearly innocent. Another one leaves and finds her family— middle class, suburban, recognisably ’ 70s Australian — less than supportive.
The campness might’ve come later, I think, but after watching five episodes I’m kind of a bit blown away at the quality of the writing and the development of the characters. It’s partly because all I’d ever heard about this show made it sound near farcical, little more than a gay novelty. Based on sheer acting talent that went through the doors, we can say it’s more than that.
Obviously at almost 700 episodes something had to give, and it’s possible I won’t be so impressed if I make it through to the end. But it left me wondering what happened to Australian soapies — Australian drama, even — in the years since.
Prisoner, 111 Hits, weekdays, 6.30pm