What hap­pened to Aus­tralian soapies?

Herald Sun - Switched On - - On The Couch -

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

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