HIGH-STAKES GAME

The third season of Janet King tack­les the top­i­cal is­sue of or­gan­ised crime in sport

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell Janet King,

The ABC can take a deep breath with the ar­rival of the third season of highly suc­cess­ful le­gal drama Janet King last week, just as the mil­lion or so fans of the cru­sad­ing pros­e­cu­tor did. Aunty has been sub­ject to a con­sid­ered at­tack for its ne­glect of orig­i­nal Australian con­tent in re­cent weeks, with its former direc­tor of TV, the highly re­spected Kim Dal­ton, claim­ing that it “has demon­strated it can­not be trusted or re­lied upon to pri­ori­tise its en­gage­ment with Australian con­tent”.

Like its pre­de­ces­sors, the third season of Janet King is a ju­di­ciously re­alised mys­tery, shad­ing over into court­room drama and pro­ce­dural cop show, and as al­ways tap­ping as­suredly into the mythol­ogy of crime fic­tion.

Once again those con­fi­dent sto­ry­tellers — pro­duc­ers and writ­ers Greg Had­drick, Hi­lary Bon­ney and Felic­ity Packard, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer the re­doubtable Karl Zwicky, along with direc­tor Peter An­drikidis and his long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor direc­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Joe Pick­er­ing — have de­liv­ered an­tipodean re­al­ism as good as any­thing from the om­nipresent Scan­di­na­vians, and just as plea­sur­able. (The show ac­tu­ally screens in Den­mark, as well as Fin­land, Ice­land, Spain, Bri­tain and some Amer­i­can ter­ri­to­ries.)

Marta Dus­sel­dorp, an ac­tress of sheer tech­ni­cal ef­fron­tery, so con­vinc­ing as pros­e­cu­tor Janet King, again leads her ac­com­plished en­sem­ble cast with that com­bi­na­tion of author­ity and vul­ner­a­bil­ity that’s made her lo­cal TV’s lead­ing per­former. (She’s also an as­so­ci­ate pro­ducer this time around.)

It is a fine work­ing ex­am­ple of the way sto­ries of de­tec­tion and sus­pense are com­bined in this new age of sto­ry­telling. Not only are we con­cerned with what has hap­pened in the nar­ra­tive as it un­folds, the story mov­ing back­wards through time in search of an ex­pla­na­tion, but we are also gripped by what is go­ing to hap­pen as the story moves for­wards to catas­tro­phe. And there’s been plenty of that for Janet King as this se­ries has evolved, with her life, and around her, con­stantly un­der threat.

There is al­ways that sense of dis­crep­ancy about King’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions, of some­thing wrong that may lead to some­thing worse and threaten her happiness and fam­ily. This kind of mys­tery story, as the great Cal­i­for­nian crime writer Ross Mac­don­ald sug­gested, re­minds us that the world is still largely un­known, and “may sug­gest that our own minds have se­cret places where the dan­ger­ous past still lies hid­den”. And the past is al­ways there to trip King up, as this se­ries will again demon­strate.

Re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia af­ter a sec­ond­ment to the di­rec­torate of pub­lic prose­cu­tions in Fiji, where she trained up a bunch of lo­cal prose­cu­tors, King, a woman of grit and guts, hu­mour and com­pas­sion, has been se­lected by the Na­tional Crime Com­mis­sion to iden­tify and dis­man­tle the in­flu­ence of or­gan­ised crime in Australian sport. She’s hold­ing in-cam­era hear­ings to es­tab­lish the truth be­hind match-fix­ing links in var­i­ous codes and the links be­tween those gam­bling and or­gan­ised crime. The is­sue is cer­tainly timely.

The scourge of match fix­ing is seen as a big­ger threat to the in­tegrity of sport by global ad­min­is­tra­tive bod­ies than dop­ing; In­dia’s bet­ting mar­ket alone is akin to a “par­al­lel econ­omy”. The con­stant in­ves­ti­ga­tions might be ex­plained by the re­cip­ro­cal con­nec­tion be­tween bet­ting com­pa­nies and sports spon­sor­ship or, par­tic­u­larly, the sat­u­ra­tion of gam­bling me­dia with sports broad­cast­ing. (The Australian gov­ern­ment is even propos­ing a ban on gam­bling ad­ver­tis­ing dur­ing tele­casts of live sports, which many, par­tic­u­larly those with young chil­dren, will wel­come.)

King’s fo­cus is chas­ing the big cats, not the play­ers, who are usu­ally pawns in the larger game. The un­der­ly­ing premise for the season re­volves around her in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death of a young crick­eter that un­cov­ers a web of or­gan­ised crime. We’re in for an­other run-and­gun ride with King as she dis­cov­ers how the mar­ketable pub­lic face of pro­fes­sional sport meets the un­der­world of match fix­ing. (We’ve al­ready met the oleagi­nous Dar­ren Faulkes, played force­fully by Robert Mam­mone, owner of a mil­lion-dol­lar con­struc­tion com­pany, who is ob­sessed with his foot­ball club.)

She is again aided by attentive fed­eral sergeant Bianca Grieve (Anita Hegh), still her lover, and re­port­ing to men­tor Tony Gil­lies (Peter Kowitz), the only per­son able to con­vince her to re­turn from Fiji. Her former right hand, Richard Stir­ling (Hamish Michael), is now a top bar­ris­ter for sev­eral of the ath­letes un­der sus­pi­cion, not al­to­gether com­fort­ably it must be said; he’s ill at ease in the strip clubs where they like to re­cu­per­ate af­ter games. And the op­por­tunis­tic Owen Mitchell (Damian Wal­sheHowl­ing) is now the head of the DPP.

Her in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion (“I do things my way,” she states adamantly) started with a number of sus­pi­cious bet­ting ac­counts. Most re­cently, a bet­ting plunge on a wide be­ing called in a Twenty20 cricket match sug­gests a well-or­gan­ised syn­di­cate at work. But af­ter the bet­ting plunge is ex­posed, the young bowler re­spon­si­ble, Oliver Pittman (Jamie Meyer-Wil­liams) from the Fire­crack­ers team, is la­belled a na­tional dis­grace by the press and takes his own life.

Even though King has never seen a cricket match, she is ap­palled by the young crick­eter’s death. And with her own chil­dren start­ing to be recog­nised for their sport­ing prow­ess — daugh­ter Emma has a no­tice­able turn of speed on the run­ning track — her cam­paign for the in­no­cent vic­tims of the bet­ting syn­di­cates is only re­in­forced.

The first episode played out with King try­ing to un­cover who told Oliver to cheat and who sig­nalled from the crowd at the op­por­tune time. Cricket le­gend Clay Nel­son (Don Hany), cap­tain of the Fire­crack­ers, is a per­son of in­ter­est to her in­quiries. Un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion, he’s eva­sive and pan­icked. Af­ter Nel­son de­cides to come clean to the com­mis­sion, he re­ceives a mys­tery vis­i­tor in the night and the fall­out is tragic.

This week’s episode sees the in­ves­ti­ga­tion ratchet up a gear with a North­ern Devils player on a man­slaugh­ter charge af­ter a home-ground brawl and the team’s ma­jor spon­sor Pax Car Rentals sus­pected of links to bet­ting syn­di­cates. When the NCC re­quests ev­i­dence from com­pany’s chair­man, King dis­cov­ers it is her es­tranged fa­ther, Gra­ham King (John Bach).

The story is largely told from Janet King’s point of view. But Bon­ney and Had­drick, now highly ex­pe­ri­enced at this kind of hy­brid crime story, em­pha­sise the de­vel­op­ment of char­ac­ter and so­cial back­ground. One of the great strengths of Janet King is the way its cre­ators are able to make a hu­man drama of the le­gal­is­tic process of in­quiry without un­der­cut­ting the power of the mys­tery at its heart. We’ve cer­tainly come a long way since Blue Heel­ers was the top crime se­ries on our screens. Thurs­day, 8.30pm, ABC.

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