Will this kitsch drama find a captive UK audience?
You know you’ve reached the dregs of the summer doldrums when sport is clogging up all the schedules and Wentworth Prison (Channel 5) is the best thing on TV to write about. Or maybe not.
I cheerfully avoided watching all 34 previous episodes of this low-budget Aussie offering – a 21st-century reboot of the schlockily sadistic Seventies prison drama Prisoner: Cell Block H. But while I can’t speak of what’s gone before, this season four opener was an absolute belter, featuring a cast of fabulously strong, variably humane female characters. The series even sports its very own lesbian Hannibal Lecter in the form of megamanipulative former governor Joan Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) – a triumph of camp, lip-quivering menace in a glasswalled cell.
To be fair, I’m not sure hilarity is what the show was after. But it was a heck of a lot more entertaining than lauded US drama Orange is the New
Black, which pales in comparison. We began with the return of a gang of brawny lady lags to the newly rebuilt prison following, I gathered, its destruction by fire at the climax of the last series. Among them was Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) the prison’s top dog – more pithily rendered as “baddest bitch” – who, I could only surmise, had undergone a change of heart between series, as she was now struggling to maintain her status.
Suffice to say there were other prisoners willing to fight, seduce and stab their way to a takeover attempt. And with power-mongering one of the few distractions available in Wentworth, all that stood between Bea and the morgue was her basilisk stare and a hulkingly sweet transgender minder called Max (Socratis Otto). Meanwhile, on the other side of the bars, badass warden Vera Bennett (Kate Atkinson), now governor, was busy battling her own demons involving self-doubt, sexual jealousy and nose bleeds.
Clearly, Wentworth Prison does not seek to appeal to mainstream tastes, and one or two scenes (notably one in which prisoners rained ketchupinfused tampons upon visiting press and VIPs) strayed well into tastelessness. Some might say the series sticks more closely to its violent, soapy, sexploitation Prisoner: Cell
Block H roots than is strictly necessary in 2016. Even so, it remains a rare example of a dramatic world in which lesbianism is not only normal, but the norm. It also shows a world in which women hold virtually all the power, albeit to no obviously edifying ends.
Meanwhile, in Superfoods: The
Real Story (Channel 4), eversurprised presenter Kate “Gosh!” Quilton held out a possibility that all committed tipplers have long prayed for: that red wine could be good not only for the heart, but the brain, too.
It was an effective tease. To get the detail, we had to first shuttle off to Naples with Kate to hear how tomatoes might reduce deaths from prostate cancer if consumed in sufficiently large quantities (no stats were aired on the digestive downside of excessive tomato-eating). Then it was off to Japan to bear witness to the osteoporosis-preventing properties of some icky-sticky fermented soy bean substance called natto. Even tryanything Quilton appeared to have trouble keeping that down.
All this snazzy globe trotting and cutting-edge food science certainly kept interest levels up until Quilton got to the holy grail of wine consumption boosting brainpower.
My own experience suggests that whatever momentary delusions of cleverness red wine might induce, consumption all too often results in the brain feeling like a dried out old prune. But no, Kate had a scientist in tow, Sandrine, who took a brain scan and compared her healthy hypocanthus (“Oooh, look at that”) to one of an ageing brain and recommended red wine as a means to stimulate the production of new neurons.
For some reason (possibly an illresearched TV programme), I always thought dead brain cells couldn’t be replaced. But there was Sandrine insisting a compound in red wine could do the job. The only problem is, we’d have to drink 13 bottles of plonk a day to set those neurons on fire. Which would probably kill us.
“So the jury’s out,” said Kate, cheerfully in conclusion – something of an understatement in the circumstances. Still, it would have been a shame to waste the 2012 Pommard I’d uncorked in anticipation of more encouraging news. Wentworth Prison Superfoods: The Real Story
Jail birds: (front, l-r) Danielle Cormack, Celia Ireland and Katrina Milosevic