Will this kitsch drama find a cap­tive UK au­di­ence?

The Daily Telegraph - - Television Radio - Ger­ard O’Dono­van

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

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