Janet King season 3 review (ABC TV)

It’s been six years since Marta Dusseldorp first played Janet King on Crownies, the 22-episode legal drama which didn’t quite live up to the ABC’s sky-high expectations and was cancelled after just one season.

But Dusseldorp’s presence as the tough and fearless prosecutor proved to be one of the show’s more successful elements, inspiring the ABC to commission a spin-off series, Janet King, in 2014.

The first two seasons of Janet King proved to be popular — thanks in part to the following Dusseldorp gained from her brilliant leading performance on A Place to Call Home — and a third is due to air from next week.

Those first two seasons took the often sprawling and uneven tone of Crownies and focused in on one character, her work, and the world surrounding her. But if Crownies lacked focus, the third season of Janet King could do with a little of its unruly spirit and sense of fun.

For this season, Janet finds herself working as part of the National Crime Commission, and investigating corruption in professional sport and match-fixing. The first episode kicks off with the death of a young, naive cricketer, caught up in a massive betting scandal.

Janet goes in hard on the people surrounding him, including cricketing legend Clay Nelson (Don Hany), who was a hero to the younger cricketer. But she soon discovers that the web of corruption is far more intricate than she first understood. More lives are claimed and performing enhancing drugs come under the spotlight as she tries to untangle and uncover the truth.

The series is more of a mystery than a legal drama, as Janet attempts to understand a series of interconnected situations, and work out who exactly is at the top of this ladder of crime. It’s a similar premise to the one covered in the second season, but the plotting is not quite as neat and quickly becomes convoluted.

The writers have clearly tried to shift the focus entirely to the world which Janet is attempting to unpack and understand, but the audience doesn’t get much of a chance to know any of the characters within that world. Despite the fact that there’s plenty of danger and violent incidents in most episodes, the stakes feel rather low.

The second season faced plenty of criticism for inaccuracies in the legal elements of the series, and it seems there’s been some attempt to correct that this time around. In fact, in the first episode, the writers even seem to acknowledge how strange it is that Janet seems to be constantly physically involved in investigations best left to police.

But the upshot of that decision is that the series can sometimes get bogged down in legal detail, although it still doesn’t feel particularly authentic.

Dusseldorp’s presence gives the whole show a much-needed zing, although few of the supporting characters are given much space for development. It’s a shame, for example, to see Peter Kowitz so under-utilised as Janet’s colleague and unlikely ally/father figure, Tony.

We also don’t get to find out all that much about Janet’s evolving relationship with her new partner Bianca (Anita Hegh), even though they’re working together on the investigation.

Newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan impresses as the precocious but arrogant young analyst working under Janet, and the character starts to show some development towards the end of the first four episodes, upon which this review is based.

Hamish Michael’s performance as Richard Stirling has been a highlight of both Crownies and Janet King, and it remains just as compelling in this third season, with Richard having stepped out from under Janet’s wing to find a successful career as a defence barrister. The character has matured — at least to some degree.

While fans will enjoy this return to Janet’s world, and the loveable characters that populate it, the series doesn’t live up to the storytelling standard set by the first two seasons. It’s still passable entertainment, but the whole show suffers from some pretty uninspired writing.

Janet King airs on ABC TV Thursdays, from May 25, at 8.30pm

8 responses to “Janet King season 3 review (ABC TV)

  1. I am disappointed with this series so far. I was excited to see that Don Hany was also starring but he was given such a bad script it would have been impossible for him to do anything with it. There must be different writers and directors as it is not up to the usual standard. It was very wooden, predictable and unbelievable. Such a shame – maybe it will get better. Even the addition of the young and arrogant research assistant is very formulaic. What has gone wrong?

  2. “Those first two seasons took the often sprawling and uneven tone of Crownies and focused in on one character, her work, and the world surrounding her. But if Crownies lacked focus, the third season of Janet King could do with a little of its unruly spirit and sense of fun.”

    I enjoyed Crownies more than Janet King and was dismayed when the ABC abandoned it. “Sprawling”, “uneven tone” and lack of focus don’t mean much to me. Its strengths were the social and legal issues it seamlessly incorporated into the plot lines and the bright young cast which delivered them each week (not to mention the unruly spirit and sense of fun). It may not have attracted a large audience, but while that can’t be ignored it shouldn’t be a determining factor for the ABC.

  3. Not only did I love this series but it led to my watching The Crownies. These two series are outstanding. The TV programs in the USA have been “dumb downed” so much that its refreshing to be entertained by such refreshing acting. Once again, critics just don’t get it – it’s fiction .. it’s entertaining … the actors can act!!!

    1. How true! Dumbdowned describes US TV and Hollywood BS to a T. Cable gets it right some of the time but the Aussies and Brits do it right.

  4. This series has been and from the sound of it continues to be quite boring because of the dominance of the central character played with one dimensional steely jawed determination which appears to amount to her acting technique.

    Ensemble works are far more interesting and entertaining as, despite some flaws, Crownie was. Let the commercial stations do the soap operas…

  5. I find with Critics of Tv and film that they cannot just watch it for what it is ,fiction and let it be the eye of the beholder that either likes it or loves it instead of trying to force their opinions on us out here in Viewer World !!

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