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.