“I do things my way,” Janet King says early in the third season of her eponymous legal drama. Evil should quake in its cleats—or whatever shoes cricket players wear. She isn’t messing about.
Former crown prosecutor King knows as little about cricket as I and most Americans do, but that doesn’t stop her from investigating a scandal in the sport. It also shouldn’t prevent American viewers from watching “Janet King: Playing Advantage,” streaming two episodes per week on Acorn TV.
Marta Dusseldorp once again is in top form playing King—also in top form—as King leads the National Crime Commission’s probe into the influence of organized crime on Australian sports.
In the first episode, King interrogates cricketing legend Clay Nelson (Don Hany), a hero to rising cricket star Oliver Pittman (Jamie Meyer-Williams). Pittman took his own life after being labeled a cheat for his part in a massive betting scandal, and King believes Nelson sucked the young cricketer into the scheme.
Nelson doesn’t quite crumble during King’s hard charge in that intense early scene, although he’s as evasive as anyone with something to hide would be. When he later agrees to come clean, King believes she’s about to crack the case.
But rarely does King get a simple assignment. And this one is no exception.
An unexpected tragedy sparks the NCC—doing things King’s way—to broaden the investigation to include illegal doping, bribery, arson, smuggling and suspicious deaths.
Despite having little knowledge of the sporting world, King has a unique investment in the case that makes her even more dogged. Her two youngsters now are showing great promise as track-and-field athletes. That personal connection goes deeper later in the season, when someone from King’s past comes back into her life and the investigation.
Dusseldorp leads another excellent supporting cast that includes newbies to the show like Hany and familiar faces like Peter Kowitz, wonderful as her boss and mentor/father figure, Tony Gillies. (I was surprised and delighted by the unexpected arrivals of two other characters, but I won’t spoil it for viewers.)
But Dusseldorp stands out in “Janet King” just as she does in “A Place to Call Home,” which also streams on Acorn TV. She has created two highly complex, yet distinct, characters in King and Sarah Adams.
Yes, that’s what actors do—but damn, Dusseldorp is good.
She gives King the tenacity and nerve to make the commissioner’s authority believable. She also lets us in deeper, behind the bravado, to expose King’s self-doubt and vulnerabilities.
As brave and brilliant as King is, she’s far from perfect. Dusseldorp isn’t afraid to show those warts.
King doesn’t suffer fools—or know-it-alls. She can’t hide her distaste for cocky young analyst Janet, played to annoying perfection by Geraldine Viswanathan. The same can be said for her attitude toward Owen Mitchell (Damian Walshe-Howling), now the head of her former employer, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
King’s single-minded drive often leads her to be selfish, too. Federal sergeant Bianca Grieve (Anita Hegh), still King’s lover and also working with her on the commission, bears the brunt of King’s thoughtlessness this season.
Her former right hand man, Richard Stirling, takes a few of King’s punches as well. He’s now working as a defense attorney and happens to represent Nelson and some other athletes stuck in King’s crosshairs.
Hamish Michael remains compelling as Stirling, who he has played since “Crownies,” the series off which this show was spun. Stirling is as entertainingly ill-at-ease as ever. And although he’s more mature, Stirling still is prone to supremely stupid errors in judgment.
With so many outstanding performances, it’s easy to understand why “Janet King” is popular Down Under. Credit also goes to executive producer and writer Greg Haddrick and his team of producers and writers.
Throughout these eight episodes, they juggle all the characters and avenues of investigation without confusing the audience. The compelling story easily shifts between courtroom drama, mystery and police procedural.
Because of their agile writing, “Janet King” feels more like a suspense thriller than any single one of those genres, and King more like a detective than a lawyer.
If I had a quibble with this show—and I don’t—it would accuracy about investigative procedures. I’m pretty sure barristers in Australia stick to the courtroom and office, leaving the physical investigation to detectives.
Thankfully King never leaves everything to the detectives. Part of this show’s greatness is that her obsession with justice compels her to step out of her safe zones and into the path of danger in order to get it.
Besides, now that she’s a commissioner and not a prosecutor, she might have more leeway to, uh, do things her way. So does this show—and I have no problem with that.
Janet King Season 3 photos
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Marta Dusseldorp on Janet, Sarah
Review: Crownies and Janet King
July 2017 TV premieres calendar