“Bad Girls” Gets It Right


Another area in which Bad Girls gets it right is in the integration of social/political issues within the fabric of the show. In the way that The L Word is supposed to show “the way that we live and love”, this show has a mission to go along with the entertainment. Right from the start, Bad Girls had a clear agenda concerning the treatment, rights, and struggles of (all) women in prison; and beyond the specifics of subplots showing life lived while in incarceration, that agenda never wavers.

The producers set out to make sure that the stories being told were accurate reflections of real life–unlike the reckless and rather flippant handling of The L Word 's two transgendered characters.

Instead of showing a young FTM in transition using illegal hormones without doctor supervision (without any further explanation), Bad Girls gives us a storyline about Zandra, who is serving time for a drug offense, that encompasses the realities of drug abuse, the difficulties of getting proper treatment once inside, lack of support for women with children, and an especially moving commentary on the lack of decent medical care from a system which paints all “cons” with the same wide brush.

This sometimes bleak reality was shaped in part by the decision of the show's creators to use a consultant with intimate first hand knowledge of life in prison – former inmate and founder of the activist organization “Women in Prison”, Chris Tchaikovsky.

The last point which I think Bad Girls has accomplished exceedingly well is the very different way in which sexuality, and in particular lesbian sexuality, is represented. In the first three seasons of Bad Girls, there is one central lesbian relationship, between Helen and Nikki.

Not surprisingly, both of these women defy easy definition. The fact that Nikki is a lesbian is just a part of who she is–it's secondary to the development of the character and the progression of the relationship. To look at them, you might think that Nikki would be the tough-as-nails bull dyke, who relentlessly pursues the femme Wing Governor (warden) who just happens to be a few years younger. Instead, we are given two amazingly complex and evolving characters: the butch con with a huge attitude that masks her incredibly soft and passionate heart, and the outwardly feminine prison officer who isn't afraid to knock heads and stand up to the “old boys network”, no matter what the personal cost.

Subsequent lesbian storylines in later seasons are equally well-developed, despite the fact–or perhaps because of it–that there is very little actual sex in this show. It is, after all, a prime time drama shown on a major network, not a subscription cable/satellite service. In place of flesh, the audience is treated to a romance of epic proportions. The story as played out on screen is so completely engaging that the gender of the two lovers is almost secondary to the storyline.

Bad Girls is worth the effort it takes to watch. It's engaging drama with a social conscience, and fully developed lesbian and bisexual characters which defy the stereotypes we normally have to endure to see ourselves reflected in the media. We may be six years behind the sensation, but thanks to BBC America, those viewers without region-free DVD players can now watch this entertaining and enlightening show.

Get Bad Girls Season 1 on DVD, watch the first two seasons on BBC America, or read more about Bad Girls on AfterEllen.com

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