“Hard-hitting, original and controversial” is how the official press release describes Bad Girls, the prime-time drama which first aired in the UK over six years ago and has finally been released on DVD in the U.S. this week. The show boasts of its controversial subject matter in the release:
But does the show live up to its hype?
The first episode of season one plunges its viewers straight into life at fictional Larkhall prison, allowing its characters–inmates and prison officers–to develop at a natural and realistic pace. It’s not surprising to learn that Bad Girls has a very strong list of female characters who take center stage, forcing the male characters of the show to remain in the sidelines.
Jim Fenner (Jack Ellis) is the exception to this rule. An opportunistic “screw” (Prison officer) who seemly has nine lives as well as no conscience, Fenner is always involved in something he shouldn’t be, which makes for shocking but often funny viewing. From Shell Dockley, Larkhalls’s resident psychotic lifer, to “the two Julies,” whose adventures and plots are both hilarious and touching to watch, this is a show of real contrasting and complex characters.
You don’t need to look further than episode 2 (the aptly named “Drug Wars”), where inmate Nikki Wade is forced to squat over a mirror, completely naked, with the door wide open, by the dedicated search team, to realize that this show isn’t afraid of portraying the harsh reality of prison life. “It must drive you mad not being able to touch me,” Nikki tells the prison guard.
Fortunately the show isn’t without its humour. Bad Girls would be nothing without its sharp one-liners and sarcastic remarks from inmates and officers alike. Sylvia Hollamby (Helen Fraser) is the cynic in the officer’s mess, the epitome of the “never listened, never learned” officer who doesn’t like change and would be happy if all inmates were locked up 24/7. Her character is tough and resolved, completely old school, but completely enjoyable to watch. “There’s about as much chance of Zandra Plackett coming off the nasty as there is of Cliff Richard inviting me up to his hotel room for cream cakes and sex,” Hollamby says in one episode.
Still, the utter matter-of-factness of the lesbian content is refreshing but not surprising given that Bad Girls is conceived, written, and produced entirely by a gay/lesbian team (Shed Productions’ Maureen Chadwick, Ann McManus, Eileen Gallagher, and Brian Park).