With every passing episode of Australia’s hardboiled crime drama Janet King, the first thought that crosses my mind is, “This is the show we deserve in America.” Janet King has it all: a tough-as-nails title character who cemented herself within the line of respect and reverence among her colleagues, a woman who has two happy, healthy children who just happen to have two moms. Although Janet’s partner tragically passed away, her sexuality is treated just like that of any straight woman who happens to kick ass in a courtroom.
A leading lesbian lady is hard to come by these days, and Janet King fills those shoes and wears them well. After the ensemble series Crownies was canceled after one season, actress Marta Dusseldorp was approached to take her popular character and have her sit at the head of the table, so to speak. Janet King provides a focus that its crowded predecessor lacked, and this focus gives our lesbian leading lady room to flourish.
Throughout the first two series of the show, Janet King establishes itself as more of a mystery unraveling that a courtroom caper. One series focuses on an overarching case that takes the entire eight episodes to peel back, while each episode often covers a mini-case that, more often than not, ends up also fitting in somewhere. The most intriguing aspect of the show isn’t to figure out whodunnit though, but rather watching Janet King navigate a work/life balance while managing to project the personality of a woman who isn’t afraid to, for lack of better words, “act like a man” at work. King can be harsh, blunt, and unapologetic; qualities that win her cases, but also sometimes lead to mistakes. She’s portrayed as a real human being, and her normality is what makes her so special.
The death of the twins’ other mother, although a slippery slope to slide on in terms of falling victim to the “Bury Your Gays” TV trope, manages to avoid losing its steam after that surprising murder of Ash. I hate to ever say that the death of a queer character can work on a show, but if the case for that ever exists, it’s here. Janet’s partner and the mother of her kids has died, but it wasn’t to push Janet into a relationship with a man (she’s still gay!), and it wasn’t to create a sense of long-lasting celibacy. On the contrary, Ash’s death has injected a sense of humanity and heart into our title character, who rarely drops that tough exterior to deal with her own emotions. Janet manages to exude more vulnerability, even letting in and building relationships with characters who deserve the opportunity to be more fleshed out on screen.
The opening of season three shows Janet comfortable in a relationship with Bianca, and her children are thriving. Janet King is happy. The series spends a few tender, nuanced moments where Janet opens up to her new love about the trauma of explaining to two toddlers on a daily basis that they’ll never see their Mommy again. This discussion is organically placed within the context of a case she’s working on where a son deals with the loss of his father, and it’s just one more example of how Janet King beautifully illustrates the seamless similarities between straight and same sex families. Family is messy. Love is messy, and we spend most of our lives cleaning up these messes while reveling in the just as messy moments of bliss and peace as they happen.
Early in this current series, we’re even introduced to some father/daughter family drama, during which King remains resilient and borderline icy in response. These exchanges are refreshing and relatable, because I watched through the lens of someone who has a similar dynamic (or lack thereof) with my own dad. These moments on screen are why it’s so incredibly important for lesbian and bisexual women to have the opportunity to see themselves on screen.
For the first time I’m watching various versions of me. I see myself as a grown woman with a paper thin relationship with her father in Janet King. I see myself in Bianca, the new love interest of King who at times struggles to find her place in an already formed family. Both of these women balance career and love as gay women in positions where they are respected for their work, not who they love. So rarely is this real life balance depicted with such pragmatic realism as in Janet King. I can only hope this series sparks a trend that will spark the creation of more characters like these.