Reviews

Stirring Up Primetime with 'Bad Girls: The Complete Series Three'

Lindsey Fawcett as Shaz Wylie in Bad Girls

Flickers of naturalism are drowned out by the clamour of lesbian voyeurism, exploitation and hackneyed storylines. This is trash TV at its finest.


Bad Girls: The Complete Third Series

Distributor: Acorn [UK]
Cast: Victoria Alcock, Jack Ellis, Simone Lahbib, Claire King, Debra Stephenson
Network: ITV1
UK Release date: 2011-07-04
Amazon

Amazingly enough, the writers of this series actually allow some social issues to intrude upon the action in this overblown and lurid drama. It's television melodrama, but only uses melodramatic tropes as cliché and post-modern joke. It does, however, take itself very seriously at certain times.

Much of the popularity of ITV1’s long-running Bad Girls (1999-2006) is down to the echoes of prison exploitation films and the ironic, cultish enthusiasm for Australian television’s Prisoner: Cell Block H. This series ran on Network 10 from 1979 until 1986, but it was the frequent reruns on late-night British television in the '80s and '90s that saw it attain cult status, resulting in a West End musical version in 1995.

Women’s prison drama has a well-established and sometimes controversial history. There's always a strong element of sexualisation and sexual exploitation within the plotting. That's part of the sub-genre and Bad Girls is no exception. Shell Dockley (Debra Stephenson) is the bi-sexual, blonde, baby-faced sociopath torture-killer. Yvonne Atkins (Linda Henry) is the leather-clad, glamazon wife of a London crime boss doing time for her man.

There's no shortage of twitching addicts, tarts with hearts of gold, bigamous husband-poisoners, and earnest religious converts who have mended their ways. Not to mention the prison officers. Foremost amongst this clique is Fenner (Jack Ellis) who has got to be one of the great villains of recent popular TV. There is no depth to which Fenner will not stoop and he counts amongst his conquests/victims both co-governors of the prison, one he has seduced: Karen Betts (Claire King); and one he assaults and undermines: Helen Stewart (Simone Lahbib). Dockley is also his long-term lover, and the series opener is all about how she goes about exacting revenge when she finds out about Fenner and Betts.

The dramatic tempo of the programme is quite easy and directs the viewer, with clamorous refrains and lingering, cliff-hanging scenarios. This is trash TV at its finest.

However, every so often some issues break through. One such storyline surrounds the vulnerable Buki Lester (Kim Oliver) a 16-year-old prostitute and crack addict. She is permitted her moment during which she expresses her pain and anguish as to how she was abused from childhood and forced into prostitution. She shows the authentic status of the woman inhabiting a criminal world but for whom abuse from the age of five means she had all choices removed before she knew they existed.

But the campness overwhelms any authentic undertone. Flickers of naturalism are drowned out by the clamour of lesbian voyeurism, exploitation and hackneyed storylines. Larkhall Prison has only a passing acquaintance with reality, but what is successful in its depiction is the sense of the grinding boredom of incarceration and the pettiness of factions and cliques on the inside.

Whilst the lack of racism is a pleasant if unrealistic surprise, the existence of a homo-normative culture amongst inmates shown on screen makes for a significant contribution. This was primetime viewing that enabled some diversity of representation. Which makes a refreshing change for British television.

4

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

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Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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