You know that really irritating saying: “It’s like such-and-such – on ACID”? People delight in comparing something they determine as wacky and ‘out there’ to something mundane and prosaic on mind-altering hallucinogens. (“It was like Anne of Green Gables, but on ACID!”). Some things, it has to be said, would perhaps be improved from the treatment; but I really hate that saying.
Be that as it may: Bad Girls in its final season (8) is like, well, Bad Girls — on ACID. They took it so far that it had nowhere else to go after that. There are even flashbacks. The relationship between G-wing governor Lou Stoke (Amanda Donohoe) and corrupt prison doctor Rowan Dunlop (Colin Salmon), which is full of duplicity and lies, is positively healthy in comparison to the rest of them in this series. There’s a wonderful nod to the incarceration of Martha Stewart with the character of Catherine Earlham (Jan Francis), interior designer and lifestyle guru locked up for insider dealing. She’s a great manipulative and superficial villainess who does a great line in ‘helping’ the less fortunate as long as it promotes her own image.
Campness reigns; extremes of behaviour and character dominate, and there has always been a revolving door between this drama series and the popular British soaps, Eastenders, Coronation Street, and Emmerdale. In addition, the companion series by Shed Media’s writing team Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick , Footballers’ Wives (2002-2006), enabled a further postmodernist elasticity of storylines and character involvement. In Bad Girls Series 6, the inclusion of Tanya Turner (Zoe Lucker) epitomises this. Turner arrives on G-wing on remand for a crime she has been arrested for in Footballers’ Wives – as one dramatic narrative bled into another across these ITV series.
Indeed, Bad Girls is a marvellous concoction of campy passions and ironic takes on popular culture. Within this mix the figures that parade before the viewer are so familiar from everyday viewing that their types are well-known and can be immediately registered. For example, Don Kember, the misguidedly romantic prison officer, is played in an identikit fashion by Sid Owen, who is best known for his long-term role as Ricky Butcher in Eastenders. Then there’s Stephanie Beacham, star of The Colbys, Tenko, and the UK Celebrity Big Brother, as ‘Phyl’ Oswyn – who, along with Amanda Donohue, is familiar to global audiences. The programme-makers are strategic and cunning in their casting.
Where Bad Girls falls down is when the producers try to deal with more controversial — specifically political — issues. In this series, as a topical indicator, is included the character of a Moslem convert wife, Emira Al Jahani (Laura Dos Santos), of a suspected terrorist. This is handled well, but within the scheme of Bad Girls at large it does jar somewhat. A more sure territory for the writers are the personal, gossipy, and sensational elements of the dramatised lives of women behind bars. Love affairs, addictions, murder, and escape attempts are best described, and the dynamics between characters with their fraught and difficult liaisons and emotional exchanges – these are the fabric of the entire series.
Where the political does evolve into the credible in Bad Girls Series 8 happens when the relationship of lesbian prison officer Mandy Goodhue (played by the marvellous and shamefully underrated actress Angela Bruce) breaks down. It’s almost a footnote to the camp and extravagant goings-on, but there it is: sensitive, touching, and remarkably real. Her passion for line-dancing is revealed and her friendship with Mrs. Hollamby (Helen Fraser) is explored, plus her character is really allowed to develop especially when her long-term partner leaves. This is treated as any marriage breakdown plotline might be handled in another drama, and offers a legitimacy and depth to same sex relationships in (really) mainstream TV drama that has, sadly, not been built upon in British TV culture. Goodhue’s friendships help see her through the trauma and grief. Great stuff.
Always seductive, always charming, and never anything but camp, Bad Girls Series 8 ends on a high. There’s a Christmas Special interlude, based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Sylvia Hollamby as the central Scrooge figure. She’s contacted by the spirit of the murdered Natalie Buxton (Dannielle Brent) – an abusive, manipulative drug dealer – who is her ‘Ghost of Christmas Past/Present/Future’. Thanks to this intervention there’s a redemptive storyline and, after 8 seasons, Mrs. Hollamby finally gets her reward. Everything comes to she who waits.
Note: There are no extras with this DVD set.