Criminal what TV is up to

New Zealand's criminal classes are being thoroughly mined for dramatic inspiration this year, with the latest effort, Dirty Laundry, featuring a suburban money launderer as its anti-hero.

The TVNZ show, starring Jennifer Ward-Lealand as matriarch Donna Rafferty, is the latest in what has been mostly a very good run of Kiwi family/crime comedy/dramas, which has included TV3's excellent Westside, the prequel to Outrageous Fortune that cleverly used the Springbok Tour era to weave its tale.

Both shows have enjoyed the largesse of NZ on Air funding with Dirty Laundry receiving $6.7million and Westside $7.6million.

The raising of criminals to a better status in terms of public opinion is a matter in which New Zealand has lagged behind other countries.

The United States has made its Mafia look glamorous for many years now, and Australia has had a love affair with its criminals since the days of Edward Kelly, a young 19th-century fellow also known as Ned, and continued to do so more recently with the likes of Mark "Chopper'' Read.

Dirty Laundry follows the lives of somewhat more fictional criminals when it premieres on Wednesday, September 21, at 8.35pm on TV One.

It begins with a gentleman we later discover is Uncle Trevor smoking a cigarette and playing the guitar in a dressing gown, as police arrive at his front door.

Meanwhile, the Rafferty children are chasing promotions in commercial law, picking up their children from school, buying houses and planning to get married.

They happily gather at the Rafferty homestead when they, too, hear that heavy knock at the front door.

It comes as some surprise to them to find Donna has been channelling ill-gotten gains through various businesses for years, something to do with Uncle Trevor, who is not even a real uncle.

When the coppers drag her off to jail they discover they will have to fend for themselves, and face the possibility that they can't actually afford their middle-class lifestyle.

Dirty Laundry is slickly made, and on the whole well acted, but didn't quite drag me in in the first episode.

Probably, however, worth giving a go.

Meanwhile, we can look forward to the return of the very good Masters of Sex, the drama following the lives of sex researchers Dr William Masters and Virginia Johnson, season four of which arrives on Sunday on Sky's SoHo channel.

Bill Master's hair has grown, probably because the show has moved from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

Bras, the promotional blurb tells us, are burning, sex is everywhere, and Masters and Johnson reap the benefits and the pressures of the revolution they've let loose in the world.

If that doesn't sound great, nothing does.

 - by Charles Lougherty


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