10 Reasons Why Your Next Favorite Lesbian Prison Show is “Wentworth”

Did you burn through all 13 episodes of Orange is the New Black in the span of two days or less? Have you recently felt listless, tired, and disappointed with the fact that Samira Wiley is not on every television show ever? Do you find that you can no longer have strong emotional reactions to anything but the premise of a women’s prison?

You may be experiencing Lesbian Prison Show Withdrawal Syndrome, and it’s a very serious condition that needs immediate treatment. LPSWS has been sweeping through the queer community like wildfire since everyone and their girlfriend marathon watched Orange is the New Black, and now many are asking if there’s a cure in sight.

Fear not, LPSWS sufferer! Go ahead and download yourself a dosage of the Aussie prison drama Wentworth and see what a healthy and happy future awaits you!

In all seriousness, I stumbled upon the prison series Wentworth after it, unsurprisingly, showed up on my Tumblr dashboard. Well, that looks intriguing, I said, as I clicked through the gifset of attractive ladies making out to find its source. Indeed, it was Wentworth, the prison drama from down under. I downloaded the entire show, and my girlfriend and I watched it obsessively, finishing the first season in three days. The worst thing about the show is that I watched it before I watched Orange is the New Black, so by the time I got to the American version of a show about women in prison, I was bewildered by how happy and non-threatening and seemingly fun the conditions were for Piper and Co. I remember watching the first cafeteria scene and biting a throw pillow, waiting for Yoga Jones to use her fork to stab Piper in the face.

That’s what Wentworth does to you. It makes you feel like the stakes are high, the consequences are real, and prison is not a mostly safe and cool place for white ladies to have their minds expanded. It makes you feel something deep and visceral and intense. Is it gritty and scary? Absolutely, but it’s worth all the emotions it’s going to evoke. Here’s ten reasons why you should watch it right now.

1. Ladies, ladies everywhere. So I heard you like casts dominated by strong women whose narratives were super complex and brilliantly acted? You’re going to love Wentworth. Wentworth is all about the ladies, and it’s putting their stories in the spotlight with diverse backgrounds and complex motives and all kinds of reasons to be hooked. Because of all the media I consume, it’s getting rarer and rarer for me to be instantly drawn into a narrative. Wentworth‘s women had me captivated from the first ten minutes.

2. I have a thing for survivor revenge narratives. It’s the reason I sobbed myself clean and dry when I watched Top of the Lake. It’s the reason why semi-cheesy pulp novels about survivors getting justice with their own hands still rank high on my list of favorite books. Wentworth is one hell of a survivor revenge narrative. Bea is a woman who has lost everything she has ever loved, and her journey to reclaiming herself and seeking vengeance is a goddamned thrill ride. You will cheer her on through every step of the ladder she climbs with bloodied hands. You will feel her highs and her lows with every aching part of you. You will get invested in this character like you’ve never been invested before.

3. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is complex and fully fleshed out and as morally grey as ever. No one’s hands are completely clean on this show. Everyone has complicated histories and even more complicated narratives. There is no sense of justice in a lot of their crimes – even the most seemingly good and sympathetic characters came to prison for reasons that will make your skin crawl. It takes some really great writing and even greater acting to pull this kind of complexity off, and Wentworth’s got it. That kind of murky morality makes for the most beautiful trainwreck you’ve ever seen; damn, is it ever bloody and terrifying, but you can’t look away for a second.

4. Did you think you knew how to cry at a television show? Newflash: You will never cry as hard at a television show as you are about to cry at Wentworth. There is one scene in particular that I will not spoil that absolutely positively ripped me to the core. I mean, I am not a cryer in general, and this dragged out big ugly nasty sobs from my shaking body. For those of you who have seen the show, you’ll understand why the line “your mum loves you to the moon and back” is capable of destroying everything that was ever happy. You will need tissues when you watch this show. You will need therapy when you watch this show. You will need someone you trust to be with you at all times immediately following this show so that you can hide in their bosom whenever you are emotionally overtaken by the memory of this show. I am so serious that it hurts. Also, this show hurts. It hurts everywhere.

5. Franky is hot. Franky is really fucking hot. Don’t write her off as Oz’s version of Shane. She’s aggressive where Shane was submissive, she’s an unpredictable shotcaller who faces off with the prison tyrant, and the way she smiles when she knows she’s got you…shit. Franky is not my type, but my girlfriend has confirmed that she is the most attractive lesbian character she’s ever seen on the small screen. You will also confirm this.

welcome to the gun show, ladies

welcome to the gun show, ladies

6. The lesbian ship on this show is hot. It is really fucking hot. I don’t know what they’re calling Franky/Erica beyond Franky/Erica, but it doesn’t really matter because words do not suffice. I will stand by the fact that it is the hottest lesbian television couple on air right now. Why? Because the tension is off the charts in a way I’ve never seen it off the charts before. Because their ulterior motives and power plays make shit so much more complicated and so much more intense. Because their relationship and desires involve BDSM in a way I don’t see on mainstream television all that often, much less with a queer couple, and I’m all about that. Did I mention the tension is off the charts? Because the tension is insane. INSANE. You could power a fucking first world country with the amount of electricity their interactions produce.

7. There are a lot of people on Wentworth that other shows would write off as stereotypes, primarily if their motives are questionable. Not Wentworth. Wentworth wants to give you a true blue villain, and Wentworth gives you Jacs. Jacs has made me straight up terrified of Martha Stewart. Jacs is the hardest fucking villain I’ve seen in a long time, and Wentworth gives her free range to intimidate and dominate and still be a complicated, worthy character.

jacs is martha stewart if martha stewart became a prison boss and used brutal physical punishment to control her subjects

8. Did I mention the way Franky smiles, specifically at Erica?

9. How about the lesbian ship? Did I mention it was hot as fuck? Let me just reiterate for science. Watch if you dare, but there be spoilers ahead.

10. I want to be 100% clear. There are disturbing things on this show. Wentworth goes places a lot of shows wouldn’t go, and it’s with a kind of full speed ahead gung-ho intensity that’s admirable, to say the least. This is not Orange is the New Black, and it’s not trying to be. For one thing, it came out long before the other show about women’s prisons took the Internet by storm. For another thing entirely, this is not a dramedy that aims for laughs and important moral lessons. There are not many bright spots to inspire with their shine. There’s a lot of darkness, a lot of gritty and ugly shit. There is physical brutality, there is torture, there is rape and abuse and substance abuse and there were times when I had to take a lot of deep breaths to get through. This is not a show to watch when you’re looking to lift your spirits. In my experience, this is a show that makes us examine our own dark potentials, our own fears and boundaries and where those boundaries can be broken. It’s an intense experience, but I still highly recommend it.

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Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider. Made in America but making a darn good life of it in Dublin, Ireland.

Kate has written 126 articles for us.

64 Comments

  1. Thumb up 5

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    1) Franky/Erica must be called Frica. What else ould it be?

    2) I’m excited to check this show out, but I’m also ready for Lesbian shows that don’t take place in institutions. I’m looking at you, too, American Horror Story. I mean they’ve all been phenomenal, with stories that need to be told. It’s just been a lot recently.

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        I’ve seen mixed reactions. A lot of people really liked it and especially Sarah Paulson’s performance. I however found the constant abuse overwhelming. And also this may be my extreme dislike of Ryan Murphy coloring my feelings, but I found the horrific things that happened to the lesbian character to be right in line with his history of misogyny and disdain for lesbians in general.

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          I dislike Ryan Murphy, but I loved AHS. Some of the scenes were so bad I had to pause because I felt a bit ill, but I always felt that was the point because the real evil from that season was in the people.

          I also liked that the two lesbian character’s were played by actual lesbians. (well, Sarah Paulson is bisexual)

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      did i watch this show legally? no technically i did not. someone take me home and punish me.

      the entire season is on ye olde pirate bay, fyi, but there are also places online where it’s hosted to watch, such as the link stella posted above!

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        Thanks! (There will be no punishment, I promise. If there *is* a way to watch legally, I just want to do it so they can get their numbers which leads to us all getting more nice things, that’s all! I am way too commerce-minded)

  2. Thumb up 3

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    Finally an article about Wentworth on Autostraddle. Been waiting for this forever.
    I agree about all the reasons, especially 6) Erica/Franky’s chemistry is off the charts. I know everyone is all about Franky but I’m all about Erica. Hello.
    I would also like to add that I was invested in all the storylines on the show, not just the lesbian ship; all the characters (male or female) are compelling albeit often despicable.
    And “your mum loves you to the moon and back” will indeed make you bawl like a baby.

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    I too watched this before OINTB and found it a lot more mainlineable. This is probably because they manipulate the tension in Wentworth so well (far beyond the Franky/Erica stuff, which kind of ebbs and flows), even if it does go a bit overboard at times with the melodrama. I was cracking up by the end from all those washed-out slow-mo walks through the prison yard.

    If I were to be so bold as to add to this fine list of reasons, I would add:

    11) These women are all so fucking angry it’s amazing. I feel like it’s still pretty rare that female characters are allowed to break free of being demure and just unleash pure rage, but it happens so often in this programme it’s really cathartic. While it’s true that these outbursts usually get punished, I still enjoy seeing them expressed.

    12) All the characters are flawed in believable and consistent ways. I think my favourite example of this would be Doreen, who you know is ultimately a good person, but is so weak and reactionary. At the start, this manifests itself by her being a bit shirty when Bea criticises her, but eventually leads to her getting under Jacs’ thumb in a really dangerous way. Also, Liz’s alcoholism plays out in a far more believable manner than that afternoon Kate from Bomb Girls spent nursing a whisky bottle.

    13) Really great plot set-ups. Without giving too much away, right at the beginning of the series, the prisoners tell Bea about an emergency alarm, that she should never, ever press. As things escalate over the course of the season, it almost gets hit a few times, so you know that if it ever does go off, shit will have really hit the fan… See also: steam press, boiling kettles.

    Probs the only way this show could be improved would be an international PO transfer of the Bodybag.

  4. Thumb up 2

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    Yay! Glad to see this on here finally! I mentioned it in comments probably in June or July so it’s weird that both AS and AE are just getting into it now. But it’s awesome.

    Franky is very reminiscent of Frankie in Lip Service in my opinion.

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      I totally agree on the Franky/Frankie thing! I think I like Franky sliiiightly better; Frankie I just got bored of in like ten seconds, all pout and no strut. Franky carries herself a little better although wtf is with the sneakers and sports socks all pulled up!? Everyone else seems to manage to wear trousers like respectable people with dignity!

      Also, you have the same name as my wife, and a Batwoman (whom we both love) icon; serious doubletakes over here for a moment!

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          Don’t be ashamed. lol That’s a hot pairing! Sam is so dreamy. I wish there were lesbian thriller/romance books with her as the lead. Unf!

          I still can’t believe Heather Peace is real. LOL I may have to start watching Waterloo Road. I wonder if she gets a new girlfriend in the new series? I can’t believe Lorraine is gone already.

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    Hah when I first skim-read the title I thought this was going to be about Wentworth Miller from Prison Break.

    I have to ask before downloading it though, is there violent/gory stuff like actual face-stabbing with a fork? Because I’m a giant baby when it comes to this kind of things.

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    Lol. I’m not sure we watched the same show – I loved Wentworth and we watched it pretty obsessively right after OitNB and found it pretty hilariously OTT. I guess maybe I was ruined by seeing bits of its original and similarly ridiculous mum Prisoner: Cell Block H? Or possibly by BAD GIRLS which, what, a whole article about women in prison and no mention of Bad Girls? Season 1 – 3 of that (please forgive the turn-of-the-century haircuts!), now _there’s_ an onscreen across-the-bars relationship that will live in my heart forever. Once you guys get done with OitNB AND Wentworth, Bad Girls should be your next stop. It’s just as crazy as Wentworth, just as gritty (from time to time), just as deeply irregular in its acting and scripting, and combines some of your favourite tropes from the other two shows to enjoy all over again – and there are 8 whole seasons of it (warning: only the 3, maaaybe 4 are any good in my book, though some love it all the way through)! Yep, I literally signed in just to gush about Bad Girls. If my wife sees this she’s going to make fun of me so I hope you lot appreciate this.

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      Oh, hang on, just to be clear: we really enjoyed Wentworth! I wasn’t trying to imply we didn’t like it. More that I dunno if I’d describe it as gritty or traumatic so much as sort of a farcical, overblown Greek Tragedy from beginning to end!

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        Completely agree with you on all counts. When something takes itself pretty seriously, like Wentworth, whether it succeeds or descends into farce is a complicated function of the writing, acting, production values and – most importantly – the cynicism of the viewer.

        Which means some of us are doomed to see farce in everything.

        Also: BAD GIRLS 4EVA !

  7. Thumb up 0

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    Three things:

    1. Just reading, “your mum loves you to the moon and back” was enough to make me burst into the tears of a thousand lesbians watching the last episode of Xena.

    2. “Jacs has made me straight up terrified of Martha Stewart.”
    YES YES YES. I love/hated her character so much. Such a refreshing villain…

    3. I watched Wentworth before anyone knew about OITNB, and honestly, when I first heard about OITNB as another women’s prison show, I felt kinda worried that it would be another Wentworth. I just didn’t know if I had it in me, you know? I love love love Wentworth and have been waiting for the next season SO HARD but I don’t know that I could handle two women’s prison dramas of this intensity. OITNB is like the band-aid for watching Wentworth. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth it.

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    I absolutely loved Wentworth. I don’t often get moved by many television shows but this one completely shook me, I still feel disturbed by all the rage and darkness and I finished watching it weeks ago.

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    “Your mother loves you to the moon and back”… and now I’m crying and probably need windshield-wipers on my eyes…

    I haven’t been this upset by fictional characters since the end of Harry Potter 6! (For which I had to stop reading every 5 minutes or so to clear my eyes so that I could keep reading)

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    After binging on OITNB in a matter of days I discovered a worrying love of female prison dramas and immediately re-watched Bad Girls season 1-3. As season three came to an end – after a week of solid watching/ogling/drooling at Helen and Nikki – I realized I had developed a bad case of “prison girl perv withdrawal” and was ready to rewind and watch again but alas Autostraddle has saved the day!

    Wentworth seems like a very satisfying alternative. I can’t wait to start watching.

    For those of you who have already finished it give Bad Girls a go! If you can stand the 90’s lack of straighteners you’ll love the gritty story lines mixed in with a good amount of comic relief and I defy anybody not to fall completely for the Nikki and Helen storyline.

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    Love this show! Nicole da Silva also played a bisexual cop on Rush, which was another totally great Aussie drama. She is hot in all kinds of uniforms. Catherine McClements, who plays Meg Jackson in Wentworth was also in Rush playing everyone’s boss and she was awesome.

    You should warn people before you’re going to make them read ‘Your mum loves you to the moon and back’! Emotions!

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    I don’t generally watch TV anymore, but I’m willing to watch Wentworth. I was a child way back in the early 80’s, but I remember obsessively watching Prisoner Cell Block H and Bea Smith was a legend. A legend I tell you hah.

    I’ve no desire to watch Orange is the New Black at all. I’m not sure why, it just doesn’t appeal to me.

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