Nina Sosanya and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell make Screw just about worth watching

Prison officers Leigh (Nina Sosanya) and Rose (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) walking in opposite directions down a prison corridor; Rose is turning back to look at Leigh.

Part of the point of Screw is to tell a prison drama from a different perspective. After a number of television series focused on the lives of prisoners – from Orange is the New Black to Wentworth to OzScrew is an effort to flip the script and place prison officers at the centre of a drama.

Creator and executive producer Rob Williams, who also serves as lead writer on Screw, spent a number of years working as an art teacher in prison, and has continued volunteering in prisons since becoming a writer. Screw is, obviously, drawn from that experience; Williams has suggested that prison officers are “public servants, yet they’ve never really had their own TV show in the way that paramedics, firefighters and police have”, with Screw an attempt to redress that balance.

At times, that proves something of an uncomfortable framing. It’s hard not to feel like, in the opening episodes at least, the prisoners blend into the background a little, an abstract mass of people who are somewhere between irritants, obstacles, and oddities only. That’s one thing dealing with patients in a hospital drama, for example, but it feels like quite another to turn the lens away from the prisoners in a prison drama, the carceral state reduced almost to a background detail. Screw comes at an interesting point, actually, because now is probably quite a good time for a new prisoner-focused drama – given that audiences are likely to be more intuitively sympathetic to the experience of being locked away, and given how prisoners were consistently neglected through the pandemic. There’s a sense maybe that Screw might’ve just missed its moment.

What I’m finding about this – now that I’m writing a lot more pre-air reviews, often with shows I’ve not watched all the way through or had to finish quite quickly – is that… well, it’s just a fundamentally different thing, I suppose. Especially when you’re under embargo and have to follow certain spoiler stipulations and so on. Different task! Adjusting to that still.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

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