by Angus Cameron
Outrageous Fortune (2005 – 2010)
Angus’s Rating: 8/10
Creators: James Griffin & Rachel Lang
Lead actors: Robyn Malcolm, Antony Starr, Siobhan Marshall
**Minor spoiler warning**
In polite circles, the humble soap opera is rarely held in high regard. In fact, just mention the word ‘soapy’ at a dinner party and you’re likely to be met with ridicule. Admittedly, I’ve dished out a fair bit of it myself, however recently a soap opera by the name of Outrageous Fortune has begun to change my perspective.
The show, whose name is taken from Hamlet’s “slings and arrows” soliloquy, tells the story of the West family, a clan of petty criminals who hail from Aukland’s outer suburbs. There the Wests have prospered for generations, albeit in their own way. In the criminal world, the Wests are royalty; the family house, which is a monument of suburban gaud, is treated like a castle, passed down the family line and used as refuge from the hostile outside world.
It’s in this house that the show begins, when the family’s patriarch, Wolfgang ‘Wolf’ West, is facing charges relating to the theft of mobile phones. Despite the petty nature of his crimes, the character of ‘Wolf’ acts as his name suggests – proud of his pack, he is unflinching in the face of police power and secure in his place at the head of the family. The story which follows is that of the power vacuum created when Wolf is sentenced to four years in prison. Without its patriarch, the West family structure is thrown into disarray and, as the episodes go on, its members jostle for position as they struggle to define new roles and identities for themselves.
Naturally the family’s matriarch, Cheryl, takes it upon herself to regather the shattered family following the imprisonment of her husband.
Fed up with the justice system, she decides to pull her family away from its criminal past, a move which does not go down well with the family’s other members, Grandpa included, whose days as Auckland’s finest safe-cracker put the Wests in the position they are today.
Although each family member grapples with change in their own way, it’s Jethro, one half of the family’s identical twins, who might be particularly interesting to lawyers reading this blog.
Jethro and his twin, Van, are the oldest of the West children and, although played by the same actor, they couldn’t be more different from one another. Van is a loveable stoner who finds joy in life’s little pleasures. Jethro, on the other hand, is a recently admitted lawyer who has his sights set on controlling the other members of his family. Although his mum, Cheryl, is proud of his career path, Jethro quickly shows that he’s the most power hungry of the bunch, and will use his status as a lawyer to achieve any ends he seeks.
For instance, when Jethro, Grandpa and the family’s youngest (and maybe smartest) member, Loretta, find a locked safe in Jethro’s new office, the three are sure that Grandpa will be able to crack it. The question remains, however: who gets what’s in there? In smooth, legal lingo Jethro ‘explains’ that, as the new lease holder, he’s entitled to anything left in the office. Loretta is immune to Jethro’s legal charms and dismisses his claim as rubbish, to which Jethro replies, “Well I’m the lawyer, aren’t I?”
Ultimately, the show is about power, the way we exercise it and the roles we adopt in order to do so. Jethro is just one character you might be interested in, but a show about power, manipulation and petty crime are sure to suck anyone into a television vortex which, by the end, might just change your ideas about the humble soapy.