By: Laura Denby
Daisy Haggard’s BBC Three comedy-drama Back To Life is currently in its second season, with the writer and star’s alter ego Miri Matteson continuing to navigate life outside prison.
Her brilliantly bold probation officer, Janice, also returns; brought to life by actress Jo Martin.
The new series delivers a gloriously happy ending as Miri heads on an adventure with new beau Billy (Adeel Akhtar). This means that whatever the future holds, Miri’s story is wrapped up in a satisfying fashion.
But even if Back To Life is unable to be recommissioned, there is still an opportunity to expand on the hit show. The team could produce another sitcom that looks at the character of Janice beyond her initial role.
Throughout all 12 episodes, Janice makes a big impression. Her scenes are brief but frequent, with an unpredictable edge that is always entertaining. Now I’m craving a sister show that puts her in the spotlight.
She’s a memorable character for many reasons. During season one, Janice wins our hearts in record time with her mispronunciation of “noodles”.
With her blunt, unfiltered remarks, she becomes more like a friend to the protagonist and regularly goes much further than her job requires – regardless of whether that’s a help or hindrance to Miri.
In the new outing, Janice is on fine form and relatable as ever. Who doesn’t feel exposed by the “hangry” scene?
With Back To Life focusing on Miri’s journey and Mandy’s (Christine Bottomley) trauma, Janice is primarily the cameo queen. Yet she is always given just the right amount of screen time to keep us invested in her antics.
In an early supermarket scene, Janice finishes a call to a stressed Miri. Instead of switching immediately back to the ongoing storyline, we see her tempted by a food item – which she casually steals from a nearby shopper’s trolley.
Janice is much more than a supporting act, and at no point does she pretend to have everything under control. “I don’t need a therapist” Miri declares at one point, to which Janice quips “I do!”
It’s a refreshing change to the portrayal of most television characters in similar professions – another reason to build on the narrative.
There’s endless potential for the character, and the energy Janice brings to proceedings never fades. So why not create a plot that revolves solely around her?
Making use of her philosophical phrases: “This too shall pass – probably,” and mischievous nature, a spin-off could also follow Janice as she deals with multiple ex-convicts in her charge.
Plenty of humour is sure to be found in conversations with a varied selection of people, who Janice could no doubt handle easily.
Just as she persuaded Miri not to bury her head in the sand by telling her about the “hamster under the carpet”, Janice could share her unique brand of unconventional advice. While some may read between the lines of her words, others could find themselves hilariously baffled.
This set-up wouldn’t necessarily mean an end to her on-screen interactions with Miri, either.
If Daisy Haggard were to reprise her role for their meetings, it would make the perfect parallel. Set within the same universe, the show could actually co-exist alongside any further instalments of Back To Life.
While light relief should continue to be a key theme, an important trait of Janice’s is her unflinching awareness of the way of the world. Her distinctive wisdom would be another feature to explore in more detail.
Of course, this could pave the way for a look at her personal life. It’s hinted she may have secrets of her own, and when we last see her she is pursuing a long-held goal.
It would also be interesting to see how she behaves in the company of close friends and family. Janice’s direct approach is part of what makes the character so watchable, and there could be fun in introducing relatives that either share her qualities or clash with them.
It’s her deadpan delivery and sparkling wit that has made her stand out, and that’s a testament to strong performances by Jo Martin and wonderful dialogue penned by Daisy and co-writer Laura Solon.
The ideal recipe for a new sitcom is staring the BBC in the face, and I can’t be the only one who would love to see Janice take the lead in all her glory. So stock up on the biscuits – the campaign officially starts here.