By Lea Pichardo
“Hard Cell,” Netflix’s new six-part mockumentary about life in a women’s prison, was released on April 12. In addition to being the creator, co-writer and director of the show, Catherine Tate plays six different characters in the first season alone, including Laura, the prison’s governor, a wise-cracking guard named Marco, three separate inmates and a bitter mother who despises her incarcerated daughter.
As the prison’s governor, Laura feels responsible for her inmates. Convinced that it is her job to improve their lives, she secures enough money to fund an inmate-produced musical and hires a celebrity director named Cheryl Fergison to bring the project to life. Initially, the women plan to perform a prison production of “West Side Story,” but Laura soon encourages them to tell their own stories and write their songs. The result is a musical that encompasses their shared experiences with incarceration and the criminal justice system titled “Songs From the Inside.”
“Hard Cell” is full of moments that are entertaining and heartwarming. However, the show never seems to adopt a specific tone. Instead, it appears to bounce around everywhere, going from a light comedy to an emotionally gripping tale about making your voice heard in the blink of an eye. In fact, towards the end of the first season, things got dark for all characters involved, and what struck me the most was the distinct lack of transitions when it came to changing the mood. Sometimes, the story flowed naturally. Sometimes, it didn’t. Scenes with a general sense of camaraderie, where everyone bonded together, were mixed in with scenes of abrupt violence. Overall, the show lacked a cohesive narrative, so it was hard to remain engaged.
On top of that, I would have liked to see more actors. Tate is brilliant and talented. However, when the show ended, I was confused as to why she played six characters instead of only one or two. Including more actors might have made the story funnier, more impactful and memorable. In any case, I do not feel as though her commitment to multiple roles added a significant amount of quality to the story itself. There were many compelling characters, not played by Tate, who either intrigued me or made me laugh, but they weren’t on the screen as often, so I feel like I missed out on many fascinating stories and perspectives.
Take Sal, for example. Sal (Caroline Harding) was a character who briefly mentioned that she was a survivor of abuse. It was not something that the viewers could ascertain just from looking at her. She was usually bright and happy. The show doesn’t need to go into Sal’s past to be considered engaging. I just found myself wishing that she had more screen time. She was in love with another female inmate named Cal (Lorna Brown). They often completed Jigsaw puzzles together, which was nice, so their relationship could be its own storyline.
In some ways, I still don’t know how I feel about “Hard Cell.” The show did not reach the full extent of its potential and it was often confusing, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless.