Synopsis: When 25-year-old Joanna Mackenzie bumps into her old school friend Alice Kang, memories of the brutal year they spent together at Silver Creek – the wilderness campus of an exclusive girls’ boarding school – come flooding back. Bad Behaviour is a visceral ride into the epicentre of Jo’s teenage years where her decision to bully, or be bullied, has devastating consequences even ten years on.
Format: 4-episode limited-series with all episodes released at once.
Cast: Jana McKinnon, Markella Kavenagh, Yerin Ha, Erana James, Melissa Kahraman, Tuuli Narkle, Mantshologane Maile, Daya Czepanski, Abbey Morgan, Bronte Locke, Malayne Hayden, Jessica Lu, Diana Glenn, Dan Spielman
Directors: Corrie Chen
Writers: Pip Karmel (Episode 1, Episode 4), Magda Wozniak (Episode 2, Episode 3)
There’s something dark and relatable at the centre of Bad Behaviour. Even if I didn’t attend an all-girls boarding school, I’ve been bullied, I’ve fallen victim to bullying to fit in with the cool kids, and I’ve bumped into people that have fallen on either side of that line years after my High School years to different results. The desire to belong is powerful, and in the new Stan Original Series, Bad Behaviour, it’s the pulling force that makes girls turn bad.
Based on the book by Australian author Rebecca Starford, which chronicles her own experiences at an all-girl boarding school, Bad Behaviour changes characters’ names but hits most the same beats (at least as far as my little research could tell) as the book. The four-episode limited series follows Jo Mackenzie (Jana McKinnon) in the present day, a 25-year-old still trying to find her place in the world, but when she bumps into Alice Kang, whom she attended the all-girls Boarding School Silver Creek with, memories start flooding back to her of the traumatic time she had at the school.
Flashing back to Jo arriving at the school, her Mum drops off an excited Jo. She’s been accepted into this prestigious school on a scholarship and is looking forward to the opportunity. She makes friends with Alice (Yerin Ha) as soon as she arrives, but things are off the moment she spots the school bullies, a group led by Portia (Markella Kavenagh). And as the night approaches and Jo learns that the girls are left alone, far away from where the teachers stay, she soon learns that the girls of Silver Creek can be cruel.
When Jo bumps into Alice as an adult, she’s taken aback by her less-than-warm response to seeing Jo. But as the series continues, we see that not only is Jo pulled into being an accomplice of the bullying at Silver Creek, but she also becomes one of the bullies. Years later, the same power that Portia had over Jo as a teenager rears its head once again, and the flashbacks become less about us as a viewer seeing what Jo went through and more about Jo being able to face the reality of what the situation at Silver Creek did to her and the other girls who attended. Portia uses her influence over others to manipulate them; she plays her group of friends off one another, and all who follow her seem to be doing so only out of fear or a deep desire of wanting Portia to love them. Jo is quickly pulled in by the pressure of not wanting to be put under the boot of Portia. She’s also a teenager discovering her sexuality, and emotions about Portia are seen as consistently confusing for Jo.
As an adult, we see that Jo has become just as manipulative as Portia was as a teenager. She uses her friends, will happily play someone as long as it works out in her favour and seems void of any understanding of repercussions or wanting to take responsibility. This is seen most in Jo’s relationship with housemate Saskia, played by Daya Czepansi. Even though Saskia has a girlfriend, Jo is happy to push ideas of being with Saskia into their mind. Her gaslighting behaviour is hard to watch, as Jo jet-sets her relationships destructively in real-time.
Both Jana McKinnon and Markella Kavenagh are fantastic in Bad Behaviour. Playing nuanced roles across years and having to show more than tell as the trauma bleed through them silently and not loudly. Corrie Chen directs all four episodes with a sensibility of one not wanting to spell out how the audience should feel. If you’re going to feel bad for Jo or put the blame on her — the show isn’t interested in telling you how you should feel, but Jo’s self-destructive path as an adult is a sign of how she feels about her time at Silver Creek.
Bad Behaviour falls into the category of Australian shows that seem obsessed with trauma, especially prominent in recent Stan Original films and series. At four episodes, the series feels short, and I would have liked to have seen a little more from adult Jo dealing with her repercussions in real-time rather than the ‘wrap-it-up’ finish the series goes with instead. The final moment works, but I wanted a little more before this shot. Still, this is a well-made limited series, with great performances and stellar work behind the camera from an all-female creative team that explores themes many should be able to relate to in some way.