Underbelly: articles

Underbelly layered like a cheesy lasagne

SOME will say the problem with Underbelly: the Golden Mile (8.30pm Sundays on Nine) is that it's historically inaccurate. Others will cite the deplorable way it glamorises criminals. Then there are those who think this series' storyline is not particularly strong and that the acting is bad.

These people might be happier if they move out to one of those paradisiacal dreamlands where everyone frolics around in fields of buttercups and where waterfalls of French champagne and The Wire stream freely, 24/7.

As for me, it doesn't take much to make me happy. The dodgy sound effect of a lion's roar, layered over the top of a sleazy electric guitar riff while some dudes swing baseball bats at each other, for instance, is quite enough to hold me in thrall. Men who wear really bad wigs are but another small but shimmering delight. And dialogue such as "You were born to strip", at least when delivered by a crooked cop to a hooker with a heart of gold, is so guffaw-worthy it can make life seem new again.

Some of us, I am trying to say, are quite entertained by all that's trashy about Underbelly. Of course, it would be crazy to watch it as if it were a serious documentary but as a bawdy melodrama the formula still works.

But let's start by addressing those concerns about truth and accuracy, because they really can be distracting. Last week, for instance, the episode was titled "Women in Uniforms" but if we are going for facts, "Women in Underwear" would have been closer to the truth. The voice-over told us: "A uniform can only provide so much protection; in the end the only thing that really matters is the strength of the woman inside."

And in order to better incarnate that remarkable inner-female strength, the Underbelly women proceeded to strip off their various uniforms and writhe around half-naked in a fleshy and flashy montage as the camera swept back and forth along their bodies as if they were Zen gardens. It really was very moving. Literally quite touching. Not in a tear-jerking way, exactly, although I have much confidence the scene would have inspired other sorts of jerking in lots of viewers.

But of course, we all knew what we were getting ourselves in for way back at episode one. That was when we watched the teenage John Ibrahim, played by Firass Dirani, ravish his paramour, who was dressed up in a police uniform, while the disembodied head of a Wilderness Society koala costume looked on.

Only a total boob could fail to grasp the meaning of that scene: that the series would henceforth be devoted to watching crims and cops screw each other in various ways. And as for the koala's head, it hasn't made a reappearance yet but if it doesn't turn up in someone's bed before the end of the series it'll be a real missed opportunity.

So after six episodes, the layers of the story are really being built up quite nicely now, like a lasagne, albeit a really, really cheesy one. But it's the dreamboat Dirani, with eyes that are opalescent lagoons you'd happily drown yourself in, and the excellent actor Emma Booth as Kim Hollingsworth, who keep things interesting. I'm transfixed by them both. If Channel Nine made a show where they just filmed Booth and Dirani strolling up and down the Cross in slow motion and maybe intercut it with lots of boob shots and the occasional Sydney Harbour Bridge panorama, they'd have a real hit on their hands. Hang on, wait. This is that show! It's preposterous. And utterly genius.

Some of you still have hesitations about The Golden Mile and that's understandable.

If you can't get past the feeling that it's only criminals who are profiting off this series, consider this. A friend recently reported that at a Salvos in Sydney they were selling off, at astronomically hiked-up prices, some polyester shirts that were costumes from a previous Underbelly series. Add to this the fact so many Australian actors have found employment with the Underbelly franchise and doesn't it make you feel better to know that such worthwhile charities as op shops and actors are profiting from the show as well? It doesn't? I'll never make you happy then, will I?

I don't know whether Underbelly should be called historical fiction or true crime or just really trashy television. It all depends on how you look at it. But maybe, like Dieter Brummer's corrupt cop Trevor Haken, we shouldn't interrogate it too much.

In the world of Underbelly you really don't want to think a lot. I mean, check out Brummer's eye wear — surely those sunglasses are intensely reflective so that we don't have to be.

By Lorelei Vashti
May 13, 2010
The Age