Underbelly: articles

Underbelly 'prequel' a whole new shooting match

UNDERBELLY is the kind of trademark Nine hopes will stick. Which is why its new series is called Underbelly II instead of, say, Crazy Clark.

I don't know what you've heard but it's not a prequel.

It's not about the Moran brothers stealing BMXs from the other Grade 5 kids, or Benji Veniamin getting his very first tattoo.

It's Australia in the wide brown '70s, when people used bedspreads and the Ford Fairlane was considered a very comfortable touring car.

It's about big, big money and drugs, and how Robert Trimbole became the star of his own production - How The Western Plains Were Won, if you like.

The broadest elements of the first Underbelly seem to have been reined in here. And that's a very good thing.

I almost didn't want to watch the rest of the series after the first episode last year, and wouldn't have if Vince Colosimo hadn't been slaughtered. I think he thought he was in a Dolmio ad.

There's more experience on the screen this time. Installing Roy Billing as Robert Trimbole was probably considered somewhat risky - he's old enough to be part of Nine's cricket commentary - but it will come to seem like a very smart move.

The first Underbelly wasn't in the same league as the best Australian crime dramas - Phoenix or Blue Murder - but this series could be.

This is a more dangerous show. Where Underbelly was a spaghetti western, Underbelly II is closer to Serpico. I hope I don't look stupid saying that, but I'm prepared to stick my neck out.

Underbelly II is a much richer experience than the first series. This isn't low-rent criminals killing their own. The stain has spread this time round, it's leached out into the fabric of mainstream society. Except for I think that one cop, the police in the first Underbelly were completely unblemished, as clean and as pure as, well, a kilogram of Terry Clark's Asian heroin, and about as dynamic.

The most controversial thing about them was Frankie J. Holden's shortbread recipe. Underbelly was like a cowboy movie from the 1940s. There was never really any problem figuring out who was wearing a white hat and who had on the black.

There's enough in the story, you would hope, to keep viewers riveted. But they won't have the same working knowledge of Mr Asia and Donald Mackay and how it felt, what it meant, when a cleanskin Liberal Party candidate who sold furniture for a living was put through a meat grinder as they did of the Melbourne crime saga.

Every second footballer either knew Mick Gatto or was on their way to meet him.

Possibly the sex alone will get it over the line - Terry Clark reputedly had a major stimulus package of his own - but I'm not convinced Underbelly II will be the major hit everyone's just assuming.

I'm basing this statement partly on a conversation I listened in on in the bathroom at the cinema in Rosalie following Nine's screening of the first two episodes to Brisbane media on Tuesday. Two girls, aged, I don't know, 12?, were saying how many characters there were to keep track of. They sounded concerned. They were also worried about why Kate Ritchie's character hadn't turned up yet.

I wish I could tell you how it holds up, that there are 13 sensational episodes. At this stage I can tell you there are two. Nine's more paranoid than a chronic pot smoker and won't send out previews. Something to do with the internet.

By Dianne Butler
February 06, 2009
The Courier-Mail