Watching: Underbelly

Not living in Victoria at the moment, I watched the new Channel 9 Melbourne gangland wars drama Underbelly on tv last night. (It's currently banned from broadcast in Victoria at the moment by Supreme Court order - for fear of prejudicing an upcoming murder trial. Evidently the legal system isn't familiar with satellite receivers or internet download)

Having seen it, I'm not entirely sure that the court didn't slap a ban on the show for more aesthetic reasons - in spite of the interesting subject matter (and prevalence of gratuitous breasts), it's a bit of a pedestrian and slightly dull affair.

Having lived in Melbourne during most of the time this "war" was going on, it was good to see familiar locations on screen and to get some insight into the back story of the news stories and names I vaguely recognised - though who knows how accurate this show actually is. (I'm not sure if I was telling the story of a bunch of people who seem prone to whacking one another whether I'd be as accurate as possible or as flattering as possible.)

Channel Nine has gone the absolute hack in promoting their new flagship show (and are no doubt loving the court injunction sick for the notoriety it offers) and you can see that in the above trailer. Shame that all of their splash quotes (one helluva show, landmark drama, showcases Australia's best talent) really don't say anything much in particular. (And two of those come from Melbourne's newspaper of the lowest common denominator, the Herald Sun)

Aside from a few (admittedly talented) key names - Vince (Lantana) Collosimo (already killed), Marcus (Good guys, Bad guys) Graham and Simon (Phoenix) Westaway and Frankie (every channel 9 shit-com in the last 2 decades) J Holden, the majority of the cast for me was a who's-he rather than a who's-who.

But that's neither here nor there really as the proof is in the pudding - sadly, with relatively cliched writing and plotlines, the best a good actor can do is not look like a complete goose. The story is pulled together with occasional scene-setting voice-overs but if you are going to use voice-overs to tell your story (generally a lazy strategy), they need to be smart and punchy.

Gyton Grantley put in the best consistent performance of the show with his slightly unsettling, slightly dopey seeming and fairly chilling Carl Williams, creating a real sense of someone who will get darker and more interesting as the show progresses.

Vince Colosimo did the best with what he had to work with , Frankie J played a template harried cop and the women were almost entirely in the background.

I've just noticed on the Underbelly "the biggest all-star cast on Australian tv" photo page - which doesn't actually offer bios of any of the "stars" that Dan Wyllie (below) is in the cast, which gives me some hope - he's done a lot of interesting work, though generally always as a petty crim.

The Sopranos or Phoenix (gritty Melbourne 90s cop show) it ain't - it might bear some comparison to Blue Murder over time and in fairness, it's usually a good idea to give shows a few weeks to get settled so I guess I'll keep watching.

Interestingly, one of the stories in The Age today mentioned that hundreds of Victorians were skirting the Supreme Court ban by hitting the file-sharing sites but some had found downloading slow because so many people were trying to access the files at the same time. (Not quite appreciating that the more people downloading the file at the same time, the faster the downloads are due to the shared distribution nature of these sites)