Saturday, October 31, 2009

You'll Like It If You've Never Seen Another TV Show Before

Seriously, I know I'm super late on some pop-cultural phenomenons, but is Underbelly not kinda the worst thing, like, ever? That is, for something that isn't widely considered the worst thing ever. I mean, we can all agree on 20 to 1. But this...

I tried, I really did.

My initial impressions of the show were dismal. My sister loaned me the whole set, and I lasted about fifteen minutes into the first episode. What exactly was the appeal of this frenetically cut and clumsily scripted mess? I stopped it right there. Only later, after my sister had given me a stern talking to (she's to-the-point and somewhat scary) did I promise to give it a fair shot. And hey, I'd just moved to Melbourne - I'd be learning something about my new home, right?

And now, for some reason, I've seen all thirteen episodes of the thing, though at no point did I feel compelled to keep going. At no point was I hooked on the narrative. At no point did I get that wonderful "I need to go bed, but just one more episode" feeling. I kept plodding on, until I'd reached a point where I sadly realised I was going to watch the whole sodding thing. You know, to see what happens. Though I didn't care. Though I could see the bullet coming.

Where to start? The voiceover which tells you what you already know? The complete lack of insight the show offers into either police surveillance or the modern drug trade (don't think about The Wire, it'll only increase the pain, I assure you). The Benny Hill style of coitus everyone in the show partakes of, made doubly unwatchable by a reliance on zooms the likes of which haven't been seen since late 70s chopsocky? The inconsistent character psychology? The preposterous overuse of slow motion? The preposterous overuse of opera-laden montage?

You walk away from the show dazzled that someone as dim-witted as Carl Williams lasted five minutes on the streets of Carlton. The Victorian Police, famously "somewhat corrupt", are both white-washed and poorly treated. You get no sense of their investigation, or why they couldn't crack these losers sooner. This would be fine if the show suggested it was aware of the fundamental ridiculousness of the situation, but Underbelly is no friend of dramatic irony or comic understatement. For example: only in the last episode do they lean on a known associate of Williams for case-breaking information - someone, incidentally, who was arrested five episodes ago. Did they forget he was in prison?

What's curious to me is the level of hype that attached itself to the show's caboose, and the popularity of the DVD release. I can understand lazily watching this thing on TV, but I remember the first day it was released on DVD. I was working at Canberra Borders at the time, in the "prestigious" Multimedia Director position (aka "the guy who stocks the CDs and DVDs") and we couldn't keep it in the store. From memory our original shipment of 500 copies was sold out by the first afternoon. Dear God, why? Is it plain cynicism to put this down to the Australian public's on-going fascination with crims and other various morons. What's harder to explain is the media's love affair with the show - after all, it got excellent notices from otherwise sane scribes. Too much TV watching just might convince you this stuff was anything other than time-passing fluff. Perhaps everyone was coming off a Two And A Half Men marathon...

On the plus side, Kat Stewart (as Roberta Williams) is great in an underwritten role, and Damian Walshe-Howling as Benji completely steals the show.

Fans of the first series say the second series is terrible. I shudder at the implications.

Friday, October 30, 2009


This blog was intended to keep me connected to the world. That I’m refusing to let it die – or merely sit on a ho-hum final entry, as good as death in the blogosphere – is, I suppose, an attempt to honour a promise I made to myself. I’ve started these things before and let them fade out on such ill-played notes. I’m going to try keep that from happening for just a little while longer.

A supreme loathing of technology has overcome me lately. Or, to be exact, a supreme loathing of noise, waste, distraction, selfishness and celebrity, which all gathers and spins and spouts so wonderfully well online. A desk job doesn’t help things – you go looking for a little distraction, and you end up with a headache. I tried to cut back entirely. Or I promised myself I would cut back. More promises. This notion was solidified by my genuine and slightly neurotic concern about the future of literary fiction and its home, the book. As in, like, the physical object, and not a Kindle. The web is wonderful for many things. I don’t think we can count literary fiction and the effect it has upon concentration as one of them.

And so I stopped blogging, and tried to visit my standard sites less. I looked back at what I’d blogged. I took in those sentences – and was not happy. For the most part they were rushed and slapdash and breathless and artless. They have enthusiasm on their side. They have little else. And this is part of the problem: the enormous rush I find myself in so much of the time. Always contemplating the next new cultural object; always writing the next novel when the first one still lingers so very far from completion. I still regularly knock myself sideways with Stendahl Syndrome – it’s giddy fun, but exhausting. It is not sustaining, not for an adult life with genuine long-term aims.

So I sat on these thoughts and turned away for a little while and I was still depressed; or, to put it less melodramatically, in a funk. What was wrong?

I wasn’t writing. Simple as that. There was no output for my input. I was a bloated body without recourse to discharge. Or, to put it another way, I was writing without focus or aim.

So I’ve tried to pick up my private work, and honour the expectations I have of myself. I’m getting melodramatically serious about this. These are things I practically demand of myself, and which I’ve let slide for too fucking long.

And this – to keep things shortish – is why this entry is now here, and why, in the near future, if things stick to plan, there will be entries that are bound to appeal to someone out there on James Ellroy, James Cameron and James Hird. This is the complimentary flipside to my non-discussable attempts at some lasting words. These are “the other words”. My fretting about fiction (the death of the form, readerly drop-off, my own feeble jotting) remains, and my plans to keep the online intake levels to a low setting also remains, but my love for stuff, pure and simple, has not waned. It’s part of what keeps me going – the next novel, film, album, football game. It sustains me, and needs to be honoured, under numerous personal delusions and exaggerations, by words returned in kind. I will try to honour this with carefully chosen words, and considered ideas. This shit is as much for me as anyone else, so I might as well make it count, and make it something I’m not constantly deriding with the familiar “that – oh, I just tossed that off in half an hour”. I’ve got to rediscover sincerity and hard work and dogged tedium, and move away from pop buzz and flux. This isn’t a change-up of content. I’ll still be banging on about the usual low-to-middlebrow jazz, with some high-priests and half-forwards thrown in. But it’s a change of attitude.

And so out with self-pity and nail-chewing and gloom-laden prognostications, and in with exuberance, hunger and a useful criticism.

Let’s go.