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.


  1. I'd love to agree with you on this, but unfortunately I only managed two episodes - watched on a hotel room TV whilst I was in Melbourne on a work trip (I'm not sure whether I'm meant to add 'ironically' or 'coincidentally' to the end of this clause, perhaps it's neither), and am therefor not properly qualified to offer an opinion.

    Actually that's never stopped me in the past so: From what I saw I'd compare it to a (US) daytime soap. The only distinguishing features- based on the two episodes I saw, I'm obliged to add - nudity and violence. The script writing, acting and blocking all reminded me of cheap mass produced TV.

    I speculate that the interest in the show was purely based on the chance to see the story behind the headlines. The irony here being that the script writers made the usual modifications for narrative purposes rendering the finished product possibly less 'informative' than the newspaper headlines.



  2. I also want to whole-heartedly agree with you, alas, I couldn't even make it through the first episode of the first season, I got so bored. I couldn't see anything about this show that distinguished it from any other bland "Aussie drama". Apart from the fact it is based on actual people and events which is kind of exciting. Or could be.

    In fact the whole thing makes me cross. Sure it's inspiring that a tv show can rate so highly when it is actually an original Australian concept and not just a re-working of a US formula to fill a quota. On the other hand, what does it take to get a show that is actually well-written, uniquely shot and cut, intelligent and BOLD for god's sake??

    Boobs are not bold, no matter how many times you flash them in an episode.

    Give me The Wire any day.