I was big fan of the first Underbelly series. It was genuinely edgy, tense, confronting. You felt like you were looking through a keyhole into the darker reaches of the underworld.
Series 2 was nowhere near as good. It was still gritty, still had its moments, but was all a bit try-hard. The white-knuckle tension of amphetamine-paced Series 1, that sense of the ever impending threat of explosive violence, had slackened off. Further, where the original series was full of characters that were as compelling as they were shady, Matthew Newton’s portrayal of psycho ‘Mr Big’ Terry Clark was a bit schlocky, and the rest weren’t very interesting. I struggle to remember them apart from George Freeman, Robert Trimbole, and Clark’s girlfriend Alison (who can forget Anna Hutchison’s glorious tits?).
Well, going by the two-hour opening double-episode to Series 3 – The Golden Mile – the quality trend has continued on its downward spiral. An attention-grabbing performance by Firass Dirani as a young John Ibrahim was one of the few plusses.
The writing was dire. Bum lines abounded, made even worse by too many instances of dodgy acting. The low point of the script was a scene in which a new escort girl’s first customer requests a blowjob. Puzzled, she blows on his untrousered person as if trying to kindle a fire. Fuck me, where’s a good editor when you need ‘em?
Talk about lame – and worse, that joke is not even original. No, I don’t recall where, but I’ve come across it somewhere, and so would many of the viewing audience. Secondly, it’s not credible that the gal, however naive, had never encountered the term ‘blowjob’. Earlier, she’s shown rooting her no-good boyfriend, then she has coffee with a girlfriend who boasts of frequent weekend one-nighters and suggests going on the game would be no different – just more profitable. So come on! If the writers couldn’t demonstrate this babe’s naiveté less clumsily than that, they should have been sent back to drama school or waiting tables…or shunted over to a soap like Packed To The Rafters, where the audience tunes in to follow the fortunes of the characters and pisspoor scripting passes by largely unnoticed (at least, if the astounding popularity of the show is any indication).
Then there were those endless bloody slo-mo sequences, which were more rock video than poetic montage depictions of narcotically-tinged nightlife in the Cross. Having spent a lot of time while resident in Sydney watching the passing freakshow at the Cross into the wee small hours, I am well aware that it is a texturally rich environment, full of colour and romantic seediness, and beating with an undercurrent of threat that keeps things interesting. Tap into this, make the Cross a character, by all means – but do it with some imagination! There are real-life pickings aplenty to inspire any filmmaker. Why resort to cliché that alludes to a thousand other similar cinematic portrayals of night strips, yet captures little that is authentically Kings Cross apart from the obvious landmarks, like the Coke sign and the El Alamein fountain?
Speaking of cliché, the voiceover was like some pale facsimile of 40s American film noir with an Aussie accent, and sums up last night’s fare: unoriginal, lazy, flabby.