Five seasons, three telemovies and a New Zealand edition later, does Underbelly still pack a punch? That’s the question for Nine and its audience.
The brand is well-entrenched: crime from the viewpoint of the baddies, ‘glamourised’ gangsters, corruptable cops, bare breasts, drugs, rock soundtrack and montages.
After a successful fourth season in the past, now we return to contemporary Sydney, and underworld figure, Anthony Perish aka ‘Rooster’ (I guess Underbelly: Rooster didn’t have quit as much kick but I still can’t make sense of the Badness title).
Perish was once one of Australia’s most wanted criminals with links to drugs, guns and bikies, who, along with his brother, Andrew, triggered the biggest murder inquiry in NSW history: ‘Strike Force Tuno.’ Last year the pair were convicted of murdering drug manufacturer and police informant Terry Falconer but due to court proceedings much of their tale has remained untold.
Unlike the high-profile crims of former Underbelly seasons, Perish lurked under the radar, avoiding police and leaving no trace of his activities.
Hanging this season off Jonathan La Paglia (The Slap, The District) as Perish will serve Underbelly very well indeed. He cuts a brooding, no-nonsense thug with a strong-arm that proves action speaks louder than words.
He is matched by Matt Nable (Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms, East West 101) as Det. Insp. Gary Jubelin leading the investigation. His Jueblin is pensive but determined to solve a murder even when he has no clear prospect of how far down the rabbit hole it will take him.
Together these two anchor the premiere episode as formidable male leads. Like previous seasons, the show will cut a merry dance between crims and cops with Caroline Craig linking key moments as Narrator.
The first instalment begins at the end before tracking back to 2001 when Perish sought revenge on the murder of his grandparents. A low-lifer named Terry Falconer (Terry Serio) is rumoured to be a suspect, which is enough for Perish to act. His henchmen carry out a kidnapping, leading to Falconer’s murder -one so grisly it’s the kind we might see on Dexter, without cheering for the anti-hero.
Writer Felicity Packard and director Tony Tilse set up the narrative very well, for the most part avoiding the glitz and tricks of previous episodes. Unlike Razor, we’re also not smothered by too many characters, too early.
Others in the first episode are Josh Quong-Tart as the rather-spineless brother Andrew, and a paunchy appearance by Aaron Jeffrey as one of Perish’s associates (a different character to that he played in Underbelly: The Man Who Got Away).
A closing credit notes the identity of some individuals and circumstances surrounding certain events have been “obscured” by Court order.
This season clocks in at 8 episodes instead of the usual 13, which is probably a wise move. We’ve already had Bikie Wars this year, also from Screentime, and that outstayed its welcome at 6 episodes in my view. Whether there is more to mine in the Perish saga remains to be seen.
It’s also fair to say that Underbelly is no longer appointment “event television” but that doesn’t mean it is less entertaining.
So to answer the opening question, yes Badness does pack a punch, thanks in no small part to its two heavyweight leads.
Here’s hoping it sustains for seven more.
Underbelly: Badness premieres 8:30pm Monday on Nine.