Crims, crooks, cops, bad guys, drug lords, hitmen, gangster, thugs -they’re everywhere. Everytime you turn on the box there’s another true crime popping its head up in a crowded landscape. It’s has gotten to the point where you’re better off taking them out with your remote.
So what can another new series possibly offer that the others don’t?
Tough Nuts is the newest offering on the Crime and Investigation channel, which at least purports to be nothing more than a dedicated channel for those who love their hardened tales from the dark side.
This eight part series if fronted by fiction writer Tara Moss, who has good currency in the genre. When it comes to knowing what pushes a good man over the edge of the law, Moss knows her stuff. It also doesn’t hurt that she is drop-dead gorgeous.
The first episode is on hitman Christopher Dale Flannery, aka Rentakill. Flannery was busy in the underworld in the 1980s until he eventually disappeared, presumed murdered. He was portrayed in Underbelly‘s second season by actor Dustin Clare.
In Tough Nuts he looms large as a well-dressed man who was clumsy at armed robberies so he allegedly turned to being a hitman, when he noticed jails were full of robbers not murderers. He feared nobody but his wife Kath who is said to have been enormously influential over him.
The episode combines archival footage, re-enactments, interviews and Moss linking the storytelling together.
Standing in a moody warehouse, she sets up the series that will tackle the “most vicious killers in Australian history” -with her Canadian accent, it’s a little odd, but she is preferable to an actor who has no vested interest in the genre aside from a pay cheque and a Logie nomination.
The show’s best attribute is its rollcall of police detectives, forensic psychologists, journalists, friends and associates. Being able to front up with those who knew the subject demonstrates not just meticulous research, but a faith in the producers by those who agree to spill. They include Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, underworld figure Graham Henry, former NSW detectives Roger Rogerson (a central figure in Blue Murder), Brian Hall and Michael Drury, forensic psychologists Stephen Barron and Janet Hall, journalists Adam Shand and Peter Hoysted, playwright and former cellmate Ray Mooney (who wrote the film Everynight Everynight on Flannery), friend Craig Cousin, author John Kerr and former boxer Barry Michael.
Familiar characters such as Alphonse Gangitano and George Freeman are also referenced in the story.
Cousin talks about how his friend was always impeccably dressed but wore 5 different colognes and “smelled like a whore’s handbag.” Flannery even became manager of the Men’s Wear department at David Jones in Perth.
Also supporting the story are re-enactments with actors in period scenes around the kitchen table, burying a victim or shooting the next “Rentakill” target. These are theatrically staged and the focus shifts from facts to actor performances and speculative dialogue. They would have been better as visual supports rather than narrative drama.
Tough Nuts also makes a bold promise to reveal “for the first time” Flannery’s own killer. Flannery disappeared from a Sydney street in 1985. The case is yet to be resolved by NSW Police, but the documentary series claims through research via unnamed sources it can reveal his killer (the preview disk left off the final segment).
Crime & Investigation’s former series Crime Investigation Australia, hosted by Steve Liebmann, was one of the better products in its genre, again for its access to witnesses and family members. It too revealed information which resonated with police investigations, adding to its gravitas. If Tough Nuts can resolve a cold case such as Flannery’s it will make an early mark -but at the moment this remains to be seen.
For now it’s an entertaining addition to a crowded genre. If you’re hooked on this grisly stuff then at least Moss is the nicest guide you coud wish for.
Tough Nuts premieres 7:30pm Thursday on Crime and Investigation.