Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Flabby Underbelly

I caught up with the two hour season premier of Underbelly 3 with Tuesday’s “encore screening”. I’ve never really been a fan of the show and the season 3 opener reinforces all the things I dislike. Somewhere there’s an enthralling drama but so many lazy devices and contrivances are deployed that they simply drown out the story. I find this instructive as a writer as there are clear, recurring choices that, for me, seriously detract from the potential drama. Underbelly 3 literally threw the kitchen sink at the audience in this regard. Let’s have a look at them:

1) The expository voice-over narrative is so totally over-the-top and redundant as a device that it immediately takes me out of the story. The old adage “show don’t tell” seems lost on the Underbelly writers. A barrage of information and on-the-nose observations that have always made me question how confident the writers are with the material. Even worse, the voiceover is from a character who, as far as I understand it, was only relevant to Series One. Even then it was a strange choice for a secondary character to be commenting on events, even more bizarre in the later series.

2) The use of music has always been problematic. It literally leaches away moments of legitimate drama by pumping out tracks that make this seem more like a music video than a supposedly, true crime story. It also takes away my emotional response to what’s going on. I remember in Series One, the vicious attack in the sports bar with pool cues that should have been shocking but instead, due to ham-fisted use of music, seemed more like it was a game. If the makers don’t care, why should I? It was also coupled with the other device that drives me nuts, being …

3) The over-use of slow motion. I don’t know why they keep dipping into this well, except again as a sign of a lack of confidence with the inherent drama. It’s a clunky device that takes me straight out of story as style appears more important than substance. This is linked to another favourite device …

4) The montage. The opening of Underbelly 3 had so many montages (with all the other tricks being deployed) that I was kept at a distance from the characters and story. Surely we can get a flavour of Kings Cross and its denizens without the frenetic and haphazard introduction of so many characters in as condensed a time frame as possible. Even worse was that this device was accompanied with …

5) The use of “Lock, Stock …” style name cards for not only main characters but extraneous ones as well. Another clear stylistic choice that was intended to be hip and trendy but felt tired and just a case of overkill.

As mentioned, there were sequences where ALL of these devices were being deployed at the same time. What hope does the drama have? It was literally floundering in the heavy seas of exposition and directorial/editing wankery that the team from Bondi Rescue would struggle to save this brave soul.

By comparison, I have recently revisited Season One of The Wire where the multi-layered, complex storylines and characters are allowed to breathe and astonish with none of the above devices. As a result the mastery of the world by the writers is crystal clear.

Underbelly 3, as a commercial entity, will never rival The Wire for storytelling chops and nor should it, but I could expect and hope for more substance and less flash. Currently it takes what could be a good premise and smothers it to death with gimmicks and devices that are anathema to good drama. It’s an important lesson for any writer.


  1. ^^ 謝謝你的分享,祝你生活永遠多彩多姿!........................................

  2. I concur wholeheartedly. And props for the new blog design - very schmick.

  3. Thank you Mr T. I'm also heartened to learn I have contributed in some small way to elevating the insignificant with you putting this on high rotation.