Underbelly Badness, emphasis on "bad"

PIECES of Terry Falconer were found wrapped in plastic in the Hastings River, near Wauchope, on the NSW north coast in late 2001.

He’d previously been lured away from a smash repair business, locked in a box and driven to Girvan, near Bulahdelah, where his body was cut up.

The drug kingpin now serving time for his slaying, Anthony Perish, was not arrested until January 2009, when police in body armour swooped on a cafe in Sydney’s posh McMahons Point.

How Strike Force Tuno, led by then detective sergeant Gary Jubelin, laboriously pieced together the grisly puzzle of Falconer’s death and dismemberment provides the storyline for Underbelly: Badness.

Starring Jonathan LaPaglia (from The Slap) as Perish and Matt Nable (from Bikie Wars) as Jubelin, the fifth instalment in the Nine Network’s flagship drama franchise premieres tonight at 8.30 on NBN.

But, as stylishly shot and slickly edited as these shows undoubtedly are, I think it’s time to declare we’re over Underbelly.

Screening in eight parts, Badness comes with a carefully worded disclaimer about certain individuals and events being “obscured” by order of the court. Certainly there are legal risks in Nine and producers Screentime dramatising crimes this recent – the last conviction relating to the investigation was handed down only this year.

The bigger risk is in dressing up the dirty deeds of a criminal that few have even heard of into flashy pulp fiction complete with rock’n’roll soundtrack and gratuitous bare breasts – the Underbelly trademark. And all to sell toilet paper and pizzas.

Make no mistake: while the original series about Melbourne’s gangland murders delved deep into the clash of egos behind a deadly chapter in Australia’s recent criminal history, Badness plays like crime porn for porn’s sake – all posturing with no intellectual purpose beyond glamourising a low-rent crim, lionising the cop who caught him and salivating over the gore.

LaPaglia makes Perish all rock-star swagger and smouldering menace. Expect sexy, fast-edit montages and thumping music as he hoons about in his muscle car. Just don’t hold your breath for Sopranos-like insights into the criminal mind.

Instead, we get a blood-spattered Perish swigging a beer in slow-mo while talking to the strung-up Falconer, a career crim and police informant.

The violence is mostly implied but the impact is strong, reducing a heinous act all too shockingly true to little more than a few minutes of sleazy video-clip gratification.

The new Underbelly continues the franchise’s sad slide into comic-book irrelevance.

Perhaps it's time Nine gave it a rest.

Under the radar

To be the focus of an Underbelly miniseries, a criminal generally has to have some kind of notoriety or public profile.

But Anthony Perish, whose misdeeds are depicted in Underbelly: Badness, the latest instalment of Nine’s true-crime drama franchise, is a different breed.

He’s someone who virtually defines ‘under the radar’.

The mastermind and muscle behind one of Australia’s biggest drug empires, Perish was linked to a number of violent crimes spanning decades.

After one brush with the law, however, he worked meticulously to keep his identity and his existence a secret from the authorities.

‘‘He didn’t have a driver’s licence,’’ said Jonathan LaPaglia, who portrays Perish in the eight-part drama.

‘‘He had no credit cards in his own name. There were no major purchases in his name, no bank accounts.’’

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