Channel Nine must be spewing. Nationally, the top rating program last week was National Nine News, Sunday with 1.60 million viewers; Underbelly was fourteenth with 1.30 million. In Melbourne the top rating program was NNNS with 505,000 viewers; Desperate Housewives was twentieth with 367,000 viewers. It's reasonable to assume UB would rate its obligatory dark sunglasses off in Melbourne - certainly it would rate better than DH, which has been groaning for a visit from Philip Nitschke since the end of season 1 - which means UB would be the best rating show in the country.
Not only that, Nine are unlikely to pick up major ground when UB is eventually released here. Doubtless Blue Murder would have done better had it been released in Sydney in 1995 than it did when it was belatedly released around 2000. What's more, back in those prehistoric days before Big Internet, BM wouldn't have had to contend with what UB has to contend with now, even though lots of Sydneysiders would have seen tapes of the show. Every petrol station you go into, the bloke behind the jump makes surreptitious eye contact and whispers "Moit, you wanna watch some Underbelly?" Pretty sure that phenomenon is not contained to just petrol stations, although they seem to be the major outlet for choice contraband. And there are countless stories of people getting DVDs sent from interstate and downloading off their local internet. By the time UB finally screens in Melbourne, most everyone will have seen it, AND been able to zip through the countless ads. No wonder Nine are stopping out all the pulls to squash, or even quash, "illegal" distribution.
(What is it with NNNS? Ever since I have been back in Melbourne (1988) it has rated at or near No.1. Why? Are people, exhausted after a long hard Sunday, desperate for a restorative fix of the hot topic du jour? Baby meerkats at the zoo, for instance. I have seen a bit of NNNS, but it's certainly nowhere near the top of my "must watch" list. What makes the Sunday night News such a hot rating success?)
What about UB itself? Well, having seen the first two episodes I'm perfectly placed to critique the whole series.
It goes alright.
Naturally, the comparisons with BM don't stop at distribution. Organised crime: tick. Local faces: tick. Local news: tick. But you knew all that.
A glaring on-screen comparison is the colour. While BM on ABC was toned down grey-beige, UB on Nine is often filmed at night under gaudy lighting with lots of blues and reds.
I already mentioned the ads: BM had none, UB doesn't have none.
Performance wise? Vince Colosimo's Alphonse Gangitano vs. Gary Sweet's Chris Flannery. Boynton says it's hard to play the psycho, and she would know, being well versed in matters acty. By extension, though, if it's harder to play the psycho, it's harder to get it right. Both Colosimo and Sweet were lauded for their performances, but I reckon Vince does a better job. He looked like a nutter, Sweet looked like he was acting a nutter. Maybe it's a wog thing. I know more skips, so maybe it's harder for a skip to convince me they are psycho. Or maybe it's because Gary Sweet once pinched me in a footy match against Port Colts. Not that I hold grudges.
The best part was Gyton Grantley as Carl Williams. Notorious Big is right: "I'm still laffing at the choice of Carl Williams. Absolutely superb casting and makeup (not sure about the acting - surely he wasn't that thick?)." Judy Moran said he was a moron and the Williams in UB is very moron, and very funny.
Another comparison is the big fight scene. The pub brawl in BM was wonderfully put together, tightly cut and very in your face. You felt like you were in the bar. The pub brawl in UB was more like a rock fillum clip. To be perfectly francis, it was such a fighty blur they may as well have shown Gangitano and Jason Moran strolling into the Sports Bar, cut to them strolling out, then shown a footpath full of bloodied punters.
The cops in UB haven't yet been fleshed out, and there was one flagrantly expositional scene: "Why can't we just arrest them... that's right! They haven't committed any crime." You'd like to think there was more to the cops than what's been shown so far.
Still, the first two episodes of UB were good, but given the commercial intrusions I am prepared to wait until I can see the whole thing on DVD.