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Underbelly is an Australian drama revolving around the Melbourne and Sydney criminal underworld. The series (which consists of three separate series), is based upon the novel "Leadbelly: Inside Australia's Underworld", written by John Silvester and Andrew Rule, reportes for the newspaper The Age.
The series consists of three distinct shows. The first season, simply titled Underbelly, aired in 2008. It portrayed the downfall of Alphonse Gangitano and the rise of Jason Moran and Carl Williams. When the Morans go into drug trafficking, Carl teams up with Tony Mokbel and begins using the Morans gear to produce and sell his own product. He is caught, beaten and shot, leaving him with a desire to tear apart the Carlton Crew, a desire that resulted in a gang war that left over twenty people dead.
The second season, Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, goes back in time to the late 1970s and the 1980s, as ambitious drug dealer Terry Clark teams up with Bob Trimbole to traffic in heroin from Asia. While the series is anchored by that storyline, other storylines play out. These include the Great Bookie Robbery (committed by career criminal Ray Chuck) and Ray Chuck's war with the Kane Brothers, which left one of the Kane siblings dead and Ray Chuck killed by the surviving Kane sibling, in a daring public execution committed inside a court house. Also featuring are the rise (and fall) of would-be assassin for hire Chris Flannery, the attempt on the life of casino kingpin George Freeman, and the increasingly unchecked corruption of the New South Wales police.
The third season, Underbelly: The Golden Mile, is a direct sequel to A Tale of Two Cities and details George Freeman grooming his successor, John Ibrahim, and Ibrahim's ascension as kingpin of a stretch of land in King's Cross, Sydney, known as "The Golden Mile". Also, it covers the 1995 Wood Royal Commission, where a young corrupt police detective named Trevor Haken testifies against his fellow dirty cops after being caught red handed.
During the show's first season, the series was banned in Victoria by Judge Betty King. At the time, several people portrayed in the work were the subjects of ongoing trials for the crimes depicted in the series, and so the ban was instated to prevent the work from influencing the trials' jurors. Despite - or rather, because of - this, the ban was widely discussed by the Australian media, sparking greater interest in the show, and bootleg copies of the series were quite popular, with people even ringing into radio shows saying how they purchased them from construction yards, and the radio hosts saying where they got their copies from.
Following The Golden Mile, the producers stated that they will be doing a series of direct-to-television movies in order to focus on one-off events, instead of doing a full fourth season; these telemovies were placed under the umbrella title of Underbelly Files. Then they announced a fourth season anyway. Underbelly: Razor will be dedicated to the origins of Australian organised crime in the 1920s.
For its US release, Direct TV's 101 Channel skipped the first Underbelly season, opting to instead air A Tale of Two Cities. As of October 2010, "The Golden Mile" has begun airing on the network. Meanwhile, the Starz Network has acquired the US remake rights to the series, which (if it goes into production) will focus on all-new stories involving American gangs and criminals. A New Zealand spinoff is also in production; Underbelly: Land of the Long Green Cloud is intended to be something of a prequel to A Tale of Two Cities showing the origins of the Mr. Asia syndicate in the 1960s.
Underbelly provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: Parts of the story of what really happened were changed and rewritten, noteably the Morans beating up and shooting Carl over the police closing down their drug operations and discovering he was manufacturing drugs on the side; as opposed to Carl moving in on a friend's girl, playing on Carl's suspicions of an affair with Roberta and Benji and portraying them together, and Roberta's filthy mouth and acts.
- Ascended Extra: Trevor Haken, played by Dieter Brummer; originally just a background extra, he is given a major role in "The Golden Mile"
- Ax Crazy: Chris Flannery, full stop.
- Banned in Victoria: The first season was banned in Victoria by way of a court order, as the trials of several people involved in the events depicted were underway at the time and there was an interest in preventing the jury being influenced and prejudiced by watching the show. with Judge King going so far as to enjoy the attention for banning any media story based around the gangland killings. However, freak weather conditions in Tasmania sent the signal for episode 5 to parts of Victoria. Additionally, the ban was publicised quite a bit by media outlets, sparking even more interest in the show.
- Break the Cutie: Debbie Webb, who is tormented and (for a while) driven to alcoholism due to the way that she is shunned by her fellow cops when she attempts to stand up to the corruption of her fellow NSW detectives.
- Kim Hollingsworth, full-stop. Abusive boyfriend, cheating boyfriend, abandons being a hooker to make something of her life as a cop, only to be blackmailed over her past, agrees to help the Royal Commission take down the crocked cops who are blackmailing her, only to be kicked out of the police academy (because she didn't tell them about her past when she applied) only to be hung out to dry by the Royal Commission, who reneg on their offer to help get her back into the academy in exchange for helping them.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Kat Stewart's portrayal of Roberta Williams, going against how the real Roberta claims to have been.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mick Gatto is hinted at this, and loan shark and underworld lawyer Mario Condello certainly fits this mold. Simon Westerway, who played Gatto, would rather not speculate whether or not he is a criminal. A Tale of Two Cities gives us George Freeman, high flying racing identity and owner of illegal casinos.
- Crapsack World: The show presents a dark world where the local police are highly corrupt, to the point that the few honest cops are portrayed as impotent at best and at worst, routinely punished or outright stymied when they attempt to confront the corruption head on.
- Deadpan Snarker: Jacqui James, the narrator and one of the Purana detectives in the first series, is this both in character and in her monologues.
Danny Chad had just bought a lovely piece of whiting for his mum. Guess she'd have to settle for fish fingers that night. On his execution outside a fish 'n chips shop.
- Decoy Protagonist: The Golden Mile is built upon it. While the series was promoted around the rise of John Ibrahim, the main protagonists are a motley crew of police officers in the New South Wales police force who get caught up in the 1995 Wood Royal Commission and Kim Hollingsworth, a Hooker with a Heart of Gold.
- Well, Ibrahim is still the protagonist, he's just a Villain Protagonist.
- Dirty Cop: The New South Wales police in season two and three.
- Downer Ending: Underbelly II: Trimbole dies before he can be arrested, the people smuggling the heroin into Australia get short sentences, George Freeman is untouched, and the NSW Police have filled the void left by Trimbole's arrest and gotten away with everything.
- Don't forget The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Brotherhood or Earning a Crust. The former two are about the only episodes to end without a comment from Jaqui.
- --> Benji had killed his best mate, Richard Maladnich is dead, Steve delevers a crime scene photo to his mother on request, and later can only go for his morning run because he has no answers.
- --> The second season The Brotherhood had a lawyer who was thought to be working for the police go on a downward spiral of self destruction, alienating everyone from his wife to accociates as he waits for the currupt police and lawyers he works with to kill him. Which they do, after begging to be shot and killed clean they tie him to a stove and toss him off a boat, before laughing at his demise and pleas for mercy.
- --> Finally, Earning a Crust had a kid who was friends with Roberta refuse an offer for money and instead borrow from Mario Condello. After an accident leaves him unable to work and repay Mario takes everything he and his grandmother owned, before seeing another associate who was done over by Mario's lacky. He, Graham and Lewis take his Rolls Royces when he cannot pay, laughing, as it is revealed the kid had hung himself.
- I Still Pray revolves around Tracey Seymour trying to decide whether or not to testify against her husband, who not only murdered an innocent man but supplied the Morans with a pill press. After Jacqui convinces her to testify against her husband, the two are forced to flee their home and go into witness protection when the biker gang her husband is a part of come looking for her for revenge. The husband is convicted, but Tracey turns down the offer that the police give her regarding giving her a new identity and home in order to further protect her from reprisals, in order to stay close to her relatives. The bikers hunt her down and kill her in her sleep (the fate of her son is left ambiguous, but he was last seen sleeping in the same bed as his mother when she is killed) as "I Still Pray" plays. The last scene of the episode, has Jacqui (revealed to be pregnant) mourning Tracey's death and the failure to protect her; in death, Tracey's courage to testify against the forces of evil will be forgotten and instead, she will be remembered as yet another cautionary tale for the terrified masses, who will stay quiet and refuse to stand up to criminals, lest they end up like Tracey.
- Driven to Suicide: Jim Eagan
- Fate Worse Than Death: Played with in regards to the Royal Wood Commission; a corrupt high ranking police officer describes being made to be the first person to testify before the Commission as such a thing, in terms of the fact that whoever goes first will usually end up the scapegoat in terms of being charged with perjury, due to the fact that everyone called before the Commission after the first witness will be asked specific questions designed to refute the testimony of the first guy called.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Deconstructed with Dennis Kelly; a corrupt police detective who rises to the status of being leader of his clique of dirty cop friends. His true start of darkness begins with him organizing the sadistic drowning of a corrupt lawyer who can implicate him and his friends as being in bed with the local drug and crime bosses, as well as his suggestion of the idea that the corrupt elements of the New South Wales police department should kill off all of the major drug dealers in the area so that they and they alone can determine who sells drugs in the area (and to ensure greater profits for themselves). Then things get worse, as Kelly decides street power isn't enough. Kelly begins the process of climbing the ladder of rank, being steadily promoted in rank within the NSW police department and manages to stay several steps ahead of his enemies by painting himself as something of a reformer, culminating in him hitching a ride upon Debbie Webb atttempt to expose corruption within the NSW police. Kelly ultimately gets within grabbing distance of being made head of the ENTIRE New South Wales police department, until his rival in the quest for his promotion discovers just enough evidence regarding Kelly's corruption to not only cost him the promotion but get his superiors to force Kelly into early retirement (with full pension granted).
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Underbelly was a who's who of top Australian actors: Vince Colosimo, Gerard Kennedy, Frankie J Holden, Caroline Craig, Damian Walsh-Howling, John Wood, Roy Billing, Peter Phelps...
- Huskie Ruskie: Nik
"The Boulgurian""The Russian" Radev.
- Informed Ability: Rigger Graham Kinniburgh was Australia's greatest safe cracker, leader of the infamous magnetic drill gang, but apart from Gangitano singing his praises this never comes up again.
- Karma Houdini: Mick Gatto.
- Le Parkour: The Running Man and Steve Owen are portrayed as practioners of free running, with the latter catching the former this way. The real life Victor Brincat used to run a kilometer each way to rob a bank, and was how he killed Jason.
- Moustache Of Failed Heterosexuality: Trevor Haken has one during "A Tale of Two Cities", which had the character as a rookie detective. The actor loses the mustache during "The Golden Mile", which had him as a central character.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Andrew "Benji" Veniamin thinks this after thinking his best mate Dino Dibra had betrayed his boss (Gatto) and the hitman executed him.
- Power Walk: The first season provides two good examples, with Mark and Jason confronting Carl in Cocksure, then the season finale done by Task Force Purana. All of Task Force Purana.
- Psycho for Hire: Chris Flannerly again. Benji comes across this way when he emptied round after round into his best friend, but he isn't Ax Crazy.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: During the many murders in Season two, the murder victims seems to be incredibly gullible. This is not the case however, they are just easily fooled because of positive outcome bias.
- Retcon: The kid who borrowed money from Condello and lost everything to the loan shark before committing suicide? Didn't happen, this was based on a similar fate of one of Condello's victims.
- No, Roberta and Andrew did not have an affair, despite Carl's suspeions. No, Jason did not shoot Carl because he was selling his own drugs, that came later. Justified in writing around the court proceedings.
- Took a Level In Badass: Kim Hollingsworth, who goes from naive girl being terrorized by her cat-killing ex to super-confident woman who stood up to men who sought to exploit her.
- Villain Protagonist: Being that the series is based around biographies of important figures in organised crime, this is pretty much the point. That said, it's not to the extent that the cops are ever Hero Antagonists.
- Villainous Breakdown: Allison, after corrupt cop Jack Smith threatens to make her the scapegoat for the Mr Asia syndicate and the subsequent disgrace her family would endure if her crimes were made public.
- Corrupt cop Jim Eagan has one, when he's betrayed by his best friend Dennis Kelly, culminating in him killing himself.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Despite their arguments Benji and Lewis Caine were good mates, to the point where Caine really wanted revenge on Gatto for Benji's death.