A small slice of Underbelly Razor

Dear  Ms Australian Television,

It’s true as I’ve often told my daughter that if you don’t have anything good to say, then zip it. But I’m also a firm believer that a spade should be called a spade and I’ve had forty something years of trying to get along with you. We began our relationship brilliantly with Adventure Island and that was the peak I’m afraid as after that you went downhill.

True, every now and again, you manage to push out a wonderful show such as the recent Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and I have fond memories of the first series of The Secret Life of Us, The Timeless Land, Bryan Brown’s Twisted Tales but for the most part, your shows are crap.

But I’m a trier and I really want to give Australian shows a go. I believe in Australian stories being told which is why I set my current two mystery novels in Australia. But here’s where we part company – as you’re not telling the stories, Ms Australian Television. Underbelly Razor was your latest offering and despite  misgivings you would run true to form, I tried to believe all the notices from the fawning critics about how this was the television event of the century as they did their usual favours for their mates. That’s part of your problem, isn’t it? The Australian television industry is so incestuous it would make Caligula’s family look like the Brady Bunch. Too many favours done to people not deserving. But I’m a fair-minded person and thought I’d give Underbelly Razor half an hour before I turned to DVD copies of Midsomer Murders.

The show began with all the usual QUIRKY touches. We are meant to be in the period covering 1927-1936 but there’s a Mental as Anything song playing. Some people might find that inspired but I find it irritating but I’m not thrown off totally as I’m used to you being QUIRKY. I’m also used to the usual cheap-jack sets. The jazz club scenes resemble American jazz clubs rather than Australian clubs and the dialogue is thin on the ground with the swift editing. It’s really a video clip rather than a narrative experience. This makes it impossible to have any empathy for any character because everyone is a cartoon. And because it’s all so QUIRKY there’s no QUALITY. That’s the trouble with you, Ms Australia TV, you have no subtlety or shades of grey. For some reason you always have to be the shrieking party-goer with your red cheap knickers over your head for no known reason except it’s QUIRKY. 

There’s no patina to this show. It’s all surface gloss.. A couple of body extras stand stiffly topless in a corner but you never have the feeling you’re in a brothel. Have I mentioned the casting? More has been written on this topic on Angela Savage’s blog post with Will the Real Nellic Cameron please take a bath HERE and  Jo Hilder’s post, How to make a TV series about two real middle-aged women without any real-middle-aged women  HERE but as I feared, it’s as deplorable as it usually is. True, both Chelsey Preston Crayford and Danielle Cormack, the lead-actresses  are very pretty and have a great time showing how tough they are with their swearing and sneering but neither convince. I would have loved to have seen those parts go to more experienced actresses who can actually pull off a cockney accent rather than simply look fetching in a cloche hat.

That’s another thing I despise against you Ms Australian TV. Your ageism. We have some brilliant actresses in this country who should be working and seen on screen more often. Pantina is important as well when it comes to people.  There wasn’t a lot of script to comment upon. There was a lot of comic book style graphics for all the really dumb Australians watching at home in case they didn’t get the jokes.You don’t have to patronise us so much, we do get it.

And another pet hate. The story wasn’t revealed to us but told to us through the narration.

Finally, the half-hour was up and we switched it off to pop on Series 7 of Midsomer Murders. A show that uses quirky characters, isn’t afraid to give parts to older women and has subtle shades of grey. It has pantina. soul and doesn’t patronise its audience. It can be silly and ridiculous but somehow you’ll always fall down the rabbit hole of the story which you just don’t do with you, MS Australian TV.

It’s such a shame. I love quirky, I really do. I’ve been called it myself several times and I often write quirky characters but you just are way too QUIRKY. You don’t always have to play the tart with your red knickers over your head. You can also be the wallflower. It’s safe to blend, to have quiet spaces, to be a reflection and a true mirror to society.

The stories are out there on the streets waiting for you but somehow you never seem to tell them. Let the ancestors of this great country whisper them to you. Listen to the earth as it whispers it secrets. Stop worrying so much over telling Australian stories and just let the stories come through.

I’d love to turn you off altogether and immerse myself in a world of Mad Men, Midsomer Murders and Downton Abbey but you see the sad fact remains I don’t want to give up on you, totally. I love my country and the people in it. I want  to hear Australian stories in all mediums but I can’t take what you’ve become Ms Australian TV.  And the talent is out there. It’s tangible in the city streets, pulsating and calling.

My daughter is attending classes at NIDA on the advice of her health therapist and every week I saturate myself in the vibe of hope of that building. But what do these talented young people have to go to when they leave the dream factory and enter your lacklustre embrace you old, tart?

The actors are there. the script-writers are waiting and the glorious stories are everywhere you look. So why aren’t you telling them and why can’t you tell them well?

What do you think? Am I too harsh on the Australian Television Industry? What irks you the most about it? Anyone out there apart from critics who saw merit in this show that I missed totally? And, if you’re not Australian, what’s your take on the shows from your country? I’m interested

all images via here.


13 Responses

  1. angelasavage August 24, 2011 / 12:00 pm

    Josephine, you had me at “began our relationship brilliantly with Adventure Island and that was the peak I’m afraid, as after that you went downhill.”

  2. Josh August 24, 2011 / 1:49 pm

    We do still make some good television, although it seems to be completely absent from the commercial FTA networks. Cloud Street was one of the best pieces of TV I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait for it to come out on disc so I can experience it again. And again!
    Meanwhile, ABC and SBS still produce some good stuff. The recent ABC miniseries about the birth of Cleo, which title eludes me at the moment. SBS have had some outstanding efforts with East West 101 (easily the very best police show I’ve ever seen,) the Circuit and Remote Area Nurse. Shows that you really look forward to seeing the next episode.
    ABC again with comedy, we’ve had some great shows, and some of the part comedy, part current affairs shows like Gruen Transfer.
    It’s still out there. There’s not much of it, for which I’m reasonably greatful; I hate being tied to the TV! 😀
    But, by all the gods, there’s a lot of crap, alright. I don’t know if having all these extra stations – including pay TV – is really a good thing. It seems to be impossible to produce enough decent television for 5 channels, let alone 100!

  3. hexebart August 24, 2011 / 8:01 pm

    I find Australian TV way too self-conscious and way too enamoured of its own conceits. I gave up on it long ago: around the time they introduced those 20 to 1 shows. I’m embarrassed by it.

  4. Katherine Howell August 24, 2011 / 10:19 pm

    Josephine, so true! I was intrigued enough by the ads to watch the first ten minutes but that was enough – it was clear the show was going to be, as you put it so well, ‘the shrieking party-goer with your red cheap knickers over your head for no known reason’.

    And then last night I saw an ad for RUSH, and one line of dialogue had me almost wetting my pants laughing: ‘He looks like trouble. We like a bit of trouble around here.’ Who comes up with this stuff??

    Again, great post.


  5. Jo Hilder August 25, 2011 / 3:15 am

    Here, here! But then you already knew I felt that way. 🙂

  6. jen storer August 25, 2011 / 3:33 am

    Ah TP! I’m sorry to be racing between things so I don’t have time to give you a considered reply however I must say my response to the trailers for UB Razor was ‘no thanks’. Great post, i shall read it again when I have more time to ‘chew’. jxx BTW Does anyone remember Certain Women???

  7. josephinetalepeddler August 25, 2011 / 10:15 am

    Thank you all for your comments. It’s good to see some of my writing friends share the same frustration. Angela, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over Adventure Island. When I hear the music on YouTube I get very teary. Josh, Cloud Street gave me chills. I would also love to see it again. It was so gutsy, poetic, original and wonderful. I think Paper Giants is the show you’re referring to? I didn’t watch that one but I know it was popular. The small bit I saw of it didn’t grab me but I do think the actress that played Ita is amazing. She was also really strong in The Secret Life of Us. Pay TV is awful too but we pay for it because I can’t abide the adds on commercial TV. I couldn’t believe the pop-up windows on Channel Nine when I was trying to watch Underbelly Razor. Hexebart and Katherine, would love to see either of your books made into shows. Look forward to seeing you both soon. Jo, thanks for your comment and yes, we are in accordance. What a missed opportunity. I also think my old favourite, Essie Davis who played Dolly in Cloud Street would have been perfect but she probably wouldn’t be interested in that show. Jen, you have stumped me. I don’t think I do remember ‘Certain Women’ but I’m going to Google it now.It sounds sort of familiar. Have just bought another copy of your lovely book for a little girl tonight. xx

  8. josephinetalepeddler August 25, 2011 / 10:19 am

    Jen, just checked out Certain Women and I do not remember it. Back then there was better roles for older women. We seem to have gone backwards. xx

  9. gondalgirl August 25, 2011 / 10:27 am

    well, here goes – I thought Underbelly: Razor was after the first 10 minutes, really very engaging. Yes the actresses are pretty and I agree with your comment about ageism, but I think that is a fact of T.V and translating the beauty of the 20’s to a modern audience. Also it comes to mind how rare it is to have two Australian woman as leads in a TV show that are more than the sassy sidekick. I think also the initial narration was just setting the scene, letting the audience unaware of Sydney’s past, a window in, lulling us with a fairy tale set up before it twisted to a darker side. It is so hard for Australian content to even make it to the screens, sometimes I think concessions are made, however I thought with Underbelly: Razor there was a lot of accuracy, the costumes, the places, inspiration taken from The City of Shadows book. Yes, it is not perfect, but I couldn’t help but be captivated that we are telling stories about our past to ourselves without a kangaroo in sight.

  10. Desiree September 3, 2011 / 6:17 am

    Oh what a fabulous post. I gave up on television two years ago – yes there’s one stuck in the corner, but it’s not hooked up to anything but a dvd player. I’m in control of what I watch and prefer to watch series’ on the trot and ad-free. Suck on that Ms Aus. TV!! I think I gave up when I realised that Ms Aus TV was never going to take me seriously and would continue to treat me like the under-stimulated gimp that I am not!

  11. Vicki Archer September 4, 2011 / 4:34 pm

    I can’t say I miss Aussie TV….then I don’t watch much TV, I always prefer a film….Great post Josephine….xv

  12. josephinetalepeddler September 5, 2011 / 2:34 am

    Hello Gondalgirl, thanks for your comment. It’s funny how we can all view things so differently as I couldn’t see any resemblance myself to City of Shadows. I think my main objection to the actresses was more that they weren’t suited to the roles rather than the way they looked. I just couldn’t cope with the blonde’s accent. But you’re not alone in liking it as I know a lot did. I’m just hoping that the Kerry Greenwood series they’re filming will be a lot better.
    Desiree, I’ve often thought we should do the same thing. I can’t watch commercial television at all. I hate adds and the pop-up things they flash which just drag you out of the story. We have Foxtel but it’s pretty pants so thinking of scrapping it altogether. (Don’t tell my daughter that one!)
    Vicki, I can’t imagine you being a big fan of TV or Underbelly Razor. Whenever you’re feeling homesick, maybe pop on some Australian TV show and you’ll be tempted to remain in France. xx

  13. pinry September 7, 2011 / 2:32 am

    oh adventure island! i never missed an episode. i was also rather partial to mr squiggle. i do struggle to think of recent australian tv that i liked. i don’t get to watch much at the moment anyway, and prefer to watch movies. a shame about underbelly, i heard the author of the book the current series is based on on radio, and it sounds like a remarkable story. don’t let them get hold of your stories until thet lift their game!! jxx

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