Underbelly is an Australian drama revolving around the Melbourne and Sydney criminal underworld. Each series looks at a distinct historical period and is based upon the novel "Leadbelly: Inside Australia's Underworld", written by John Silvester and Andrew Rule, reporters for the newspaper The Age.
Season 1: With the simple title Underbelly, aired in 2008, and involved the portrayal of the so called "Melbourne Gangland Killings" between 1995 and 2004. It portrayed the downfall of Alphonse Gangitano (Vince Colosimo) and the rise of Jason Moran (Les Hill) and Carl Williams (Gyton Grantley), and the gang war that killed 36 members of the Melbourne underworld.
Season 2: Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities was set between 1976 and 1987, as ambitious drug dealer Terry Clark (Matthew Newton) teams up with Bob Trimbole (Roy Billing) to traffic in heroin from Asia as well as subplots regarding "The Great Bookie Robbery", Ray Chuck's (Nathan Page) war with the Kane Brothers, the rise and fall of would-be assassin for hire Chris Flannery (Dustin Clare), the attempt on the life of casino kingpin George Freeman (Peter O'Brien), and the increasingly unchecked corruption of the New South Wales police.
Season 3: Underbelly: The Golden Mile, is a direct sequel to A Tale of Two Cities (set between 1997 and 1986), and details George Freeman grooming his successor, John Ibrahim (Firass Dirani), 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 (Dieter Brummer) testifies against his fellow dirty cops after being caught red handed.
Season 4: Underbelly: Razor which was about the origins of Australian organised crime between 1927 and 1936, led by the Razor Gangs of Sydney. The series focuses on the rivalry between two vice queens, Kate Leigh (Danielle Cormack) and Tillie Devine (Chelsie Preston Crayford).
Season 5: Underbelly: Badness, was set in The Noughties and following the career of underworld figure Anthony Perish (Jonathan LaPaglia), and the police Strike Force Tuno which formed to stop him, led by Detective Sergeant Gary Jubelin (Matt Nable).
Season 6: Underbelly: Squizzy focused on Squizzy Taylor (Jared Daperis) in The Roaring '20s. It was set in the same time frame as Razor but was about the criminal scene in Melbourne.
Beginning in 2011, the series has included several one-off TV movies called The Underbelly Files. Tell Them Lucifer Was Here focuses on the Silk-Miller murders in 1998. Infiltration tells the story of undercover cop Colin McLaren (Sullivan Stapleton). The Man Who Got Away focuses on David McMillan (Toby Schmitz) and his escape from Bangkok's Klong Prem prison. In 2018, the two-part miniseries Underbelly Files: Chopper tells the story of Mark Chopper Read (Aaron Jeffery, replacing Renato Fabretti from A Tale of Two Cities).
The series has also spawned a few spin-offs which, while not carrying the Underbelly brand, featured actors from the original series reprising their roles. The 2013 series Fat Tony & Co which was an offshoot of the first season and focused on the rise and fall of drug kingpin Tony Mokbel (Robert Mammone reprising his role), Carl Williams' (Grantley again) alliance and murder, and events such as the Auskick murders covered in the 2008 series being addressed. Informer 3838 tells the story of Nicola Gobbo (Ella Scott Lynch), a criminal lawyer to Williams and Mokbel turned informant.
In April 2022, the series returned after a nine-year hiatus with the two-part miniseries Underbelly: Vanishing Act. It tells the story of white-collar criminal Melissa Caddick (Kate Atkinson), who defrauded $20 million dollars from her victims before vanishing without a trace in November 2020 - until her severed foot (complete with running shoe) washed up on a South Coast beach, causing her to be declared presumed dead in early 2021.
For its US release, Direct TV's Audience Network aired the first three seasons in chronological order, starting with A Tale of Two Cities, then "The Golden Mile", the first season retitled "Underbelly: War On the Streets", then the made for TV movies.
Meanwhile, the Starz Network has acquired the US remake rights to the series, which (if it ever goes into production) will focus on all-new stories involving American gangs and criminals. A New Zealand spinoff has also been produced: Underbelly NZ: 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, notably 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.
- Artistic License – History:
- 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 suspicions. No, Jason did not shoot Carl because he was selling his own drugs, that came later. Other modified facts was the gun used to kill Gangitano being thrown out in a McDonald's bag was portrayed as the gun Gangitano used to kill reg Workman, Mark Moran threatening witnesses testifying against his brother Jason (not to say he didn't but the Nomads biker gang who did do this were not shown) and the show had Carl racing to a bottle shop to be seen just after shooting Mark, which was based on Graham doing the same thing after Gangitano's murder. Justified in writing around the court proceedings.
- Call-Forward: At Carl's baby christening/coronation as king of the underworld. Alone With You remade by Dragon and Jenny Morris plays. In the movie Infiltration the detectives settle their nerves by singing along to the original.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Kat Stewart's portrayal of Roberta Williams, going against how the real Roberta claims to have been.
- Composite Character: Most of the cop protagonists in the early series were composites of actual Purana detectives.
- 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.
- 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.
- Deconstructed Trope: Owen plays Cowboy Cop in his efforts to bring down Carl which not only endangers the investigation and causes grief with his boss but has Carl target him. It's Jacqui working on his imprisoned associates that lead them to make a deal to give evidence.
- Downer Ending:
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,: Benji had killed his best mate, Richard Maladnich is dead, Steve delivers a crime scene photo to his mother on request, and later can only go for his morning run because he has no answers.
- 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 lackey. 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.
- Drives Like Crazy: Narrator/Task Force Purana detective Jaquei James reveals to be this to help Steve Owen establish that Carl was able to kill Jason and establish an alibi.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Oh yes: Alphonse to Mario and Graham, Mark and brother Jason to their children mother and father, Richard Maladnich to his mother, Dino to Andrew, Willie to Tony, Michael to his son, the Runner and Driver to their mothers, Graham to Mick, Andrew to Carl Roberta and Caine, Caine to Zara Andrew and Carl, in fact about the soul exception is Radev who's only mourned by his dentist.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Runner and The Driver question Carl's orders to kill Jason in front of his kids. To a lesser extent Benji who is presented as Lighter and Softer to how he really was in regards to Victor Brincatt. Played for Laughs when Flannerly is portrayed as a monster yet says how opposed he is to the Australian Cricket Team cheating by bowling underarm to win a match.
- 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.
- Must Have Nicotine: George Freeman smoked liked lung cancer was how he wanted to go in the gangland war, and was in fact the cause of his death.
- 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.
- Psycho for Hire: Benji comes across this way when he emptied round after round into his best friend, but he isn't Ax-Crazy. The Journeyman, aka The Maggot, who cannot be named because of ongoing court hearings, wanted to be the last man standing on a mountain of ashes and would go to all and sundry offering to kill members of the rival gangs.
- Swat Team: Used by the main character detectives to essentially kidnap suspects, such as Jason Moran for the Kings Street brawl. Steve Owen is called out for using them to rough up a suspect after he made threats.
- Take Me Out at the Ball Game: The execution of Jason Moran at a children's footy game that shocked Australia if not the world is covered in detail in the ninth episode Suffer the Children (Jason being murdered in front of his children) where Carl orders, plans and has his associates carry out the hit after previous failed attempts.
- Team Power Walk: The first season provides two examples, with Mark and Jason confronting Carl in Cocksure, then the season finale done by Task Force Purana. All of Task Force Purana.
- 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.
- 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.
Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities provides examples of:
- Ax-Crazy: Chris Flannery, full stop. He even succeeds in spooking Aussie Bob with a ladle, of all things.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: George Freeman, high flying racing identity and owner of illegal casinos
- Dirty Cop: The New South Wales police in season two and three.
- Distant Finale: While it's paced like a normal episode, the finale actually takes place over 5 years.
- Downer Ending:
- 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.
- An earlier episode, 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.
- Mood Whiplash: Episode 9 looks like it's about to end with a beautiful montage of peace and tranquility, showing Bob reconciling with his daughter and mistress, Alison starting a new life in Florida, and Terry making love to Karen. Then all of a sudden, a gunshot rings out, and the episode cuts to Andy Maher having a nervous breakdown during the gruesome, botched murder of Marty Johnstone.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Initially looks like this is the reaction of the dirty cops when they kill Brian Alexander but then averted when one of them cracks a joke about the deceased and they all agree to have a beer.
- Psycho for Hire: Christopher Dale Flannery again. Fred is seen as one, at best he is quirky enough to bring his sick poodle to a meet rather than leave her at home, but semi professional in that he refunds the advance when he's injured and cannot kill Ray Chuck.
- 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.
- 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.
- Andy Maher murders 'Mr. Asia' Martin Johnstone with a gunshot to the head. When Marty's body continues spasming and gurgling, Andy has a guilt-driven, panic-stricken meltdown and desperately stabs the body, pleading and crying for it to shut up.
Underbelly: The Golden Mile provides examples of:
- Ascended Extra: Trevor Haken, played by Dieter Brummer; originally just a background extra, he is given a major role in "The Golden Mile"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Took A Level In Bad Ass: 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.
- Villainous Breakdown: Corrupt cop Jim Egan has one, when he's betrayed by his best friend Dennis Kelly, culminating in him killing himself.
- Villain Protagonist: Subverted with Teflon John, in that he is seen as involved in the drug trade and fending off rival gangs, but in actuality had done little wrong, his biggest black mark being mentored by George Freeman. Honorable in risking prison rather than reveal a romance with a cop, quick to jump into the fray to protect night clubs, and perhaps the one man in the Cross where the term legitimate businessman is not tongue in cheek for he built his empire legally.
Underbelly: Razor provides examples of:
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: While Kate Leigh might not be above cheating on her partner with a handsome young man, when her partner's shot and near death, she's sick with worry. And when that young man is badly carved up in a fight with Tilly Devine's men, she weeps in her jail cell at the news.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Kate Leigh may be The Don of one of the two biggest crime syndicates in Sydney, but when she finds out that her new son-in-law has a habit of sexually molesting young boys, she makes sure he's gone.
- Karma Houdini: Frank "the Little Gunman" Green.
- Evil Versus Evil: The series focus on the rivalry between two gang leaders, Kate Leigh vs Tilly Devine.
- My God, What Have I Done?: When Kate Leigh shoots one of Tilly Devine's men who's forced his way into her house and was threatening her at gunpoint, she's clearly horrified at what she had to do.
- The Roaring '20s/The Great Depression: 1927 to 1936, specifically.
Underbelly: Badness provides examples of:
- The Determinator: Gary Jubelin refuses to give up on solving the murder of Terry Falconer and catching Perish.
- How We Got Here: The season opens in 2009 on Jubelin finally interviewing Perish, before cutting back to before 2001 and the lead-up to Terry Falconer's murder.
- Off the Grid: Anthony Perish is the leader of a multi-state drug empire, with multiple drug labs, cars and a helicopter, but hasn't been in any government or private sector databases in decades, since he is on the run from a minor drugs charge.
- Title Drop: When Snr. Constable Alavoine talks about Anthony Perish's complete lack of a paper trail, she says that, "Only someone with serious badness to hide would go to this much effort to cover their tracks."
Underbelly: Squizzy provides examples of:
- The Roaring '20s: 1915 to 1927.
Tell Them Lucifer Was Here provides examples of:
- Cop Killer: Focuses on the murders of Gary Silk and Rodney Miller, who were killed during a stakeout on a possible armed robbery target.
- Cowboy Cop: Deconstructed. Despite explicitly spelling out their involvement in other crimes Task Force Hamada cannot move in on the pair involved in the Silk/Miller murders out of fear that there is not enough evidence. Despite Debs and his nephew basically saying they did it and are caught trying to hide evidence they don't want another bungled investigation. The police eventually move in anyway after threats are made, hoping that the raids will uncover evidence.
- SWAT Team: As in the original series, these are used to essentially kidnap one of the suspected shooters, as well as planting listening devices and a raid on a suspect in the Victoria police murders
Fat Tony and Co. provides examples of:
- Retcon: This spin-off retcons a whole laundry list of things from the original series, which potentially weren't even factual in the first place:
- Danielle is a major drug producer with her own pill press, compared to the arm-candy hairdresser she is in Underbelly.
- The Morans' pill-press now suddenly belongs to Danielle, despite Underbelly going to great lengths to show how Jason and Mark actually negotiated and purchased it from a Biker gang.
- Alphonse is murdered simply because he slept with The Munster's daughter-in-law and no other reason. In Underbelly it's a slowly boiling cauldron of many faults and fuckups that lead to his demise.
- Even the characters Took a Level in Jerkass; Lewis Moran and The Munster, who were the wise old voices of reason to the Carlton Crew in the first show, suddenly gain much nastier, more aggressive personalities in Fat Tony & Co.
- The previously fictional Purana coppers in Underbelly - Steve Owen, Jacqui James and Gary Butterworth - are retconned out of existence, and replaced by the actual real-life Purana coppers Jim Coghlan and Jim O'Brien, along with AFP agent Jarrod Ragg.