Aussie Bob Trimbole (Roy Billing, L.) and George Freeman (Peter O’Brien).
The other day I was lamenting to my wife about how Underbelly: The Golden Mile does not compare favorably to Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities. After all, Underbelly: ATO2C featured Aussie Bob (Roy Billing) and Kiwi Terry (Matthew Newton), two superb characters who controlled Australia’s cannabis and heroin trades, and whose stories were nonfiction gold. The actors weren’t too bad either. Roy Billing, as Aussie Bob Trimbole had a distinctive every man quality, for a ruthless cannabis farmer/degenerate gambler/mob associate, that is, and rattled off some priceless one liners to boot. Matthew Newton as Terry Clark, a.k.a. Mr. Asia, was charming at times, such as when the ladies were around, but was mostly stone cold, as he needed to be in order to devise Australia’s first China White Heroin op, and to do the initial smuggling himself. The fairly well done and very captivating ATO2C, when it wasn’t featuring Terry Clark or Bob Trimbole, focused on the dashing white haired gambling over Lord, George Freeman–a lot like Terry Clark in that he was underground royalty, charming as fuck, and stone cold when the need arose. Peter O’Brien, who played George Freeman reprised the role in TGM, picking up, once again as the big boss in the King’s Cross section of Sydney, where all the whorehouses, illegal gambling parlors, nightclubs, and drug dealers were located.
TGM picked up with King’s Cross already an established enclave where the dregs all congregated, but ATO2C left off with Freeman as lord of the dregs from the race track he owned, which seemed to be in a much less urban, more remote location. Since there’s only a one year gap between these two Underbelly series in real time, we feel as though we missed something. In TGM, Freeman lives in a smaller house compared to the sprawling mansion that used to to boast elite security and armed henchmen, and no longer does. What we really miss is the whole of the Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities. The show was written better, acted better, and had a higher production value.
But at least the new Underbelly was a stab at realism, was in the genre of our preference, and still featured one of the big 3: George Freeman. Perhaps the speech Freeman gives to young boss in the making John Ibrahim (Firass Dirani) in s3, e1, about making sure that everyone up and down the line, from cops to muscle, was paid handsomely, was meant to subtly explain Freeman’s lack of a true security detail, for a guy who ran a major city’s underground. And Freeman wasn’t dispensing the ass kickings anymore, as he had done personally to Terry Clark in s2, e1, when he believed that Terry was a drug dealer in need of a who’s who lesson in the tough guy game.
I understand that in the latest Underbelly series the cops play as big a part, or even bigger, than the “crims.” The corruption reigned perhaps even more brazenly “in the cross” than in ATO2C , and to protect the good “drink” they were all getting , they themselves were probably Freeman’s best and most fearsome muscle. At least for the time being, they rest above the law.
I get it. The Green Mile…money. Gotcha. But I also think the bottom line consciousness extended to producers and Australia’s Nine Network, who slapped together a poorly done Underbelly, the worst so far, which is miscast, and follows extremely boring characters, failing to capitalize on what it had going for it: established characters who helped make ATO2C so great. Like George Freeman. Freeman is barely a feature character, while we are forced to sit through what seems like every undramatic turn in the life of Kim Hollingsworth (Emma Booth), the good girl turned prostitute, and soon to be vice cop. Kim and her sister and her friend selling their bodies? A video montage could have told the tale and saved us time for the few heavyweight characters who aren’t featured nearly enough. Will it be a bitter irony that Kim becomes dirtier as a cop in the cross than she was as a hooker, or if the former prostitute goes on to clean up the cross. Perhaps. But her character lacks the presence to pull either off in a compelling way.
Billy Bayeh (Hazem Shammas), the coke dealing degenerate gambler making his fortune with the aid of police protection? After the stories of titanic drug traffickers like Aussie Bob and Mr. Asia, so dramatically played out, Bayeh, completely devoid of charisma, and his storyline, do not measure up. Only a handful of scenes this season have captivated us the way that all of Matthew newton’s and Roy Billing’s scenes did last season. One of those rare scenes in TGM features a conversation with Ibrahim, who may be the only new character of interest this season, despite Dirani’s poor acting, and George Freeman of course, as he sits by the younger man’s bedside after Ibrahim is stabbed defended one of George’s men in a brawl in the cross. Freeman, impressed by the younger man, delivers him some advice while huffing on a bronchial dilator. The older Freeman tells Ibrahim that he is too small to tbe the toughest and that there will always be someone stronger, but that Ibrahim could become the smartest player on the landscape.
And I said to my wife, “Thank God this show still has George Freeman, at least.” It wasn’t the ass kicking George Freeman of old, and he wasn’t off yachting with topless bitches or living quite so high off the hog, but no one was about to fuck with him either. So you could imagine my chagrin when at around minute 39 of the episode entitled “Kingdom Come”, when a pajama clad George Freeman, in his bedroom, begins a raucous coughing fit that became worse by the second. My take went from “They’d never kill George Freeman” to “Bitch! Call a fucking ambulance!” as Freeman’s wife Georgina (Georgina Haig) dawdled about in the background.
True events after all. Crack fucked by realism, the very art he holds most dear. It is interesting to note that all three of Sydney’s most powerful and successful players spanning more than 2 decades, Clark, Trimbole, and Freeman, all died of natural causes.
Freeman was dead and buried in the blink of an eye. At his funeral, Freeman’s partner and newly ascended big boss Lenny McPherson (John McNeil), another reprised role from ATO2C, predictably tapped John Ibrahim as someone he’d have his eye on. The McPherson character gave us temporary hope that Freeman’s old partner would be the dynamic element to sustain TGM. Especially when McPherson flipped on corrupt, greed wracked boozing cop Trevor Haken (Dieter Brummer), and unequivocally told the cop to “fuck off” when Haken tried to angle for a renegotiation, thinking that McPherson was now in a position of weakness. Nice job by Lenny, proving that along the golden mile, the cops might be above the law, but they were not above the industry that paid their handsome bribes.
We were very disappointed to learn that McPherson will only appear in a few more episodes, and in only a bit role. Indicating to us that the rest of TGM is to be a tale of turf wars between pedestrian dealers, the practically unwatchable plight of Kim Hollingsworth, and the continued rise of John Ibrahim, amply foretold. We’ll give it the rest of the season and we hope to see these dirty pigs get stuck. But we mourn the death of the last vestige of Underbelly: A Tale of 2 Cities, and feel that we are stuck with a poor product and a very subpar Underbelly.
We aren’t sure we have the stomach to stay tuned for season 4, pardon the pun.