The opening scene has Vince Colosimo as Alphonse Gangitano with bare-breasted women gyrating behind him. But this isn’t Underbelly.
We’re back with the Carlton Crew’s Carl Williams (Gyton Grantley), Jason Moran (Les Hill), Lewis Moran (Kevin Harrington), Mick Gatto (Simon Westaway) and Graham Kinniburgh (Gerard Kennedy). But this isn’t Underbelly.
The slow-mo shots are there and the creative team includes Screentime Exec Producers Des Monaghan, Greg Haddrick, writer Peter Gawler and director Peter Andrikidis. But no, this isn’t Underbelly.
If we’re to believe the publicity line this is a spin-off, Fat Tony and Co., which centres around drug king-pin Tony Mokbel (Robert Mammone). It takes us back to the Melbourne gangland in the 1990s, the setting of the original Underbelly.
Bringing back notorious characters and the actors who embodied them in Nine’s trailblazing first series is a clever idea to lure us into the world of Mokbel, whose story could not be told for legal reasons in 2008.
Robert Mammone, who appeared briefly in that series, now gets his time in the spotlight to portray the man who went from cooking pizzas to running a $140 million dollar drug empire, and triggering an international chase with the Australian Federal Police.
Mammone certainly steps up to the plate, colouring the role with bravado and dark humour. Some may find the portrayal too winsome for man described as a career criminal without remorse.
Indeed, the opening credits hint at a kind of 1960s spy pastiche, abandoning the traditional “It’s a Jungle Out There” theme song. And while there are flashy moments of underworld excess, and Carl and Roberta Williams (Hollie Andrew) snigger like suburban comic relief, Fat Tony maintains the same malevolence as its forerunner.
In the opening double episode, Frank Sweet provides one of the more interesting insights into this world as young thug, Billy Fischer. But it turns out his role is an amalgam rather than actual.
Madeleine West is dynamic as ‘pill press queen’ Danielle McGuire and while Debra Byrne is given little to do in the opening episode as matriarch Judy Moran, her dour memory of once dancing for Graham Kennedy was effectively bittersweet. Look forward to more from her.
On the opposite side of the blue line are Det. Jim O’Brien (Shane Jacobson) as head of the Purana Task Force and Det. Jim Coghlan (Steve Curry). But it is Richard Cawthorne as Federal Agent Jarrod Ragg who steals the show. It’s almost worth tuning in just to watch an actor upstage everybody else with his absolute stillness.
Other roles are played by Jake Ryan, Jeremy Kewley and Ryan O’Kane.
But there is a sense of having been here before, which after 6 seasons of Underbelly, is presumably the intent. In 2008 it was compelling to watch national headlines being portrayed on the screen, even taunting the Victorian courts in the process. That made Underbelly event TV.
Now it’s rather par for the course, and while the actors turn it on with a swagger and a smile, it may not be enough to draw in those beyond the fans of the franchise.
But they will certainly give it a red hot go.
Fat Tony and Co. premieres 8:40pm Sunday on Nine.