Jared Daperis stars as Squizzy Taylor in latest Underbelly series.
Bottoms were firmly toned, and quite possibly waxed, in the first decades of the last century. They were also very much on display, at least in the world of Underbelly: Squizzy, Nine's latest trip to bottomless well of Australian criminal history. Waxed bottoms, pertilicous boobs and perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth. In fact the only thing more striking than all those fine set of choppers in Squizzy's "gritty" Melbourne of the Great War era was the absence of much grit to get caught between them.
For a city still buried under staggering tonnages of horse manure and rotting garbage each day, choking on the uncontrolled toxic emissions of Australia's early industrial revolution, the Melbourne of Jared Daperis's Leslie "Squizzy" Taylor was a marvellous Melbourne indeed. Daperis actually did a great job last night, stepping so lightly along streets that should have been running with sewage, but instead seemed to run with parasoled ladies off an old Quality Street chocolate box and the sort of adorable, sooty-faced urchins we've all come to know and love through generations of really spiffing school productions of Oliver!
The producers gave their Squizzy such a light touch and more than one line that could only have been delivered by someone born after the advent of PowerPoint.
Please sir, may I have another opportunity to floss? I've an oh so important meeting with my casting agent on the morrow.
It was just unfortunate that for a drama based on a real world villain with a generous surplus of villainy, the producers of Squizzy gave their Squizzy such a light touch and more than one line that could only have been delivered by someone born after the advent of PowerPoint. Seriously. Did the real Squizzy pick his "crew" based on their "range of skills"? When planning a heist, did the violent, poorly educated sociopath really think the "all important third element" was someone who could see "the whole enterprise playing out"?
Just as the streets of Squizzy's Melbourne seemed to lack any true grit, the sort that gets under the skin and into the eyes, dirty and uncomfortable and promising all manner of contagion and corruption, the spivs and Johnny Hoppers who walked them last night appeared to be in need of a little roughing up round the edges.
It might be too much of an ask, of course. Squizzy the character has to engage our sympathies, where Squizzy the historical reality could only engender revulsion and horror. As one of the narrative devices impersonating a police officer put it last night, there's nothing flash about shooting a bloke in the side of the head. Taylor, in the end, was a thief and murderer with an overweening ego. That doesn't mean his story isn't worth telling, even for the sake of mere entertainment, but for a storyteller who cares about the craft it does ship with certain obligations, one of which could arguably be a minimal duty of care not to indulge in egregious ugliness such as the gang rape scene at the end of last night's episode.
Having failed to imbue their production with any real sense of period filth or moral squalor – both of which were abundant in the city of that time, and could have provided both contrast and tension with, say, the fading fin de siecle glories of Melbourne's post gold rush "Parisien" quarter – Squizzy reached low. The rape which closed out the premiere didn't happen and using it as a narrative engine, as a base form of entertainment, was a disgrace in a way that countless episodes of empty sexposition in previous series were not.
Leslie Taylor did fight a vicious gang war in Melbourne in 1919, but there was nothing noble about it. He wasn't a white knight riding out to avenge his love. He was just a crim who murdered other crims, confirming the observation that the most savage fights are usually over the lowest of stakes.
Note: Squizzy ran for two hours, taking in a combined two episodes for its debut.