If you just do stuff and nothing happens ...
Jesse and Walter in Breaking Bad.
I'm pretty sure I can't be the only person who's been watching the Channel Nine promos for the new Underbelly mini-series Badness with distaste as words such as "Outlaw", "Millionaire", "Playboy", "Fugitive" and "Cold blooded killer" flash heroically on screen ...
I enjoy a good crime drama as much as anyone. I loved The Sopranos, thought The Wire was superb and am still trying to decide whether Boardwalk Empire or Breaking Bad tops them all.
All four of these series are dense, complex, at times brutal, television, featuring anti-heroes for whom you alternate feeling contempt, dislike, grudging admiration and sometimes even tenderness.
As works of fiction, you also forgive the violence and greed they celebrate because they pose serious questions about the nature of good and evil, power, bloodshed and choice.
Above all, I don't believe any viewer with half a brain could walk away from watching these shows (in their entirety) seriously wanting to become a gangster, bootlegger, heroin dealer or meth-cook because every lead character is ravaged by the profession they've chosen and the things they've done as a result.
The Underbelly franchise, however?
With the exception of the original, which was widely held to be a good piece of television, I don't see any big questions even being posed, let alone an attempt at answering them.
They're crime porn (and, yes, there is no shortage of similar shows made in the US and Britain, as well) but these countries also offer their viewers serious reflection on the same subject manner.
We've shown we can do it with series such as Phoenix and East West 101 as well as Blue Murder, so why don't we see more of it here and now?
I've sat in enough TV drama story conferences to be able to "see the whiteboard" when I watch an Aussie crime show and infer what the creative team were hoping to achieve.
I also know the massive, network-driven compromises writers and producers are forced to stomach because commercial TV channels are so paranoid about alienating their "core audience".
I'm also a big fan of the very talented Underbelly writers, including Peter Gawler and Michaeley O'Brien, the directors David Caesar and Ian Watson, as well as the executive producer Jo Horsburgh.
And, lastly, I know that you could shoot Baa Baa Black Sheep and send it off to a network promotions department and the ads would end up suggesting Baa Baa had a drug problem and killed prostitutes for kicks.
However, I, like many other columnists and bloggers have written in the past, have to wonder why we are walking - perhaps sprinting - down this tunnel of nihilistic celebration of f---wits? Of drug dealers, outlaw bikers and killers?
Former Austar chief executive John Porter told The Australian last year that our "obsession" with three media families - the Murdochs, Packers and Stokes - was partly to blame for the vast conservatism of our TV industry.
"There's this sort of entropy where everyone in the media industry seems to want to go back to the natural order of things: a Packer, a Murdoch and a Stokes pulling all the strings," he says.
"The paternalism that exists here - benign or otherwise - stifles growth and opportunity. It creates a polarity: you are either on one side or the other.
"It creates an environment where is becomes very difficult for new people to come in and do interesting things and take risks. All of a sudden we've got 14 different crime dramas like Underbelly," said Porter.
Culturally, I truly believe this has costs.
In an inspired essay In Hell, "We Shall Be Free": On 'Breaking Bad' by Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu in last weekend's Los Angeles Times, the writers analyse that series, which if you've not seen it, charts the evolution of two suburban "ice" cooks.
They are Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, and Jesse Pinkman, his former student and now addict and both move from being amateur drug dealers to wealthy criminals capable of almost any depravity.
"Yet this success comes with deep, irrevocable costs. Of these, perhaps the most heart-wrenching is the damage done to Jesse's psyche," write Kuo and Wu. "Jesse, who commences this journey as a misguided but ultimately sweet young man, ends Season Four traumatized, a man unhinged by what he has lost."
Kuo and Wu describe a harrowing scene in which Jesse attends a Narcotics Anonymous meeting after having murdered a man. He listens to the Group Leader preaching: "So the truth is, we can't change the past. What's done is done. We got to own our actions, but putting ourselves on trial, acting as our own judge, jury, and executioner is not the answer."
"The Group Leader looks at Jesse, hoping to lure him into a response. Jesse takes the bait. He tells the group that he looked a dog 'straight in the eye' and killed him. Fellow members in the group try to console him, suggesting that the dog 'was suffering' and the act was 'a kindness'.
"Jesse refuses to be placated. He tells them that the dog wasn't sick and didn't bite anyone - it was just a 'problem dog'. Anger escalates in the group, as the members try to comprehend Jesse's seemingly inexplicable violence. ('What kind of person kills a dog for no reason?' says one member.)
"The Group Leader attempts to reassert authority over the cacophony: 'We're not here to sit in judgment.' Yet this line, meant to be one of absolution, jolts Jesse into anguish:
"Why not? Why not? [...] The thing is, if you just do stuff and nothing happens, what's it all mean? What's the point? All right, this whole thing is about self-acceptance [...] So no matter what I do, hooray for me, because I'm a great guy? It's all good, no matter how many dogs I kill - what, I do an inventory, and accept?"
From my perspective, this seems to be the message of so much Australian crime drama at the moment - and by extension the culture from which it springs, and which consumes it.
I deal drugs, I kill people, but I look good with my shirt off, I'm a lad, I've got heaps of cash, chicks dig me - so it is what it is - accept it man, move on, get your own life, cos I'm living mine like a f---ing criminal rock star, and if you got something to say about, I'll hurt you bad.
As Kuo and Wu write in their essay: "Because we have nowhere else to place our collective faith, only the anti-hero can contest or uproot the imperfect structures of the universe."
So we're left to worship shitheads.
I'm not suggesting the sky is falling because of Underbelly or its silly red-haired cousin, Bikie Wars, just that, as an avid consumer of television drama, I'd give my left nut to see our networks take some risks with a crime show, rinse the soap out of them and give us something to think about.
Naively, I'm also of the opinion that good drama can educate audiences, particularly young people who are seeing little counterpoint to the "crime rulz" mantra on our TV screens of late.