Underbelly NZ Bows Ahead of Razor

Underbelly NZ: Land of the Long Green Cloud (TV3, 9.30)

Tonight’s belated premiere of Underbelly NZ: Land of the Long Green Cloud (TV3, 9.30) comes days ahead of the latest Australian Underbelly, Razor, going to air across the Tasman.

Scheduling conflicts have delayed the debuts of both series: Underbelly NZ, because of an industry stoush over whether two, costly, publicly funded NZ dramas should go head-to-head; and Underbelly: Razor, because Channel Nine didn’t want it to clash with the final weeks of MasterChef.

Razor is the earliest Underbelly yet, being set in 1920s Sydney with a cast that includes Kiwis Chelsie Preston-Crayford and Danielle Cormack as feuding brothel queens.

Cormack told The Age newspaper she relished the chance to play one of three strong female leads in the period drama, which the Sydney Morning Herald reckons may not be a dead cert because it’s “a virtual reboot for a franchise that is no longer a guaranteed ratings powerhouse”.

Director Shawn Seet told SMH Razor greatly expands Underbelly as a concept and has the production polish of an HBO production (like Boardwalk Empire).

”We’re shooting in a more cinematic style. And Sydney’s dark past is fascinating. I think people will be surprised how bloody it was.”

SMH’s verdict? “On first view, the critical consensus has appraised the at-times camp Razor as the best Underbelly incarnation since the memorable first season.”

Box Seat was less convinced, dubbing it “the same old Underbelly. Just with more hats.”

Expect Razor to screen here after the six-part Underbelly NZ ends its run, but in the earlier slot of 8.30pm, so TV3 can launch another ripe period crime drama, The Borgias, off the back of it.

Meanwhile, in the August issue of Onfilm, Underbelly NZ executive producer Philly de Lacey says Channel Nine has yet to view the Kiwi spin-off.

“Channel Nine is aware of this series and we will be showing it to them soon. But there have been no discussions.”

In the same issue, she and producer/director Ric Pellizzeri discuss how budgetary limitations and a tight shooting schedule turned out to be creative strengths — although Crews.TV questions whether Underbelly NZ’s HD specs meet international norms.

“It is true that the quality differences of this magnitude might be too subtle for the average viewer sitting at home with their HD set top box plugged into their 20-year-old CRT analogue television,” Peter Parnham writes.

“But if those people are not in the minority they soon will be; in the past 12 months alone New Zealanders bought close to 400,000 TVs up from 200,000 TVs the year before – presumably all, or nearly all, flat screen HD television receivers, many of them in bigger sizes that highlight any picture deficiencies.”

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