Spiral series 5, Caroline Proust, Gregory Fitoussi, Thierry Godard, Audrey Fleurot PREVIEW

Spiralling out of control? Herville, Tintin and Laure. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC4: starts Saturday, 10 January, 9pm

Story: Following the death of Sami, Captain Laure Berthaud is trying to cope as best she can. But with her personal life a mess,  she receives some unexpected news and is then plunged into the investigation of a shocking double murder. 

THANK GOODNESS for BBC4’s Saturday night crime slot. It has transformed viewing habits in the UK, creating a passion for subtitled, high-quality Euro-crimers such as The Killing, The Bridge, Inspector Montalbano and the French contingent including Braquo and the even better Spiral.

Which returns tonight. The police drama is a cut above the norm with its superb interweaving of stories involving the detective squad under Captain Laure Berhaud – caught between the criminals and her own backstabbing bosses – and the machinations of the legal eagles, particularly the cynical Joséphine Karlsson.

It is a tough drama, full of hard-bitten cops and the realpolitik of the justice system. Series four even ventured into the realm of home-grown terrorism in France, a subject that became horrifically real this week.

Captain Berthaud’s hard-bitten boys

Back in the fictional world, Captain Berthaud is wilting a bit under all the pressure. She may be a female role model as she holds her crew of hard-nut cops together, but she’s no paragon. She makes mistakes, shoots suspects and slaps people around. Somehow, she usually just about gets a result.

Crime scene – Gilou and Laure

Not so in her personal relationships. As series five begins, she is in a bar picking up a stranger for some car sex. However, things don’t go as planned and Berthaud makes a shocking discovery about herself.

Her lieutenant Gilou tells her in his usual blunt way that she’s acting like a zombie. That’s when she’s not screaming at their colleague Tintin for having a plaque made commemorating their much missed colleague Sami, who died in series four.


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Braquo series 3, Fox, PREVIEW

Explosive start – Vachewski’s car is blown up in Braquo. Pics: Fox TV

Rating: ★★★

Fox: starts Tuesday, 20 May, 9pm

Story: After his car blew up, Theo was taken to hospital in a critical state. Caplan and Morlighem go to Vogel’s place, determined to avenge their companion. 

BRAQUO is not so much a TV drama as a graphic pulp novel with live actors. It’s violent,

Roxane and Eddy

unbelievable, silly and – if you’re in the mood – fairly enjoyable.

Main man is, of course,  Eddy Caplan, the macho Paris cop who doesn’t so much sail close to the edge as jump straight off.

He and his team – Vachewski, Morlighem and Delgado – were happy to break the law in series one to clear the name of their chum Max Rossi, and spent much of the remaining episodes since then fending off internal affairs when not cracking the heads of villains.

Another murder spree – by the cops

As series three opens, Caplan and co are haring off to murder Vogel, whom Caplan suspects of blowing up Vachewski’s car at the end of series two. They find Vogel’s house empty, and back at the station their boss, Michelle Bernardi, has to beg them not to inflict their own justice on Vogel. The fact that murder is illegal doesn’t, of course, cloud Caplan’s judgement.

When they give Bernardi the gallic shrug, she has to blackmail them into desisting by threatening to have Morlighem’s kids handed over to social services. They certainly do things differently en France…

Strangers to Braquo may get the impression that Roland Vogel, the shaven-headed sneering psychopath of the piece, is a career baddie. But this being Braquo, a murderer/bomber/nutjob such as Vogel could only be working for the police internal affairs bureau.

Vogel and Oriane

He teams up with a new ally in series three, Oriane Beridze. When not trying to destroy Caplan, these

Working closely together – Vogel and Oriane

two are usually beating each other up, pulling knives – ‘Put your dick away, I’ve seen enough of it today,’ she tells him, referring to his switchblade – and blackmailing each other.

Meanwhile, Caplan is contacted by an old lag he helped to put away. Vibert tells Caplan of a trafficking network run by the Russian mafia, and you just know that, as usual in Braquo-land, there’s more to this than meets the eye and much bone-crunching, cigarette-smoking and swearing are to follow.

Downton Abbey it ain’t.

Cast: Jean-Hugues Anglade Eddy Caplan, Nicolas Duvauchelle Théo Vachewski, Joseph Malerba Walter Morlighem, Karole Rocher Roxane Delgado, Lizzie Brochere Oriane Beridze

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Spiral 4: State of Terror, BBC4, starring Caroline Proust, PREVIEW

Fromentin (Fred Bianconi), Gilou (Thierry Godard) and Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust). Pic: BBC
Fromentin (Fred Bianconi), Gilou (Thierry Godard) and Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½ 

BBC4: starts Saturday, 9 February,  

Story: Captain Laure Berthaud and her team discover an identified man who has been dumped in woods by a mystery couple. The body has been badly damaged.

Spiral was BBC4’s first French series, appearing in 2006 and winning a small but solid band of UK fans. Since then it’s become a huge export success, being shown in 70 countries, with Netflix in the US showing it last autumn.

Fromentin and Berthaud in Spiral 4
The heat is on for Fromentin and Berthaud

One advantage Spiral has over many UK dramas is that it’s not done on a shoestring and squeezed into as few episodes as possible. It’s a 12-parter, allowing the writers to knit multiple story strands together, involving the hard-bitten police personalities and their various mistakes, legal shenanigans and political corruption.

Series four throws down several juicy gauntlets in terms of plot for the coming weeks. A dead man is discovered in woods with no hands and other severe injuries. It appears he may have been handling a bomb, and leads could be pointing towards a terrorist cell for Captain Berthaud and her team.

Berthaud is a proper cop ‘because she has no kids or husband’
However, their investigation gets sidetracked as Berthaud has to attend a reconstruction of the incident in which she shot a suspect in the last series, with accounts of her actions being split between that given by her lieutenants, Fromentin and Gilou, and that of another officer who doesn’t back her. To add to the pressure, the squad has a new boss, Herville, who demands that his officers start hitting clear-up targets.

Herville is quite a creep, telling Berthaud that she’s a proper cop because she has no kids or husband, or any other sentimental rubbish. The sense of them and us – the hierarchy and the cops at the crime face – is one theme that Spiral always captures well.

Caroline Proust as Berthaud in Spiral 4
Captain Berthaud

Caroline Proust is pretty convincing again as the tough woman leading her rugged band of brothers. Berthaud is not as intriguing as Sarah Lund (The Killing) or bizarre as Sara Noren (The Bridge), but she still cuts it as a woman sacrificing way too much for the job.

Josephine Karlsson
The series sometimes stretches plausibility to breaking point, and occasionally the plotting between the police side of the drama and the legal side, with the lawyer Josephine Karlsson typically cutting some dodgy deals, has been disjointed.

Series two was probably the most unconvincing. Three was much better, and four looks promising. It’s good to have Berthaud and her team of stroppy men back fighting the crooks and their own bosses.

Cast: Caroline Proust Laure Berthaud, Gregory Fitoussi Pierre Clement, Fred Bianconi Fromentin, Thierry Godard Gilou, Audrey Fleurot Josephine Karlsson, Bruno Debrandt Commissaire Bremont, Jerome Huguet Thomas Riffaut, Judith Chemla Sophie Mazerat, Amandine Dewasmes Magali, Martine Vandeville Conseillere Banque, Cedric Appietto Pujade, Marc Zinga Moussa Kone

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Braquo series 1 on FX PREVIEW

Not to be messed with – Eddy Caplan, Roxane Delgado, Walter Morlighem and Théo Vachewski. Pics: FXUK

Rating ★★★★

FX from Sunday, 30 October, 10pm

Story: To clean up the reputation of their leader, who’s been accused of sexually abusing a prisoner, four rogue cops launch a violent campaign against those who smeared him.

The French are a stroppy lot. If it’s not their football players rebelling against their own manager, it’s their rugby stars being branded as disobedient brats by their coach. To say nothing of the mobs outside the Bastille.

There’s a nice moment of Gallic stroppiness in this bruising new drama when the police brass have called a meeting to soft soap the rank and file, and a female lieutenant flounces out. When her mate, Eddy Caplan, follows, his boss says they are not finished. ‘We are,’ Eddy says, and that’s it, meeting over as the whole unit departs.

Eddy and the lieutenant, Roxane, along with two captains, Walter and Théo, are furious that their leader, Max, has been buried in disgrace after committing suicide. He was in custody for stabbing a rape suspect in the eye, and someone has leaked an accusation from the suspect, Benaissa, that Max sexually abused him.

Braquo is far more punchy than any UK cop show

Théo Vachewski

Not the types to be messed around, particularly when a comrade and his family have been dissed, the quartet take matters into their own hands and launch a reckless and violent campaign to put matters straight.

If Braquo were a colour it could only be noir, from the black leather jackets to the dark ambivalent morals of this desperate bunch of cops. It’s directed by the actor and former policeman Olivier Marchal, who also made 36 Quai des Orfevres, and is far more hard-hitting than any cop series produced in the UK. Like Spiral, this doesn’t portray les flics by half measures.

These guys steal from the crooks, snort coke and seem to have a bar in their office. They’re also pretty handy at dishing out a beating. If this is based on Marchal’s actual experience in the French force, it would be advisable to give them a very wide berth next time you’re in Paris.

Max Rossi

Imprisonment or death
Max’s widow tells Eddy they’ve been hiding behind their badges, and you can see where she’s coming from. ‘You’ve not been cops for a long time now.’

As Eddy and his rogue team start their own desperate investigation, they risk imprisonment or death, and the story is going to get a lot darker still.

If you like your cop dramas with the strength of an unfiltered Gauloises, then this is the series for you.

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