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

Herville (NICOLAS BRIANCON), Fromentin (FRED BIANCONI), Laure Berthaud (CAROLINE PROUST)
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.

Gilou (THIERRY GODARD), Laure Berthaud (CAROLINE PROUST)
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.

Continued…

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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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Jo starring Jean Reno, Fox UK PREVIEW

Jo, Bayard and Dormont in Fox's 'Jo'
Jean Reno, Tom Austen and Orla Brady in Jo. Pics: Fox

Rating: ★★★

Fox UK: starts Sunday, 19 May, 9pm

Story: When a body is found beaten and strangled under the ‘Last Judgment’ portal of Notre Dame, detective Jo must decode the murder.

Wow, this is a schizophrenic show. French-made, with English dialogue, spoken by a mainly British-Irish-Canadian cast, in US accents – it’s as disconcerting as EastEnders in German.

More jarring still are the glaring Americanisms, so that you have the French cops ‘putting out an APB’, or pulling a suspect’s sheet.

A little Gallic flavour is added by the presence of Jean Reno (though even the star of Léon and Godzilla

Eiffel Tower is the setting for an episode of Fox TV's Jo
The Eiffel Tower is the setting for one mystery

was born in Morocco), and each episode focuses on a Parisian landmark (Eiffel Tower, Place Vendôme, and starting at Notre Dame).

Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone in France falling in love with Jo when they have fine crime series already such as Braquo and Spiral – all without the American knobs on. Those knobs will no doubt be excised later because the series is part of a trend to make French shows in English, sell them abroad and then dub them into French for the home market (in this case TF1). Whether Jo can survive the insult the French linguistic pride remains to be seen.

Jo’s got a drug habit
So, the series is aimed squarely at US/English-speaking audiences. Bearing in mind that the Americans are hardly going short in the cop-show department, can Jo find a niche for itself? Well, it’s more comme ci, comme ça than formidable.

Joachim ‘Jo’ Saint-Clair is a veteran detective, with the stress on veteran. He’s a drug abuser, has an estranged daughter, Adele, from a liaison with a prostitute, and the years have taken their toll. Even the actor playing him, Jean Reno, is 64, so Jo’s not too clever with the action and chase scenes.

Orla Brady(Dormont) in Fox TV's Jo
Orla Brady as Dormont

Fortunately, he has young Tom Austen (whose first big role was in E4’s Beaver Falls) as Bayard alongside him, and Jill Hennessy (Law & Order) as his confidante and friend, Karyn. Orla Brady (Fringe) turns up as their boss.

Brits playing French flics with American accents
Wunmi Mosaku (Vera) and Celyn Jones (Above Suspicion) are also among the Brits making a half-hearted attempt to play French flics.

Jo needs all the support he can get (and this may explain the pharmaceuticals he uses) because he has to track the killers who commit the most shocking murders in Paris. First up, the body of a renowned organist, whose corpse is found under the ‘Last Judgment’ portal of Notre Dame. ‘This was payback,’ Jo decides, pretty much stating the obvious.

Talented he may have been, but musician Peter van Vliet was also a serial shagger who enjoyed having sex in semi-public places with married women. Hence, there’s no shortage of cuckolded husbands among the suspects.

Plenty of talent, not enough originality
The mystery is a bit predictable, but if the show is to find an audience it will probably be because Jo is a
well-drawn and interesting character (the only one in the show). Desperately trying to reconnect with his daughter and fighting his addictions, he’s a character on the edge.

Jo is a detective on edge in Fox TV's Jo
Detective on edge

Directors for this first season include Charlotte Sieling (The Bridge), Stefan Schwartz (Dexter) and Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing), so Emmy-winning producer Rene Balcer (Law & Order) is throwing a lot of talent at making Jo a success. It’s decent enough, but is basically a pretty routine procedural (apart from the international mashup) and is unlikely to stand out from the crowd of cop shows.

Cast: Jean Reno Jo St-Clair, Jill Hennessy Karyn, Tom Austen Bayard, Orla Brady Dormont, Heida Reed Adele, Chris Brazier Yannick Morin, Celyn Jones Normand, Wunmi Mosaku Angelique Alassane, Eriq Ebouaney Amadou, Stephen Shagov Fredric, Joe Tucker Ed Duroc

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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 2 PREVIEW

Walter draws first, asks questions later. Pics: FXUK

Rating: ★★★★

FX UK: from Sunday, 29 April, 10pm

Story: Caplan is put on remand, Morlighem and Roxanne are reassigned to junior posts and Théo Vachewski is forced to kiss his badge goodbye…for good! But then Marceau calls on Caplan in his prison cell and offers him a deal.

Braquo is very dark and a little demented. The cops here do not just cross the line, they throw themselves into the abyss. They play dirty, take drugs, smoke a lot, rarely shave, inflict violence, and have disastrous personal lives. Midsomer Murders it ain’t.

In series one, our rogue ‘heroes’ – leader Eddy Caplan, Walter Morlighem, Roxane Delgado and Théo 
Vachewski – set out to clear the reputation of their boss, Max, who committed suicide after being accused of sexually abusing a rape suspect that he also blinded in one eye.

Men and woman in black – Walter, Théo, Eddy and Roxane

Eddy’s crew are in disgrace
They ruffled a lot of powerful feathers and as series two beings the quartet are in disgrace – Caplan’s in jail, Roxane reduced to reception duty, Morlighem is on garage duty and Vachewski is out of the force. Meanwhile, in the Paris suburbs four men kill 12 people in a heist that sees them escape with 400 kilos of gold.

These gangsters are former mercenaries from Africa who are hellbent on getting revenge against those who have betrayed them. Their target seems to include a general who meets Captain Gabriel Marceau of the Organised Crime Squad. Marceau’s been questioning one of the gangsters, whom the cops have nabbed during a murder.

Macho and murky
It’s a suitably murky story, with lots of macho staring and swearing – and that’s just between les flics. So when Marceau visits Caplan to offer a deal – release in exchange for help in infiltrating the mercenaries – they come to an agreement with a lot of snarling and sneering.

The Colonel (right)

Braquo is over the top in so many ways – when was the last time there was a bloodbath on the Paris streets involving assualt rifles and Uzis? – but its bleak depiction of cops on the frontline with the criminal underworld is more intriguing than the bland goodies so many British dramas offer us.

It was created by Olivier Marchal, the actor, director, screenwriter and former policeman, and has all the production quality of a cinema film. And the cast – Jean-Hughes Anglade (Eddy), Nicolas Duvauchelle (Théo), Joseph Malerba (Walter) and Karole Rocher (Roxane) – are a fine blend of charisma and desperation.

If you don’t give a Gallic shrug for Midsomer Murders or Marple, Braquo will sort you out.

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