In the UK: Thursdays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic
Times are a-changing, my friends. Time was it was perfectly legitimate to have a go at BSkyB for not putting anything decent on our TV screens. Sky1 and the like was full of nothing but US imports (some good, some not), rubbish like Prickly Heat, and almost no original drama or comedy whatsoever. After a few faltering steps on Sky1 with Terry Pratchett adaptations, Mad Dogs and Strike Back, Sky is now embracing quality, mainly with its new channel Sky Atlantic, which despite the name is originating plenty of quality comedy. Now it's turning its hand towards drama.
After Sky Atlantic's first attempt, the not-half-bad but dirt cheap Hit and Miss, we now have the first of the big guns: Falcón, which is best described as "sexy Wallander" or "Wallander in Spain". Based on Robert Wilson's series of crime novels and starring New Zealand actor Marton Csokas as well as a fine cast of Brits that includes Hayley Atwell (Captain America), Emilia Fox, Bernard Hill, Bill Patterson, Robert Lindsay and Charlie Creed-Miles, Falcón relocates Ken Branagh's misery, artist-father issues, grizzly horror and Brits pretending to be foreigners to Seville, where the eponymous detective has to solve a horrible murder that is connected to his father in some way. Along the way, there's an attractive widow (Atwell), his ex-wife (Fox) and, thanks to Dredd 3D's Pete Travis, a lot of beautifully composed scenes of local colour for him to deal with.
And if you loved Ken's Wallander, there's a good chance you'll love this, too, assuming you don't mind a cop that takes coke. Here's a trailer, a "characters 101" and the first three minutes of the first episode.
Sky Atlantic proudly presents Falcón - its brand new four-part crime drama, set in Seville and based on Robert Wilson's bestselling novels.
Javier Falcón is a Chief Inspector in the Seville police, a brilliant detective whose personal and professional life is compromised by dark secrets from the past in this ambitious and complex new series.
Falcón himself is a complex and layered character, with a psychological darkness which mirrors the brutal darkness which surrounds him in Seville. An innately sexual and charismatic character, Falcón is forceful and focussed, happy to ignore the distinction between the law and criminals and embrace his own flaws and addictions when he has stuff.
The hidden side of Falcón’s personality is matched by the darker, more visceral side of Seville; a dark and brutal place which lurks behind the creative and vibrant façade of the city. Set and filmed in and around Seville, the drama will show viewers a side to the city which they are unlikely to have seen before; Falcón’s Seville is shadowy, atmospheric but with a dynamic vibrancy and life.
The first story to be adapted is The Blind Man of Seville, which follows Falcón‘s investigation into a brutal killing which stirs long forgotten memories. As Falcón investigates the crime, and finds himself drawn to the widow of the victim, he discovers the secret truth about his artist father’s violent history in Tangier and the Spanish Civil War.The second story to be adapted is The Silent and the Damned, in which a double suicide takes Falcón to an exclusive area of Seville where wealthy neighbours keep their secrets well hidden and there’s more in the freezer than just food.
Is it any good?
Yes. It's quite good indeed.
As with a lot of the more 'luxurious' crime dramas, such as The Bridge, the first Falcón uses the excuse of a criminal who knows the protagonist to introduce us to our hero. It also uses the foreign location almost as a character in its own right - this is very much a show that knows its audience isn't Spanish, but largely Brits who want to see the sights of another country and a different culture.
So, as with Ken's Wallander - a different beast from Sweden's Wallander, which assumes its audience knows what Sweden looks like, speaks Swedish and is embedded in Swedish culture, so doesn't need introducing to any of those - this is a show where Catholic ceremonies, bull-fighting, Picasso-esque painting, prostitutes and Spanish aperitifs are on display against a backdrop of beautifully lit, beautifully built buildings. Despite this, as with Ken's Branagh, everyone speaks English with very English accents, nobody can pronounce Spanish words correctly, yet everything is written in Spanish, reinforcing the message that this is Spain, but as if we were so fluent in Spanish that it seems as clear as English to us; the fact that everyone dresses, acts and has dialogue that confirms they're Spanish rather than English helps to reinforce that message.
That combination of pandering, audience flattery and carefully crafted conceit aside, though, this is a surprisingly good show. While the crime is somewhat improbable and Falcón's personal involvement beyond coincidence, it's intelligently put together and written, beautifully directed, beautifully acted - well, apart from Charlie Creed-Miles, who hasn't got much better since his days on Press Gang, and is certainly no Tom Hiddleston - and unlike Ken's Wallander, actually feels like a crime procedural, with police officers who can investigate crimes and know what they're doing (well, almost). I'm not au fait enough with the Spanish criminal system to comment on the show's authenticity, but if you're a fan of Engrenages, you'll appreciate that tall dark and handsome judges run investigations here as they do in France.
Falcón himself isn't an especially likeable character, not a miserable Swedish schlub like Wallander, but an equally equivalently stereotypical aristocratic man who thinks he's the centre of the universe and has an eye for pretty ladies, bull-fighting, alcohol and art. However, Marton Csokas's subtle performance makes Falcón far more sympathetic and sensitive than the bare writing would make him, and his drug habit also lifts him out of the ordinary. Creed-Miles as his "number two" is the only other detective who gets much by way of character development, with Emilia Fox as Falcón's embittered ex-wife and Hayley Atwell as the prime suspect getting most of the on-screen attention. Even then, a lot of Atwell's dialogue is about exploring Falcón's character rather than vice versa. There's also Bernard Hill as a friend of Falcón's father to flesh out Falcón even more.
The plot takes a little time to kick off, but is action-packed and tense, playing largely on Falcón's vulnerability to a murderer who knows everything about him - more even than he knows himself - from where he lives to what he wants. While it's a little harder to care about the mystery than it should be, mainly because it's a little removed from from the everyday in every sense, from the criminal's actions to his (or her) motivations, the plot moves along quickly enough, the cast are good enough and the more B-story - Atwell and Csokas's attraction - is more interesting.
So if you're missing the BBC's Wallander or want something with a bit more fire in its blood and heat on-screen, give Falcón a try, even though it is on Sky. You'll be pleasantly surprised, I think.
- April 21, 2013: What did you watch this fortnight? Including Trance, Rogue, Bates Motel, Endeavour and Southland
What I've been watching on TV and at the cinema in the week ending 21st April 2013
- May 20, 2013: Review: Jo (Fox) 1x1
A review of Fox's Jo, starring Jean Reno
- September 30, 2013: Review: Atlantis 1x1 (BBC1/BBC America)
A review of the first episode of Atlantis