In Canada: Fridays, 9pm ET/MT, HBO Canada/Super Ecran 1
In the US: Acquired to air on HBO Cinemax, possibly in June
In Germany: Already aired on RTL
In France: Already aired on M6
Co-productions are the future. Allegedly. Ask the BBC, which regularly works with BBC America and also HBO on productions. Sky also does plenty of international shows in collaboration with US, Spanish, French and South African broadcasters.
The idea is that you unlock more money that can result in either better shows or shows that couldn't otherwise have been made at all, or you can have overseas filming and exotic locations courtesy of the people who know the areas best and can give you firm advice on the cultures that can be incorporated into the scripts.
Sometimes this works: the Swedish/Danish The Bridge was excellent; Sky's Falcón and Strike Back are good; Canada's Flashpoint, originally produced in association with CBS, wasn't half bad, despite its desperate attempts to appear as un-Canadian as possible.
Sometimes it doesn't: BBC/Cinemax's Hunted was dreadful.
Quite often, the problem is in making a programme that will appeal to audiences in all the countries involved. Anyone can import another country's television, quite cheaply, but once big production money is involved, you often want actors from both countries, filming in both countries, writers from both countries and so on. And of course each country's producers and network executives will want input into the show. As a result, more or less anything interesting gets filed off by the process.
It's basically 'death by committee'.
In particular, there is one unholy alliance of producing countries, familiar to anyone who watched TV in the 90s, that can be pretty much be guaranteed to co-produce rubbish: Canada, France and Germany. Forget how good each individual country's television can be - united in co-production they are only a force for evil.
Remember Highlander? Remember its arbitrary location changes from Canada to Paris and back each season? Remember the contractually obligated French and German actors struggling to speak English each episode? Remember the guest Englishperson in any episode shot in Paris, since they needed someone who could act in English, who was cheap and who could be there quickly?
If not, let's pretend 20-odd years haven't happened and tune into Transporter: The Series. It's based on the 2002 Luc Besson French-US movie that starred Jason Statham as Frank Martin, an ex-special forces, samurai-like car driver who would drive anything you wanted, anywhere you wanted for a price and would kick the crap out of anyone who tried to stop him - provided you stuck with his supposedly rigid rules. The series sees Chris Vance (ex of Prison Break and Mental but no action background whatsoever) take over the role of Martin, who's still working in the South of France - and Germany - but now has the help of a comedic German car engineer and an East European female boss, and is being chased by both the French and Belgian police.
Creative compromises? I don't know what you mean. Here's a trailer for the movie, followed by a trailer for the series itself.
Transporter: The Series is an English-language Franco-Canadian action-adventure television series, based on the Transporter film series created by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. It is co-produced by the French Atlantique Productions and the Canadian boutique entertainment company QVF Inc. in association with broadcast partners M6 (France), RTL (Germany), The Movie Network, Movie Central (Canada) and HBO/Cinemax (USA).
The series follows the events and concept of the film trilogy, in other words the continuing adventures of Frank Martin, a professional freelance courier driver for hire who will deliver anything, anywhere - no questions asked - for the right price, and lives by three, unbreakable rules...which he constantly breaks. Chris Vance takes over the role of Frank from Jason Statham and is joined by Hungarian actress Andrea Osvárt, who plays the leading female role in the series, starring as a former CIA agent and love interest for Frank, who organizes his missions, and French actor François Berléand, the only returning actor from the film series, who reprises his role as Inspector Tarconi.Twelve episodes were ordered for 2012 with an overall budget of $43 million, or €30 million. The show premiered that year on October 11 in Germany on RTL, and on December 6 in France on M6. The Canadian premiere is set for January 4, 2013 on HBO Canada and Super Écran 1 (with the first episode available online from December 18, 2012). The American broadcasts will begin on June 21, 2013.
Is it any good?
Despite having a budget of about $4m an episode and being based on a movie which wasn't an exactly an Oscar-winner in the first place, the short answer is that it's not even as good as The Transporter.
The show is flawed in many, many aspects. Vance, for starters, is a good actor, better than Statham, but unlike Statham, he's not a martial artist. He's also not got Cory Yuen Kwai choreographing Hong Kong-style fight scenes for him. As a result, the fights are lacking the movie's originality, humour, use of props and fluidity, with Vance mechanically producing block A then punch B then kick C just like he read in the script, rather than responding to real attacks.
Vance also appears at first to be paying an homage to Statham's attempt at an American accent, veering between an American drawl and cut-glass English for most episodes. Episode two, which has a flashback to Martin's pre-Transporter days, suggests this may be an affectation by Martin who once sounded more London-esque, but Vance still plays Martin more like James Bond - a public-school educated man at home in a tuxedo and who can indulge in brutality when he has to - than Statham's Martin, who's clearly a working class brawler who just wears a suit for the job. It's a mish-mash of ideas that don't gel, unfortunately.
The new characters, including Martin's agent and the German mechanic, are largely there for co-funding money, rather than because they're well thought out, have good actors playing them or because they add anything to the scripts. They serve plot functions, irritate and are hard to understand when they're speaking English, but that's about it. Ironically, I found it easier to understand Hungarian actress Andrea Osvárt (Martin's agent) when she was speaking German than when she was speaking English.
The one character hold-over from the movie series - François Berléand, who played Inspector Tarconi - is relegated to a single cameo appearance in the first episode that's of little worth, which is a shame, since it was the scenes between Statham and Tarconi that fleshed out Martin in the movies and made him more than a generic action hero.
Accordingly, the show is little more than sketchy dialogue and generic moments designed to connect plot development A to stunt scene B, just like the fight scenes, interspersed with some particularly poor attempts at comedy that don't work in any language.
But the biggest problem the show faces is the direction. While it certainly improves, as does the script, between episodes one and two, it's never exciting, never imaginative, never 'big'. The car chases aren't thrilling either. That's not much different from Transporter 3, but the show commits two worse crimes that the movies never committed: not only does it obviously speed up some stunt scenes, it revels in what it thinks is good direction. It wants the viewer to look at what's just happened and be impressed. You can pretty much imagine the director doing a voiceover saying "Look at how awesome that was, hey? Go on - I can replay it for you if you want." Except, of course, it's just been some glossy-looking but badly written and uninvolving action sequences. Which is a shame because the car chases themselves are obviously well done by excellent stunt teams, just badly shot and edited.
The last crime the show commits is the one you'd expect from a co-production between France, Germany and Cinemax - topless women for no good reason. It would be bad enough if there were any decent female characters, but largely, the female characters when they do appear are there to be rescued, go swimming topless in the sea or to be screwed.
It's hard to tell if the show is going to be any better in future weeks. Episode 2 was written by the showrunner - former Stargate: Universe showrunner Joseph Mallozzi - and was a definite step up in quality from the first episode. It gave us backstory for Martin, who's definitively confirmed as both English and a former member of the SAS, surprising twists and a grittier quality that while not especially Transporter-esque, smart or even innovative could at least have been a good direction for the show to go in and made Martin less of a generic action character.
Except Mallozzi and his co-showrunner Paul Mullie left the show after this, to be replaced by director Steve Shill and former Mutant X producer Karen Wookey. Shill left soon afterwards. So the rest of the show is likely to be more like the far inferior first episode, which was actually shot last.
As a result, I can't recommend it yet, but I'll certainly be keeping tabs on it. It's not a great show - in fact, it's pretty bad - but it's shown that there is potential in there that could come out. I'll wait and see which direction it goes in but not for long.
- February 16, 2013: Third-episode verdict: Transporter: The Series (RTL/M6/HBO Canada/Cinemax)
A third-episode verdict on Transporter: The Series
- May 20, 2013: Review: Jo (Fox) 1x1
A review of Fox's Jo, starring Jean Reno