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February 12, 2013

Review: Engrenages/Spiral 4x1-4x2

Posted on February 12, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Spiral aka Engrenages with Caroline Proust

In France: Last autumn
In the UK: Saturday 9 February, 9pm, BBC. iPlayer: Episode 1, Episode 2
In the US/Canada: Acquired by Netflix

Screw The Shield, The Killing and all the others. In the last decade, there have been, as all right-thinking people know, precisely two cop shows in the world that have been truly excellent and have mattered in any real sense. The first, of course, is The Wire. The second, far lesser known show, is France's Engrenages aka Spiral. The two are similar, comparable even, in that they both try to show their own country's native justice system, warts and all, while shining a spotlight into the recesses of society, all with as little narrative artifice as is possible in a watchable TV show.

Thankfully, even though The Wire has ceased to be, Canal+ in France - together with some lovely co-funding money from BBC4 - have kept Engrenages going, and judging by the first two episodes of the new season, one could even say "from strength to strength" because for my money, this is at least as good as the show's finest season opener in terms of narrative and perception, yet with a confidence that only comes with age… and the knowledge that because you are the best, you can do what you like at the pace that you like it.

When last we left our heroes and heroines - perhaps one should say 'heroes' and 'heroines', because no one in Engrenages is truly good, although there's a fair few evil doers along the way - things were going semi-pear shaped for everyone. Over-committed police captain Laure (Caroline Proust) was off murdering serial killers, amoral lawyer Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot) was signing a deal with the devil so she could save her business partner and secret love, Pierre (the UK's favourite French actor, Grégory Fitoussi, currently in ITV's Mr Selfridge), and ambiguous yet moral Judge Roban (Philippe Duclos) was monologuing his way into enforced retirement, thanks to Sarkozy's attempts to reform the French legal system.

In series four, as is tradition, we return not long after those events and yet everything's changed in quite surprising ways. While it's not all 100% tickedy boo, some things appear to be changing for the better for once. Karlsson may have to deal with some dodgy Russian mob types, but Pierre's got her back for a change and they're flirting at each other like crazy; Laure may be under investigation but she's finally getting her love life sorted and her new boss seems quite nice. Okay, so Judge Roban is off contemplating his navel somewhere and Gilou (Thierry Godard) is still self-destructing like crazy, but plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as they say.

And then up pop some leftie students, ready to party like it's 1968, ready to save hapless souls from France's oppressive immigration system and capitalism in general. Welcome back, Engrenages. How we missed you. Here's a trailer (with the usual suspiciously mistranslated English subtitles), plus the first few minutes in French:

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

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February 6, 2013

Review: The Doctor Blake Mysteries 1x1 (ABC1/ITV)

Posted on February 6, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Doctor Blake Mysteries

In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC1
In the UK: Will air on ITV
In the rest of the world: Not yet acquired

If you're from the UK and of a certain age - your 30s or 40s - you'll remember Craig McClachlan: he was Henry on Australian soap opera Neighbours, back when anyone who was anyone watched it.

So popular was he in the role, that he was enticed over to the UK to star in BBC1's Bugs, a fun bit of escapism masterminded by The Avengers' Brian Clemens that was thoroughly enjoyable until a bunch of people who'd written some Doctor Who New Adventures novels decided they wanted to make it proper sci-fi and robbed it of any or all enjoyable qualities in its second series.

One thing that McClachlan didn't really demonstrate in either of those two shows was the ability to act. In fact, he was largely only notable for his haircut and huge pectoral muscles, and that was about it.

Craig McClachlan in Neighbours

So colour me surprised by The Doctor Blake Mysteries, a new Australian crime series set in small Victoria town in 1959 and which stars McClachlan as the eponymous Doctor Blake. Because not only is the show itself really rather decent, but McClachlan - as well as not taking off his top once - seems to have matured into "one of Australia's favourite and most versatile actors" during the past 20 or so years.

Here's a trailer.

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February 6, 2013

Review: Seed 1x1 (City TV)

Posted on February 6, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Seed

In Canada: Mondays, 8:30pm ET/PT, CityTV
In the rest of the world: Not yet acquired

There are two things that are hard with Canadian comedies. The first is to hate them. They're so well meaning and liberal and nice. Even what could be a mean-spirited show like Seed - in which a 30something, womanising slacker bartender whose sperm-bank-generated teenage progeny turn up in his life looking for their oblivious father - still manages to be endearing, despite numerous stereotypes about lesbians, dominating career women, liberal middle-class couples, black lesbians, single 30something women, single 30something men, men in general and others. It's just so gosh darn… nice.

The other thing that's hard with Canadian comedies is to laugh. The country as a whole has a track record that includes Kids In The Hall and The Newsroom and has filled the entertainment world with so many famous, talented comedians (most of whom you probably don't realise are Canadians), it would be impossible to list them all. But modern Canadian comedy shows are largely exemplified by the likes of the horrifically unfunny 18 To Life, Men With Brooms, Hiccups, InSecurity, Good Dog and The Line.

And so it is with Seed, a show that's amiable and trying really hard to be funny, but which ultimately fails to raise more than a wry grin and an "Awe, isn't that nice?" out of the whole affair.

Here's a trailer for the first episode, the aptly titled Ill Conceived, followed by a trailer for the rest of the season:

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