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:
BBC1 commissionsAtlantis, Death Comes to Pemberley, Breakdown, The Interceptor, Jamaica Inn and Remember Me, recommissions Call The Midwife and Death in Paradise; BBC2 commissions Turks and Caicos and Salting The Battlefield; BBC4 commissions Burton and Taylor
Life's Too Short to finish with one-hour special featuring Val Kilmer
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I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.