Review: 19-2 (Bravo)

A title that works well in both French and English

19-2

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9e/6p, Bravo

Canada is, of course, a country of two languages: English and French. Now, while English-language TV in Canada underwent something of a renaissance in recent years, quickly followed by a dip as a cut in government funding for the CBC killed off a number of more expensive shows, French-Canadian shows continued to do well. In fact, they’ve been proving a valuable source of material for the English-language networks, which have been adapting some of the more popular shows: Sophie and Rumours have already hit the airwaves, Unité 9 is on the way on CBC, and now we have 19-2, based on the original 19-2. Easy to translate that one.

It’s certainly a good choice for a remake, easily one of the best cop dramas English-language Canada has produced, recently – although that’s not hard, admittedly, given competition such as Motive and Cracked. In a lot of ways, it’s Canada’s answer to Southland, with 19-2 the call sign of the cop car driven by our heroes – a ‘rookie’ (he’s not really, but everyone calls him that) and a grizzled veteran – exploring the streets of Montreal and coming across gritty, real-life problems both big and small, action-packed and funny, that they have to solve, before coming back to the precinct to face the admin, politics and their fellow cops.

Here’s a trailer, followed by the first five minutes or so.

About
Based on the award-winning Québec series of the same name, 19-2 is a richly-nuanced and character-driven drama surrounding the daily lives of two unwilling partners of the Montreal Police Department, Officers Nick Barron and Ben Chartier.

Is it any good?
I really liked it. It’s not without faults, notably a lot of clichés that are only partially overturned, but this is an engaging, adult drama.

I’ve mentioned Southland already and the similarities are pretty strong – indeed, if you’ve seen the pilot episode of that show, this one looks very similar, just with a Canadian twist to the almost paramilitary Los Angeles police formula. Unfortunately, though, it’s a more mundane show, particularly when it comes to dialogue, so there’s nothing that comes even close to the “God’s work” speech Southland’s pilot episode gave us.

Weirdly, though, it’s also very similar to another show: the BBC’s Wallander. The main reason I say this is because it’s quite depressing, dealing with how crap it is to be a cop, the terrible things it does to relationships, and the terrible risks cops run in their jobs. But the weirdness comes from an aspect similar to Wallander, Falcón and other ‘foreign-set’ English language shows: although we hear everyone speaking English, it’s Montreal so the signs are in French, the newspapers are in French, and everyone’s really speaking French.

Which is an odd choice. It’s fine when you’re talking about another country with a very different culture, but when visually and culturally there’s few differences beyond language, it’s almost not worth the effort and is almost unnoticeable. It’s not like people dress massively differently, the climate’s hugely different, French-Canadians have entirely different concepts of interior design or the fashions are more Parisian. Maybe it’s because I’m British, but the first time anything written in French came out, I assumed that it was because they were reading a French-language newspaper, not because that was their first language. Your mileage may vary on this on. Either way, it’s a creative decision with very little influence on the show and I’m assuming that there may be scripts coming further down the line that need to be set in Montreal/Quebec, rather than the usual Vancouver or Toronto, hence the decision.

The clichés in the first episode and the set-up should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s watched cop shows: the strange situations that spiral out of control, the question of whether you should inform on your colleagues, the bad marriages between people who met on the job, the rookie who has a big confrontation on his first day, the dick work colleague, the sympathetic female work colleague, the hazing of the rookie and so on. Some clichés get subverted – the rookie cop probably has more experience than his veteran partner, but all that experience has been in the countryside, not in the city – while others, such as the superior officer who wants the rookie to spy on his partner or the justified shooting that only causes political trouble, don’t. There’s enough good stuff in the show that it’s not a big problem, but it’s disappointing as a result.

The acting’s largely good, the cast is nicely diverse, albeit with few women cops and few moments where we see anything from female perspectives rather than the male perspectives. It could do with being less grim, and the few comedic moments that occur aren’t very funny. It needs a bit more courage to his convictions.

But either way, French or English, Canadian or American, 19-2 is probably the best cop show since Southland so give it a go.