One of the best shows I’ve seen this year, if not the best, is Canal+/Amazon’s Le Bureau Des Légendes(The Bureau), a hugely impressive spy show that anyone who loves television should watch as soon as they can. Indeed, Le Figarocalled it “to this day… the best ever [TV series] made in France”.
It’s a sign of how good it is that despite only acquiring the first season in June, Amazon has decided to make September just a little bit brighter by giving us the second season of the show already, despite The Bureau being in French and subtitled – that suggests impressive ratings.
Indeed, have a look at the second season’s ratings on Amazon and you’ll see that of the 24 ratings its received already, every single one of them is five stars. I’m only three episodes in and although bits of it seem a little less plausible than the first season and there’s far less tradecraft, I’d happily rate it five stars, too.
Despite that, we can’t let if off from normal protocol when it comes to typos. If you’re going to mock up a web page in English, remember to spell ‘Access’ the English way, not the French.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.
The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever.
State of the country, politics, the world, et al right now:
Sob. Oh well, let’s talk about tele to try to cheer ourselves up. Last week, I reviewed the first few episodes of:
However, a few new shows have also stuck their heads up the parapets this week, so in the next few days I’m hoping to review Greenleaf (US: OWN), Queen of the South (US: USA) and maybe The Night Of (US: HBO) – it’s only a mini-series.
Obviously, this was supposed to go up over the weekend, but owing to post-referendum blues and a general desire to boxset a certain French TV show, that didn’t happen. However, I haven’t had time to watch anything more than Game of Thrones from last night’s usual bumper crop of shows. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about that, the latest episodes of more or less the only shows that don’t air on a Sunday – BrainDead, Cleverman and Outcast – last Sunday’s Preacher, Secret City, SiliconValley, Still The King and Westside, as well as the return of Canada’s good show, 19-2, and the whole of season 1 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau). Some are for a-chopping, though, and some are on a lifeline.
(For those of you wondering, I couldn’t be bothered to watch episode 3 of Animal Kingdom or Uncle Buck, after their uninspiring performances last week. Soz)
But first, a movie!
Zoolander 2 (2016) (iTunes) Sequel to everyone’s favourite Ben Stiller movie, although it only became such once it came out on DVD, since it tanked a bit at the box office. It sees Stiller, Own Wilson, Will Ferrell, et al, returning as their original characters, who have all gone their separate ways after Derek’s school collapsed just a couple of days after opening. Then incomprehensible fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) invites them to star in her new fashion show in Rome, and they’re soon imbroiled in a Da Vinci Code parody that sees the likes of Justin Bieber being killed off to protect a terrible, terrible secret, with fashion policewoman Penelope Cruz their ally in solving the crime.
I was a bit wary of this, since it got bad reviews, and the movie itself is really not much more than that Da Vinci Code twist on the original Zoolander structure. However, surprisingly, it’s actually quite gigglesome, with plenty of laughable moments, huge numbers of odd cameos (Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Fred Armisen, Anna Wintour et al), references to everything from Dune to Star Wars and the general surrealism that pervaded the original still managing to percolate through.
Walter has been napping. Supposedly watching hours of foreign-language TV every week to find the best shows from around the world for Channel 4, somehow he managed to avoid watching any of Canal+’s 2015 output – despite Canal+ officially being France’s good TV channel. That means Amazon have had the chance to poach Canal+’s Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) from out of Walter’s hands. Oops.
In that curious way these things happen, we’ve coincidentally been talking a lot about both verisimilitude and spy shows in the past couple of weeks, taking in along the way both Legends and The Night Manager. The latter is the epitome of modern British spy shows, departing from the glorious semi-realistic days of Callan, The Sandbaggers, et al to give us nonsensical, cliched but glossy affairs that convince almost no one.
Fortunately, France seems to remember how to do a decent spy show, judging by Le Bureau Des Légendes. Set in the undercover section of France’s equivalent of MI6, the DGES, it sees Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) playing a top undercover operative who’s been working in Damascus for the past six years. He’s mysteriously summoned back to Paris at short notice, where very quickly problems emerge with ‘Cyclone’, the DGES’ top operative in Algeria. A devout Muslim, Cyclone is nevertheless mysteriously arrested for drink-driving and is taken away by Algerian police, before promptly disappearing. Has he been rumbled as a spy or has he been turned and engineered his own disappearance?
In common with its stable-mate at Canal+, Engrenages(Spiral), there are multiple wheels turning within wheels in Le Bureau Des Légendes. Despite being ordered to break off all ties with her, Kassovitz invites his married lover from Damascus (Zineb Triki) to visit him in Paris. His superiors wonder whether he has ‘Post Mission Disorder’ and can’t shake off his old life. But more importantly, Triki might have secrets of her own that jeopardise Kassovitz.
At the same time and seemingly unrelated to the main plot, Kassovitz is training up a new operative (Sara Giraudeau) to go undercover in Iran. There’s also a new psychiatrist (Léa Drucker) monitoring everyone and Kassovitz has to deal with his now grown-up teenage daughter, whom he left without explanation. And there’s a bunch of French spies out in the Sahara somewhere who are definitely up to something, but by the end of the third episode, may themselves not know what that is. Just to make everything even less clear, the third episode is told in flashback while Kassovitz is attached to a lie detector – all without explanation.
How it all fits together I suspect is something that will get revealed by the end of the season, but it’s merely happy to set up the puzzles in these first few episodes.
In common with the likes of The Sandbaggers, the show is admirably concerned with realism and tradecraft. Although it occasionally uses the likes of Drucker and Giraudeau to Basil Exposition everything to us, it does do its best to give us a look at how spies probably work and approach security in the 21st century in a way that most other shows ignore. Mobile phones are banned in the Bureau in case of remote exploits turning them into listening devices and operatives have to clean their own desks so that no one who doesn’t ‘need to know’ needs to enter the Bureau. But that’s basic compared to things like mapping mobile phone signals and using behaviour analysis of the data to get an indication of likely events.
As you might expect from the double meaning of bureau/office, also in common with The Sandbaggers, this is a show that’s mostly about talking and office work. Big chunks of it are people sitting around discussing what precious information they have from far away can mean, as well as internal and external politics with other agencies, divisions, superiors and allies. Although the second episode does give us a car chase of sorts through central Paris, it ends as a car chase in central Paris probably would end, rather than à la The Bourne Identity‘s. The show also does have the occasional moment of humour, such as an odd little side-plot in the third episode involving a mouse getting into the Bureau and Drucker’s analysis of her superior’s multi-coloured tie.
Linguistically, there are fun things going on in the French that for once, the subtitles actually do a jolly decent job of conveying, but occasionally miss out on. I quite liked the French ‘faire le ménage’ (to do the housework) being used to mean ‘remove anything incriminating from the house’, for example, but that gets translated as ‘clean the house’, which sort of works but not quite. More entertainingly, all the codenames for undercover operatives are derived from insults and expletives used by Captain Haddock in the French-language Tin Tin comics. But as befits such a globally-focused show, there’s plenty of Arabic and the occasional bit of English, too.
It’s not 100% realistic. While there’s some admirable computer expertise behind the scenes, for some reason everyone in France uses the same Windows XP installation, no matter where they work. It also seems unlikely that anyone who’d been undercover for six years would have been so senior or so readily accepted back into the fold.
But Le Bureau Des Légendes is certainly the best spy show I’ve seen this year and the first French show in quite some time that I’ve actually wanted to boxset (sorry, Marseille). There have already been two seasons in France, and a third is on the way, so give it a go if you can.
Barrometer rating: 1 Would it be better with a female lead? Yes, but is that ever going to happen in France? TMINE’s prediction: N/A
Here’s a French-language trailer, but if you want one with subtitles, you’ll need to go here, although there are a few spoilers from after the first three episodes by the looks of it.
Four new shows, two returning ones, including the much fabled second season of The Returned. No word yet on airdates, or when/if they’ll be emerging in the UK.
Intrigued? Then let me tell you more. Spotless is a black comedy set in London, in which the quiet life of John is turned upside down by the arrival of his criminal brother Martin. Why Spotless? Well, John runs a company that specialises in cleaning crime scenes…
Canal+ has a separate teaser trailer for this one.
Meanwhile, Versailles, as the name suggests is all about the 28-year-old Louis XIV – the Sun King himself – and the construction of the palace of Versailles, his having dealing with uppity nobles, etc. Panthers is a co-prod with Sky Atlantic starring Samantha Morton, John Hurt and Tahar Rahim that’s all about some missing diamonds. You can guess what channel that will end up on.
Lastly, Le Bureau Des Légendes is all about a department of the DGSE (France’s MI6/CIA) dedicated to undercover agents, with our hero (Mathieu Kassovitz) returning after six years undercover in Syria – but making the slight mistake of not abandoning his undercover life and ‘legend’…
And for those who want a Les Revenants teaser, here you go. Not much happens, mind.