Thursday, 15 October 2009


BBC Four is five episodes into the second series of Spiral, made in France in 2008, three years after the first (see IT's reaction to that here) and it has a different feel to the first series, while retaining some of the elements, at least at the start, that make it French. Let's just hope BBC4 don't do what they did to the Swedish Wallander series, and stop showing it with just three episodes to go, deciding it was so popular they would make its fans wait until a special holiday showing, and bigger ratings, might be ensured.

If CSI were the early model for Spiral's first season, though not one it adhered to for long, The Wire has obviously been the inspiration for this one. But it is The Wire crossed with something like Chabrol's L'Ivresse du Pouvoir. It is set in the French equivalent of the projects, where the drug dealers and gangsters are largely French Arabs, and the problems the police face with trying to cope with the drug traffic and the gangs' control of the area are much the same as inspired The Wire. It is particularly interesting because Inspector (Capitain) Laure Berthaud is under investigation for a trumped-up charge of police brutality--and it's a very different Caroline Proust in this series. Gone is the gamine quality from the first series; here she looks tired, is all-business (at least so far) and seems stretched to her limits by the pressures of the job.

Similarly, there was a marked change in the character of Pierre Clement (Gregory Fitoussi), the prosecutor at the centre of the first series. There he was idealistic, somewhat naive (not least in the fact that he was being used by his estranged wife and his best friend, which was, if anything, underplayed). But having emerged from that unscathed, he begins this series still idealistic but also rather self-satisfied, smug, and content. He appears to be working his way up the bureaucratic ladder, and just as the most interesting part of the first series was the somewhat Balzacian slicing of the upper levels of French society, here it is Clements' encounters heading up the slippery slope which dominate the early episodes. He is also developing a relationship with the older, wiser, journalist Karine Fontaine (played brilliantly by the actress/director Brigitte Rouan) who is adept at navigating that world, and may well be using Clement before casting him aside.

This series contains more subplots resolved within episodes, and one of them, of a well-connected Air Force officer who murders his gay lover, provides Clement with a reality check. Hung out to dry by his ultimate boss (played like a corporate Marty Feldman by Dominique Daguier) Clement starts to realise that he's not cut out to negotiate that bureaucratic world, and falls again under the wing of Judge Roban (Phillipe Duclos--the thinking man's Arsene Wenger).

One suspects these plots will intertwine more as the series moves on, but the biggest connections now spiral around the defense lawyer Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot) who represents the
hood making the charges against Berthaud, and comes, via the sleazy Maitre Szabo, to represent the bigger criminals who are the heart of Berthaud's investigation. As the current episode (five) ends, she has brought Szabo to bed, in order to plunder his address book--although we were treated to a glimmer of conscience in an earlier episode, it seems Karlsson is a villaness worthy of Balzac indeed.

I do find it interesting that the two sleazy lawyers both have foreign (European) names--perhaps for that reason they can't be part of the inner circle of corrupt French lawyers? Or am I, as a Carlson, being too sensitive?

The contrast between these two worlds, and the parallels between the twisted justice at the top of French society and the crime at the bottom, are what drives this series so far, and makes it compulsive viewing. As a sideline, I've also been casting lookalikes. If Daguier resembles Marty Feldman, Samir Guesmi (left), playing one of the Larbi brothers who control crime in the projects, is a cross between Jeff Goldblum and Steve Buscemi; Fred Bianconi as the cop Fromentin is Mandy Patinkin, and the Arab detective Samy (a new potential love-interest for Berthaud) is played by Samy Boitard who looks like a Moroccan Benjamin Bratt!

With the temporary demise of Wallander, this is certainly the best crime series on British TV. It's a shame neither of them are British.

NOTE: This review will also appear at

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