Friday, May 23, 2014

Foreign Television – Braquo and Spiral

Say what you want about the French, they make some fine crime shows.

Braquo, partly inspired by FX’s The Shield, is about a strike team of borderline corrupt cops who don’t mind leaving a swath of destruction in their wake to get results. Eddie Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade, an actor with endless “caring tough-guy” charisma) is their leader, a good man who tends to do wrong things for the right reasons.

Walter (Joseph Malerba) is the muscle—a tough guy with a heart of gold who is also a compulsive gambler. Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a young hotshot, too impulsive and headstrong for his own good. He also likes cocaine a lot. The cold but vulnerable Roxanne (Karole Rocher) rounds out the group. A good cop, she loves her fellow team members and takes many hits, career and otherwise, to protect them. Rocher is very attractive but has the saddest, most world-weary eyes I’ve ever seen. It definitely helps the character.

The show’s pilot opens with a cop interrogating a rapist. Knowing they don’t have enough evidence to go to trial but sick of the bad guys getting away with it, he pounds on the guy for a while, then puts his cigarette out in the rapist’s eye. That pretty much sets the tone for the series.

The strike team does some nasty stuff to catch bad guys, but so far the villains are worse by far than the cops chasing them. The actor portrayals of these damaged characters do inspire sympathy. It’s a tough life, dealing with the lowlifes of Paris and the liberal system that allows them to operate so freely. When the strike team decides to strike back, viewers understand and empathize. Personally, I’m rooting for these guys.

There are two seasons of Braquo out so far in the U.S., with eight episodes each. They’re both terrific. They are available to watch on Hulu.  

Spiral is part Law & Order, part cop/gangster show. It’s an ensemble show about the French justice system from multiple points of view; the police, the courts and the criminals. I love seeing how other cultures handle problems like crime and drug use. France seems to have two types of judges, those that sit in courtrooms and make rulings, and those that act as sort of souped-up District Attorneys who oversee investigations and occasionally go into the field. Each season of Spiral deals with multiple storylines and one overarching case that unfolds over all eight episodes. By each season finale the dramatic tension has built up to a boil and explodes. Spiral deals in shades of gray. No one is totally good or totally evil, but there are good guys and bad guys. Laure (Caroline Proust) is the strike force boss. She’s a good leader but sleeps with every co-worker who is willing. There is Pierre (Grégory Fitoussi, the French Bradley Cooper—he resembles Cooper strongly enough to be his brother), a prosecutor who loves publicity but still believes in his job and catching bad guys. Defense Attorney Joséphine Karlsson (the fiery redhead Audrey Fleurot) has incrementally taken her character over the course of the series from an ambitious defense attorney to a true scumbag mob lawyer. Actually, she may be evil.  

Spiral is electrifying drama about law and order in the darkest parts of crime-ridden Paris. The stories, acting and themes translate fine for American audiences. Highly recommended.  

Spiral is available on Hulu or Netflix streaming. Four seasons have been released in the U.S.

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