Two talking point TV shows on Telly Addict this week: BBC1’s top-notch Jamaica Inn, which found itself embroiled in a teacup-storm about the mumbling of tightly-wound character actor Sean Harris, whose performance as the dastardly Cornish innkeeper Josh Merlin was typical for him and catnip to his fans, but not helped in this instance by a “technical” issue that muddied the sound of the live broadcast of Easter Monday’s first episode. Cue: self-flaggelation by the Corporation on the News and elsewhere. (I watched it on catch-up, which suffered no such issue, so enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly – then again, I like straining to find the rhythm of a performance, if it’s well done – anyone who watched all of The Wire will understand how bracing it can be.) Also, there was the much-chattered-about Derek on C4, whose titular performance took flak when it first emerged, and to be honest, little has changed. Also, less controversially, unless you believe Bible stories to be sacred (so to speak), the Easter episode of the finite Rev on BBC2; and Boss on More4, which returned in confident style, even though its fate is sealed. And a bit of Mad Men that’s not a spoiler. That’s the kind of controversy I like to avoid.
Sorry, got distracted this week on Telly Addict by a gloriously pointless and condescending documentary on BBC1, Britain’s Favourite Supermarket Foods, which ought to have been on CBBC, except it might have been rejected by that channel’s core audience for being too facile (but full marks to presenter Cherry Healey for giving it her all). More meat was to be found on the estate-set drama Run on C4, a four-parter so unrelentingly grim I decided not to watch it over the prescribed four consecutive night, but spread its grimness out over four weeks; Family Tree on BBC2 was an expectedly gentle comic treat; there was more humanity on Route Masters on BBC2; The Americans pulled me back in on ITV; and law-firm fixer procedural Ray Donovan from Showtime made a big impression on Sky Atlantic. But what is Britain’s favourite supermarket food? Find out in part two next week. I expect.
There’s a much longer essay to write about the subjectivity of our appreciation of comedy and the problems this creates for meaningful debate, but I touch on it in this week’s Telly Addict, with the news that The Wright Way has been axed because of Twitter (or something) and the way Count Arthur Strong completely divided opinion on that now all-powerful critical forum. Also, the arrival of the Oscar-winning Jane Campion’s Top Of The Lake on BBC2; some interesting intersections between it, The Returned and Hannibal; and two quite appalling documentaries from BBC1 from under the Cost Of Living Season banner, which will have made George Osborne and Iain Duncan-Smith happy, if nothing else: The Great British Budget Menu and Nick & Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits.
Here is the latest Zelig-style shot of me standing next to some famous people. Actually, you probably don’t recognise them, although the gentlemen on the right was in Betty Blue, among many other French films. He is the urbane Jean-Hughes Anglade, one of the four principals in smash hit French cop drama Braquo, whose second season begins on French cable channel Canal+ in November, and whose first season premieres here on FX from October 30. I’ve seen the first four episodes. It’s fantastic. I’m in. And on Friday, I hosted a Q&A about the show at London’s Soho Hotel for the British media, with three of the cast, plus executive producer Claude Chelli, who is on the left. The other gentleman, whose impressive head is why many commentators are already calling it “the French Shield“, is Joseph Malerba. Here is his head, in character, alongside Anglade’s moustache. Their co-stars are Nicholas Duvauchelle (who wasn’t in London for the Q&A) and Karole Rocher (who didn’t hang around at the reception afterwards).
Critic Stephen Armstrong, who was also on the panel on Friday, wrote a very good introductory piece about Braquo for the Sunday Times‘ Culture, which is not much use to you here, as it will be hidden behind the Times‘ paywall. So this is all you need to know in advance:
Braquo will also, inevitably, be compared to The Wire – a comparison underwritten by the fact that Canal+, effectively France’s “fourth TV channel”, seems to have been forged in the image of HBO, with its strong adult fare and subscription base. It bears some similarity: it’s gritty and handheld and exposes the dark underbelly of a large city, in this instance Paris; its central quartet of cops are prone to “crossing the line” in order to bring justice to scumbags, and their maverick methodology means they rub up against their chiefs on a regular basis. What makes it different from The Wire is that it is not especially interested in the criminals. So let’s put a stop to the Wire comparisons. Although, having said that, Braquo‘s creator, writer and predominant season-one director Olivier Marchal, was once a cop, so he has that in common with The Wire‘s co-creator Ed Burns. Oh, and it also employs novelists as writers.
I shall warn you now, it’s violent. In the opening scene of the first episode of eight, it sets out its stall. This is strong stuff. As it’s subtitled, we must hope we are getting the full impact of the writing, which is sexually frank and full of expletives. It was odd to watch this episode on the big screen before the Q&A with the French-speaking cast and producer, who were watching it with the English translation. Of the four, Chelli was the most fluent English speaker, and he said he was satisfied with the way it had been subtitled. (It’s been done for a British audience – we get “bog” for toilet, for instance.) The cinematically dingy warehouse that seems to pass as a police station in the suburbs of Paris is an atmospheric, tactile base for our rogue cops; it even has its own bar – which, it turns out, is not a wishful fantasy. So this is a glimpse into the world of French urban policing that has its own attractions for a foreign audience.
All cops shows genuflect to American culture, and it’s there in Braquo, but it’s peculiarly Gallic, too, very moody and a touch existential. There are few laughs. There is little banter. It’s incredibly dark, and if the first four episodes are anything to go by, Eddy (Anglade), Theo (Duvauchelle), Roxanne (Rocher) and Walter (Malerba), these four have a habit of making things worse with their reckless procedural ways. And demons? They’ve got ’em!
What I like is that FX are getting into the imported foreign-language drama groove. BBC4 have made it their trademark with The Killing and Spiral (whose Law & Order-style equal emphasis on the legal system makes it much more officey than Braquo, so the pair can be watched as companions to one another), and SkyArts are currently following suit with the Italian Romanzo Criminale, a period mafia origins story set in Rome whose first episode I enjoyed. I say, the more subtitled dramas the merrier. Who would have guessed five or ten years ago that the boutique channels would be fighting over imports with writing at the bottom of the screen? Let they fight. We, the viewers, are the winner.
It was fun to host a Q&A whose panel were not English, and one of whom, Rocher, spoke through a translator. (I’m hoping that watching Braquo will help me with my French, which is schoolboy at best, and hasn’t been tried out in the field since 2005 when I last went to Paris.) I discovered that US imports are all over French TV, and that, less predictably, the biggest bought-in shows out there are The Mentalist, and CSI in all its forms. As for British shows, Chelli was a big fan of The Shadow Line, which hasn’t been shown in France, and Red Riding, which has. I was interested to find out that one of the key influences on Marchal in terms of style and story was the lesser-known American cop drama, Joe Carnahan’s Narc from 2002, starring Ray Liotta, which I must admit I loved, as it seemed to hark back to 70s classics like The French Connection, which is nice, as there really is a French connection now. (Before the Q&A we had a lively discussion about how the best American cinema was influenced by the French New Wave, and yet, this grew out of a bunch of French critics’ love of classic Hollywood directors like Hawks and Hitchcock, so the give-and-take between the two cultures has always been potent.)
Anyway, looks out for Braquo, if you have access to FX. They’re about to start work on Season Three in France. And no, Monsieur Anglade didn’t really want to talk about Betty Blue. I tried.