on 17 September 2012
I had no preconceived notions about this series when I purchased the box-set, other than recommendations of other Amazon purchasers (though it turned out I had seen part of one episode on TV on a visit to France, when it did not make much sense out of context). I was soon hooked, watching two or three episodes back to back until I had finished all three series. I've ordered series 4, and can't wait ...
What's the attraction? On one level, it's the usual sort of story: cops find dead body, and eventually discover who was responsible. But the sort of material which would take a single episode of an American police procedural like CSI is here spread over the whole series. The real interest is in the characterisation, of both the good guys and the bad guys. Most of the villains are very nasty indeed, but they are never cardboard cut-outs, while the police and other agents of the legal system who are just as important in the stories are all flawed human beings. Even someone like Juge Roban, who really does believe in the pursuit of truth and justice, ruins his own life, and sometimes that of others, because he is unwilling to make any allowances for human weakness. A lot of the time we are dealing with situations where we have to question to what extent the end justifies the means, and wondering what we might do faced with the same circumstances. And then there is the infighting between different parts of the legal system who are all meant to be on the same side, and the portrayal of low- and high-level corruption and skulduggery ...
Most of the action takes place in Paris and its immediate surroundings, but you won't see that much of the tourist landmarks. The English sub-titles are generally good (though when Joséphine Karlsson is addressed as Maître Karlsson, which emphasises her status as a lawyer, something is lost when this is rendered as "Miss Karlsson")and if you pay attention to the soundtrack as well, you can certainly improve your knowledge of French slang.
on 31 March 2013
I have now acquired the series 1 - 4 and love all of the stories, the intricacies of plot, the incredible (and highly credible) acting of a wonderful cast - Judge Roban, Captain Laure Berthaud, Pierre Clement et al. I cannot praise this series enough, you will need a strong stomach to watch some scenes, but they are not gratuitous, never there to shock, or used as a distraction from poor story telling. It is such a refreshing change from the air-brushed gloss of some other crime series - these people are real, very human and I cannot wait for a Series 5. I hope someone can tell me if it is in the pipeline ...?
on 20 May 2012
Just when it seemed that Sky Atlantic was broadcasting all the best serial dramas, the BBC and channel 4 have been putting out great Swedish /Danish productions. Like most people The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen were completely addictive and whilst waiting for series two, three or even a fourth series something had to be found to ease the withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately I found the excellent French series Spiral which I had missed all three series on BBC. I had come across it once when channel swapping, it wasn't easy to get in to part way through, because of running multi story lines in each episode, so I dismissed it. Subsequently I came across the widely acclaimed reviews crediting the quality of this riveting series, so purchased all three series on DVD. There is however a snag to this, for people lacking strong will power, and self control. instead of having a class leading series to look forward to each night for the next several weeks, Spiral is so entertainingly absorbing it is too easy to watch two or three episodes per night.
Everyone may have a preference , but Spiral is up there with the Swedish / Danish productions. It is my opinion that these particular foreign series are so superior to any US or home grown cop dramas.
There are two significant differences between the Scandanavian and French productions, one is that the French language is so much faster than Swedish and Danish and therefore it is more difficult to keep up with the subtitles in Spiral.
The other noticable distinction is that French women are so much more attractive, feminine and more stylishly dressed than Scandanavian women. I suppose we may have known this before, but Spiral draws attention to it.
I cannot wait for The Killing series three, Borgen series two and Spiral series four sometime this year.
I was thinking, maybe it is easier to pronounce the name Sara Lund, or did the gaggle of journos and mouthpieces begin salivating at the sight of her Scandinavian jumper? Was it the appearance of a woman detective embodying (and exaggerating) many of the traits attached to classic male cops and gumshoes? Whatever the reason or bag of associations, Scandi-drama has surely won more attention, especially amongst the gender-conscious sisterhood, eager for a new poster-girl.
I'm here to tell them that they missed a trick.
Berthaud. Captain Laure Berthaud. She is the real deal, the true hero(ine) of crime drama and female empowerment, the genuine inspiration for all viewers, men and women.
If feminism is really about equality with men then that presupposes a world in which men and women live together and interact with each other. So, that counts Lund out right away. SPIRAL is a TV show about crime and corruption in French society, one that examines politics, the judiciary, trade and industry, the police, as well as outright criminality, people trafficking, vice, drugs, etc. Caught up in the highly complex web and vortices of this world are many unforgettable characters, actors with extraordinary faces, but I want to talk about Berthaud.
The style of policing in Spiral is rough-house, round the clock interrogation and investigation, a tight-knit team of cops led (first among equals) by a woman who goes toe to toe, eyeballing and bellowing and b****slapping the perps with all the conviction and intensity of her male counterparts. She leads them, but from the front, and without sacrificing anything of her femininity. She is sexy but not girly or predictable in her sexuality. Her ruthlessness, her determination to get justice and more than that, to get a win, a success for her team, is both unique and admirable; her emotional attachment - when it surfaces - to her male colleagues, visceral, truthful and honourable. She cleverly manipulates the stereotypes, the cliched prejudices of her peers, without losing our sympathy, in fact quite the opposite.
The characterisation of Berthaud is brilliantly contrasted with her arch antagonist, the cold bloodedly vengeful lawyer, Josephine Karlsson. Tall, leggy, bosomy, all flaming hair, red lipstick and heels, she is glamorous, brilliant, chic, formidable, hateful, corrupt and utterly unattractive, at least to begin with. She has the money, the reputation, the prestige, the clothes, pure Sex & The City, and as empty as a seashell. Berthaud, average height, average body, combats and flats, is the one we admire, that men would want to love or to befriend in a purely platonic way, and that women should want to emulate.
So why doesn't she get the interviews and the headlines that Lund or Borgen's Birgitte attract? Because Spiral is more complex and inclusive, more energized and violent, but more particularly because Berthaud is a part of a team, whereas the Danish women stand apart, are presented as fundamentally alone.
We rarely eulogize, make heroes of individuals who function as part of an ensemble, assuming that the team spirit somehow dilutes their achievement. But that is our mistake and an empty vestige of humanity's desire for freaks and scapegoats, people marked for praise or punishment.
Laure Berthaud is a believable heroine. Lund is a caricature of the obsessed loner, someone who really couldn't function in a police department. Berthaud is the true feminist icon, a professional who is both man and woman, embodying the best of both genders, but who happens to have been born with girl parts. She is superb creation, given perfect credibility by Caroline Proust.
As for Spiral as a whole, well like I said, it is an electrifying crime drama, complex and fascinating, and fascinatingly different from English alternatives. Think 'The Wire' but with dialogue you can actually understand and not weighed down by transatlantic hoopla. If by some tragedy you have failed to acknowledge the existence of BBC4 then you must grab a copy of this DVD set asap. You owe it to yourself.
P.S. There are blunders in the English subtitles. Does no-one take pride in their work anymore?
First things first, stick with it. The first two series are basically a gory bloodfest, where gruesome murders get solved, but in season 3, there are four more episodes and the characters' lives become so much more rounded and interesting. That interesting element continues on season 4. I'd probably mark 3 and 4 at five stars, with one and two at 3 or 4 stars.
This is very much like a French version of The Shield, so high praise indeed. You have a band of rough and ready Paris cops who do what needs to be done to solve a case, even if that means a little enhanced interrogation and evidence fabrication now and again. The leader is a tough little nyaff of a woman, who lives and breathes the job, but she's loyal to her motley crew of sidekicks. They inevitably need her help, as they're usually pretty stupid and get themselves into all sorts of unfortunate situations.
There's also a lot of interaction with a very ambitious, not to mention borderline crooked, female defence lawyer, a hunky (says my wife) prosecutor and an investigating judge (forever known as Monsieur le Juge). The defence lawyer has the biggest role of the three, but the other two, particularly Monsieur le Juge, really blossom in season 3, to the benefit of the whole series.
Beware that this is gory and bloody beyond any CSI I've seen. There are close-ups of horribly mutilated bodies frequently shown and we tend to watch these bits from behind our hands with groans of "yuck".
I laughingly bought this hoping to improve my French, but despite being intermediate in study books, I only understand about 10% of what's said here. The more educated characters are relatively easy to understand, as they speak slowly and clearly, but the cops might as well be speaking Swahili for all I can pick up. However, they do seem to take a keen interest in Russian politics and Scottish actors, judging by the constant, passionate references to Putin and Connery.
To prove how much better this becomes by season three, we watched the first two in isolation, many months apart, but after watching season three another year later, we went straight into four, as we really felt like we cared a lot more about the characters by then. We look forward to season five now.
on 4 November 2011
Frankly, one of the best programmes I have ever seen. It is inevitably being compared with The Killing, but I for one would not want to choose between them.
I would endorse all the other plaudits and add just two comments. Firstly, it is pretty damn gruesome, not so much in showing the violence, but with the aftermath, particularly when the pathologists get involved, so be warned. Secondly, with series such as these they often seem to tire and become formulaic. Not a bit of it in this case - series 3 was for me the best of the lot, and the first two were great!