Thursday, 14 June 2012

Spiral on BBC Four: There's quite a lot to take in isn't there

As much as tv-ooh enjoys the grittier corners of tv drama - I don't know, say, a foray into shouty interrogation scenes or seeing a horribly charred corpse disintegrate as so-called police officers clumsily remove it from a car boot without any protective clothing - BBC Four's repeat showing of the second series of the French police thriller Spiral might take a bit of time to understand.

That's not because of the subtitles - the channel has neatly carved itself a niche for high quality European language drama, all spoken 'in foreign' and beloved of people who like good tv and/or secretly like to think they might be a bit clever, so that's not the problem - but because there's just a lot to take in.

Of course, that's often the deal when you start on a new series, whatever the language. There are so many questions: What will it be like? Will I care about these characters? How will the plot unfold? Will there even be a plot? Will I want to watch next week? Who will I want to imagine naked or feeding me a chocolate eclair?

'Crucial issues'

All of these crucial issues are at play as a new show unfolds, as you settle down to try something new and untested. Perhaps you have some of your own questions, too.

But the point, and for some reason we're noticing this more with Spiral, is that there just seems to be a lot to understand.

And actually it could be the language and subtitles - most of us can recognise parts of the French language, and often the subtitles appear at odds with what you think you're hearing. Unless that really wasn't a recipe for an adventurous lemon meringue we thought we heard during one of several scenes of the police carrying out a bit of 'rough and tumble' with a suspect.

So what do we actually know? This is the second of three (so far) series based around a group of employees in the French 'justice system', including some - let's say - 'unconventional' police characters, led by Police Captain Laure Berthaud and her unauthorised baton, as well as a few people who work as lawyers, such as Joséphine Karlsson, who Laure describes as 'a bitch' (according to the subtitles). Josephine, and her colleagues, look like they are all prone to 'playing by their own rules', apart from the obligatory idealistic one, Deputy Prosecutor Pierre Clément.

We think he's the one we'd want to have that chocolate eclair with, by the way, but it's early days.

Gregory Fitoussi as Deputy Prosecutor Pierre Clément in Spiral, BBC Four: 'The idealistic one'
A 'rapper'

Plot-wise, it begins with that charred corpse found in the car boot in the opening minutes of episode one. It's possibly a gangland-style murder carried out by a 'rapper' called Aziz, as part of rival drug gangs, while a dealer much further down the chain, who has an amusingly small and purple 'gay car', is manipulated and threatened by the tough police characters - which at times makes it all feel moments from being a particularly brutal French-language reinterpretation of The Bill - to provide them with a lead, after some smack he supplied ended up killing a schoolgirl.

There's lots going on, but as we're completely new to the series, the cliffhanger to episode two, focusing on the implications of Berthaud's professional misconduct rather than a development with the investigation, felt a bit premature for new viewers, as we don't yet know the characters enough to care that much.

So while there is a lot to explain, and a plot that's only going to get more complex, previous showings, of all the series, have attracted praise and admiration, as have the characters - and hey, if there's a bandwagon, we're right on it.

We're going to give Spiral a spin.

Related stories
Spiral: Date set for series 4 on BBC Four?


  1. Wonderful glitz , no glam, no puerile one-liners, just an excellent plot, no sentimentality (isn't this how police-life really is?) well-portrayed by good actors....luv it.....please bring on the next season's episodes too....

    1. Thanks for your comment. Apparently BBC Four are also planning to repeat series 3 (first shown here in April 2011) and a fourth series has just finished production.

  2. this writer needs to get a life

  3. This is a 'cop drama' of the highest order and I think that you just need to go with it. Sub titles aside, You don't have to understand the US political system to enjoy West Wing and Spiral is up there with that and The Wire. I'm mad at missing the last episode Series 2 and it's gone from iplayer. Repetez s'il vous plait
    Steve Mac

    1. I really enjoyed it in the end as it turned out - I was glad I stayed with it, it was worth it!

    2. Any chance of series 4?

  4. Paris is sleazy, who wants to go there now? It is not as romantic as it used to be in the Fifties, all the same the programme is brilliant, intense, strong like the strongest cheese, plenty of bite.