Two years ago the BBC bought and screened a French TV crime drama called Engrenages [which roughly translates as gears or cogs, but can also mean a spiraling cycle e.g. into violence]. Renamed Spiral and shown in French with English subtitles, it won a small but loyal audience on BBC4, a non-terrestrial channel. This was before the days of iPlayer, so those of us without access to digital channels never had a chance to see this much acclaimed thriller.
I filed the name away in my head and bought the series when it was eventually released on DVD two months ago. But life and work pressures meant I didn't have a chance to watch any episodes until this Sunday just gone. It proved utterly compelling - dark, bleak, funny and gripping - so much so I had to force myself to stop watching after the first four episodes. It was midnight and the working week beckoned. Save the rest for later, I told myself.
Watched another two episodes last night and had the same problem. Now there's only two episodes left, the drama is racing to a climax and I'm desperate to know what happens next. Like I said, utterly compelling. It's like a cross between the twisty-turny plot machinations of Damages and the gritty realism of The Wire, transported to Paris. Cops and lawyers, junkies and criminals, secrets and lies all grapple for supremacy in this police procedural.
The diversities of the French legal system give the procedural aspects a freshness after too many years watching shows set in the British and American systems. The fact you have to read the subtitles to understand what people are saying forces you to pay more attention. The characters are all flawed in some way, but most have redeeming features. This show isn't afraid to confuse its audience temporarily for the sake of better longterm storytelling.
The good news is a second series of Engrenages has already been made and screened in France. Even better, the BBC has bought it for broadcast this winter. Alas, it'll be on BBC4 again, but the advent of iPlayer means non-digital viewers now have a chance to see Spiral. [Why it's relegated to BBC4 escapes me.] In the meantime, I heartily recommend watching the first series on DVD if you didn't catch it first time round. A great find.