This May Be the Best Police Investigation Series Ever
This is a review of Series 1 and Series 2 (total of 16 episodes) of the French police investigation TV series called 'Engrenages' in French but called 'Spiral' in English. ('Engrenages' does not actually mean 'spiral' but is not particularly translatable. It embodies a complex concept within a single word, referring to a vast web of interlocked and enmeshed gearings of events and personalities, which perfectly describes this incredibly complex and intriguing body of simultaneous and interrelated stories.) This is a sensationally compulsive and gripping series, full of well-rounded leading characters whose evolving personal tales are just as interesting as the crimes they are perpetually solving. As is usual with French crime films and series, they struggle against the octopus of French political corruption on a continual basis, as they cope with crime after crime and try to do their jobs against all the obstacles artificially created by powerful 'high-ups' and stony-faced bureaucrats. What is so remarkable about this series is the extraordinarily vivid and compelling characters which are created, and the magnificent acting. It is not really accurate to describe this as a 'police' investigation series, because under the French system, judges, magistrates, and prosecutors work side by side with the detectives on a daily and hourly basis, and this is what makes this series so fascinating. Major characters also include corrupt defence lawyers who are in the pockets of drug dealers and thugs. There is only one thing wrong with this series, and that is that someone high up in the production team (writer, director, or producer) is responsible for a disturbing and revolting streak of sadistic necrophilia which recurs time and again. We have to sit through numerous prolonged sequences where the camera lovingly dwells on mutilated or burnt corpses, which have clearly been expensively and meticulously produced by the props department. This is part of the contemporary trend of 'being tough on screen' by showing pathologists at work, a sickness indulged in also in British television at the present time, but really it is disgusting and whoever is responsible for including all that in this otherwise wonderful series should be taken to the nearest vivisection room and done away with. The main star of this series is the extraordinarily versatile and talented actress Caroline Proust. In the first couple of episodes she was a bit up tight as she settled into the role, but by the end of Series 2 she had so grown into it that she was spontaneity itself, and very endearing as she jumped up and down like a gleeful child when cleared in an internal investigation. As a detective captain, she epitomizes the dilemma of the modern woman, forced to do a man's job in dangerous circumstances and be as tough as a man, while coping with love pangs, loneliness, personal isolation and no lasting partner, dreaming of having kids but knowing there will be no chance, and frustrated at being the victim of continual gender bias and persecution by men who view themselves as alpha males. She is a delightful and sympathetic presence on the screen. The other woman dominant in the series is Audrey Fleurot, an eerily beautiful redhead covered in tiny freckles who epitomises the descent into evil. In episode after episode, we watch her progressively sell her soul to the devil as an increasingly corrupt advocate, betraying everything and everyone for money. Rarely has a reptile in human form been so successfully and compulsively portrayed. Really, Fleurot has achieved classic status as a villainess, and you simply cannot take your eyes off her because she is so wonderfully strange. My favourite character in the series is Judge Roban ('Monsieur Juge'), an investigating magistrate played by Philippe Duclos. He is quirky, eccentric, brilliant, intense, and a perfect joy to watch. The main investigating prosecutor ('Monsieur Procureur') is played by Gregory Fitoussi. He is a bit of a French 'pretty boy', ever such a good person, but also psychologically limited. Also compulsively watchable, exasperating and endearing at the same time, is the remarkable Thierry Godard, who plays the police detective Gilou. There are countless fascinating supporting characters, such as Guillaume Cramoisan, who plays Benoit Faye, the childhood friend of Fitoussi who is always getting mixed up in something dodgy and thinks all rules exist to be bent. Then there is the chilling psychopathic pervert who is personal assistant to a minister, Arnaud Laborde, played by Scali Delpeyrat, Daniel Duval who plays the ghastly and horrifying Me Szabo, Reda Kateb who plays the terrifying drug dealer Aziz, and the gallery of characters just goes on and on. Many of the Arabs and Berbers in the stories are amazingly good as actors. There is never a dull moment for hour after hour, the tension never slackens for an instant, and Series 3 must be impatiently awaited by hordes of viewers, amongst which I number myself as a dedicated enthusiast. This series is really an incredible achievement. The 'creators' are Alexandra Clert and Guy-Patrick Sainderichin; this is her first project, but he is a highly experienced French TV writer with a background also as an actor. They have been assisted by Virginie Brac and three other writers and there have been four directors, all splendidly creative. Everyone is excellent, and everything is superb except for all those horrible corpses. Interwoven throughout the series are highly intriguing miniature stories of puzzling crimes which are solved side by side with the main continuing investigations, in order to show the complexity of detective work, and how life is never dull for an instant. These are never just padding but are always interesting, and often bizarre. Everything about this series is highly charged, full of astounding energy and creativity, and it is really a triumph of sustained television drama. The amount and level of talent shown by everyone connected with this series is astonishing. The series really does deserve lots of awards.
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