Sunday, 8 July 2012

Boxset Binge #6 - Braquo (Season 1 & 2)

Currently it would seem that the American drama powerhouses such as HBO and Showtime are the ones currently dominating the market when it comes to quality TV drama and as a result when it comes to picking new shows to watch, that I often find myself opting for the American presentations, especially when the quality of the acting and especially the writing has frequently proven, that they are the ones truly setting the benchmark for TV drama. More so when you consider the abysmal BBC productions being churned out with predictable writing and often with production values which would make even the SYFI movie of the week blush, while further frustration only being caused by their refusal to attempt anything risqué (unless it features lesbians) for fear of reprisal (just look at the current state of “Doctor Who” for a prime example of their shortcomings), leaving the likes of Channel 4 Productions and more recently Sky Productions to provide even the slightest hope that the TV drama market might not now be an American dominated arena.  Still it is as I make such sweeping statements that this French drama would appear seemingly from nowhere and turn everything on its head.

Now before you go any further I should warn of potential spoilers ahead, due to the fact that this review is covering both seasons of the show as one uber boxset binge.

Set around a squad of tough and frequently rulebook-ignoring cops, led by Eddy Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade), who acts like a father figure to the other members of his squad which include the drug-addled and volatile Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the Man Mountain and chronic gambler Walter (Josepth Malerba) and the feisty and permanently leather jacket clad Roxane (Karole Rocher). Working frequently in the grey area between the police and criminals, their methods constantly question which side of the law they belong to while sharing an unbreakable bond to keep their off-the-book mission from their superiors. Season one sees the team, attempting to clear the name of their former colleague and squad leader Max, who commits suicide after being wrongly accused of corruption. Season two see’s Caplan being sent undercover to infiltrate a gang of former mercenaries known as “The Invisibles”, who have stolen 400 kilos of gold, while adjusting to the fallout from the events at the end of season one.

Created by the former cop turned director Olivier Marchal, who previous drew on his experiences to bring us films like  “A Gang Story” as well as the incredible and painfully overlooked “36”, with this series truly being the acumination of his work so far as he appears here on directing and writing duties to craft a truely gritty police drama, which has already drawn comparisons to both “The Shield” and “The Wire” and despite being short seasons with each one consisting of eight episodes, it never feels as if anything is being sacrificed due to lack of run time and if anything only feels like a tighter and much faster paced show than some of it’s American contemporaries which generally clock in around 21 episodes per season. With such a tight schedule, Marchal has the advantage of being able to suddenly drop in moments of actions, rather than having to spend several episodes building up to them, though never at the same time feeling the urge to telegraph these moments, which frequently come by surprise and even more often without warning.

Caplan’s crew while showing little regard for police procedure are not a lawless band of thugs, even though their actions often put them dangerously close to crossing the line between the police and the criminals they hunt. Still with their unwritten code of honour they do what they must to get the job done, while frequently getting mixed up in the dark Parisian underbelly as Caplan more than once throughout the series makes a deal with the devil in order to further his investigation. As an interesting counterpoint to the often questionable actions of the team is Internal Affairs officer Vogel (Geoffroy Thiebaut), who will do anything to ensure that Caplan is exposed for his laundry list of infractions, while Vogel himself is played out with a suitably villainous edge as he ruthlessly bends the rules to suit his obsessional quest for justice, while only becoming more twisted and dangerous as the series goes on, with his action over the course of the first two seasons only being smaller moves in his much larger game plan, with the finale of season 2 setting him up as truly a key player in the events of season 3, which right now cannot come quick enough.

Vogel however is just one of the many interesting characters, who appear over the course of these first two seasons, making it far from surprising that it has drawn comparisons to “The Wire”, with season 2 being given more time to explore the shady dealings of the Parisian underworld in particular the Arifa gangster family, whose matriarch (Annie Mercer) is possibly one of the more ruthless crime family heads to be seen of late, especially with her psychotic sons on hand to carry out her various wims, while engaging in a bloody turf war with the local Armenian gangsters. Still rather than being a second thread story as it would first appear, their story is soon cleverly woven into the main plot line, especially when Madame Arifa gets involved in a gold trade with The Invisibles whose own motives are the slowly revelled over the course of the second season and proving like so many things in the series that nothing is ever as black and white as it would first seem.

“Braquo” is a high end production throughout with series creator Marchal clearly wanting to prove that French drama is equally comparable to the output of the American drama powerhouses like HBO, while certainly not holding back when it comes to the violence, which while frequently explicit never is on the side of gratuitous or shock value. What is equally refreshing about the series is the fact that it is being broadcast subtitled, rather than being given any kind of questionable dub track and with the talented cast assembled here, it only makes it more of a benefit to be able to watch it in it’s native language, while subtitle haters will no doubt be sweep up like the rest of us in the fact paced drama to really care to much about them, especially when this is one of the few dramas to deserve the honor of being classed as unmissable.

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