So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing but you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Jess Fostekew is in a spin about Spiral.
Now in its fifth season, crime thriller Spiral is sexy, gory and gritty with maze-like, gruelling plots that expose institutional corruption. It’s also got a double-hard female lead to easily rival that of The Killing or The Bridge.
The series is French and as if that isn’t sexy enough, its title in French (you have to growl it, filthily) is Engrenages.
Set at the heart of the Parisian criminal justice system, the main plots revolve around a helpfully tight-knit homicide squad, headed by Laure, the implacable star. Her team is a muddle of manly men, all mightily screwed up in their own ways but almost all good police. They have squabbles and blazing violent row-downs. There’s subterfuge and spite but, ultimately, they would lie and even die for each other. Like a family of giant teenagers but with guns and the technology to tap phones.
In each series, the squad takes on a massive and complicated criminal operation. It’s not like Broadchurch or the first series of The Killing. You’ll often know who the murderous mega-bastards are long before the series ends. The intrigue comes from the chase, all the hurdles and walls they run into and the inevitable twists and reveals. It’s full of beautifully drawn and multilayered characters but that’s not what drives it.
“Much like almost all great fictional police detectives, Laure’s personal life is a self-imposed cluster-bonk.”
There are moody great big seas of plot to swim through in every episode. It’s dark, in every respect. I wouldn’t recommend it to my Mum – it’s not for the gore-shy. If someone kills and mutilates a woman or even a baby, they show you. I don’t think it’s unwarranted. It’s sporadic and they don’t linger on it, they don’t need to. I mean, it’s horrible, but you only feel as sick as police must feel who find that sort of thing in reality.
The background’s as busy as it gets, too. There are always at least two strong, interweaving, only-just-sub stories running around. There are the lawyers, who are all, it appears in Paris, insanely sexy. Prepare how you’re sitting in advance. Then there are the judges, the mayor and the rest of the government. Less fantasy-fodder there, more the stuff of bureaucratic nightmares. Crooked spin and downright fiddling are rife. It’s like Blair’s government all over again but with more smoking and black coffee.
What really pulls this series up out of the pile for me is how gloriously 3D everything and everyone involved in it is. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of brawling and banging but everything has its consequence. No one’s all brilliant or all horrific… just. Within the realms of the underplayed drama there are as many genuinely funny bits as there are devastating ones. It never leaves you completely secure or completely relieved, much like reality.
And the master touch is the brilliant boss lady, Laure. Caroline Proust (also in The Tunnel) wears the character like a glove. She’s not without flaws. Much like almost all great fictional police detectives, her personal life is a self-imposed cluster-bonk. But she plays the hard, sexually free and in-charge leader we’ve seen before in The Killing and The Bridge. This time, though, there’s the added dimension of a smirk and the odd flaming rage. She is the ultimate in bright and brave but without any emotional detachment or perma-misery. This boss is passionate, wildly angry and, when times are good I’d go so far as to say, she’s even fun.1961 Views
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.