Saturday 25 January 2020

A crime drama set in Paris? Yet there's still nothing to see here!

Jo is lost in translation
Jo is lost in translation

John Boland

The latest much-hyped crime drama, Jo (Fox), is the darndest thing, all its performers tearing around Paris pretending to be French even though they're all speaking English. It's a bit like 'Allo 'Allo minus the laughs.

Orla Brady, who's Irish, plays the police chief. Tom Austen, playing a cop, is English. Celyn Jones, another cop, is Welsh. The Canadian-born Jill Hennessy, late of Law and Order, plays a nun in civvies, while Heida Reed, as a troubled young woman, is Icelandic.

So the only French performer in this Paris-set series featuring supposedly French characters is Jean Reno – or so I assumed, until I googled him and found that the star of Leon and Ronin is actually Moroccan and only came to France when he was a teenager.

Indeed, despite its location, the series evokes so little sense of Paris or its people that it could just as easily have been set in London, Dublin, Berlin – or the Montreal from which co-creator and main writer Rene Balcer hails.

In short, this is one of those international productions so intent on snaring an Anglo-American audience that it ends up like a diluted hybrid of Criminal Minds, Leverage, NCIS and any or all of the CSI spin-offs.

All the clichés are here, not least the hard-living hero's unhappy relationship with an estranged daughter, and all are expressed in the kind of language seldom encountered on the streets of Paris. "Hey, asswipe, give me back my stuff," a drug addict says menacingly to our hero, while one of the villain's girlfriends is described as "a real space oddity".

We hear also of "snitches" and "two-bit dope dealers" and all those other phrases wearily familiar from decades of US cop shows. But, gee whiz, doesn't Notre Dame make a cute backdrop to a murder?

However, if it's genuine local atmosphere you want, The Fall (RTÉ One/BBC Two) is your go-to series, though inhabitants of Belfast might wonder if, after three decades of the Troubles, their city is ever going to get a decent break – here, it's the unsettling location for serial murders, sleazy politicos, corrupt policemen and sinister paramilitaries.

This week's second episode was just as alarming as the first and with plot developments that made you feel there's more to this chilling drama than the isolated killing spree of a psychotic individual. So far the series is maintaining its tone and its nerve. Let's hope it stays that way.

The problem with Case Histories (BBC One), based on crime novels by Kate Atkinson, is that it doesn't seem to know what tone to adopt and so it aims for a blend of the whimsical, the jokey and the hard-boiled. The result makes for uneasy viewing.

It didn't help that much of the plot in this first episode seemed to make no sense. Why exactly was the prostitute murdered in her flat? And who murdered her? Perhaps if the makers had spent less time reminding us how private eye Jackson Brodie was missing his estranged little daughter, we'd have found out.

As in the initial season, there are two reasons for paying some heed to this drama. One is the persuasive playing by Jason Isaacs of the prickly if melancholy main character, and the other is the city of Edinburgh, so vividly evoked that you can't imagine the action being set elsewhere. How about that, Jo? And, come to think of it, what kind of name is that for un homme?

Hillsborough: How They Buried the Truth (BBC One) was an hour-long Panorama investigation that promised revelations it didn't deliver about how 96 Liverpool supporters happened to die in that ghastly 1989 football disaster.

Still, it was salutary to be reminded of the extent of a police and judicial cover-up which discredited eyewitnesses, amended truthful statements by policemen who were at the ground and shifted blame on to the Liverpool fans, leaving families of the victims outraged at the eventual, glib verdict of "accidental death".

Since last September's independent inquiry, the truth is now well known, but it remains disgraceful that it took 23 years for this to come about.

The Family Project is RTÉ One's latest dogged foray into do-goodery television. It's as if our national broadcaster is saying: hey, we may not be making programmes you might actually want to watch, but don't ever doubt our earnestness when it comes to the disadvantaged.

This particular brainwave pairs six celebrities with six families who are attempting to overcome educational deficiencies, and on Monday night we were introduced to Clondalkin native Wes Doyle, who left school early and always regretted not sitting the Leaving Cert.

Enter champion jockey Johnny Murtagh, who had also left school early and had also regretted doing so. Indeed, he confided that he had often found himself in social situations where his lack of education had left him feeling awkward and embarrassed. So he had a thing or two to say that might motivate Wes – not to mention Wes's son, Luke, who was in sixth class but was rapidly losing interest in school.

Indeed, Johnny had lots of encouragement for Wes and Luke, and I wished them all well, though why I was being asked to watch this dutiful and staggeringly dull programme was never explained.

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