Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday 25 October 2009

"Engrenages" - Spiral (French TV cop series)

Unfortunately I didn't see the first series of "Engrenages" a couple of years ago, but the second series of this gritty French TV cop series is currently showing on BBC4 television. The English title of the show isn't particularly good, although it does try and encompass the different themes of the story, I suppose. In any case, I have to say I have become addicted to the second series - I started to watch it before I went to Spain in mid-September, but made sure I recorded every episode on my DVR, because I knew I proabably wouldn't be able to watch every episode when I was there.

Currently we're on episode 6 of 8 of the second series (with episode 7 being shown tonight and again next Friday, both on BBC4). It's still possible, however, if you're quick, to watch the whole series on the BBC iPlayer here.

I mentioned that the series is "gritty" - well, it's that all rght! "Engrenages" means 'gears' or 'cogs', but a more colloquial translation might be 'convolutions' or 'complications'. I think what the actual English title 'Sprial' is trying to convey is the theme of the hidden complexities of the criminal and semi-criminal characters in the series and their inter-relationships. Apart from the fact that the legal system is different in France from the usual English or American we are more familiar with, it adds the seediness of various of the legal protagonists (from the frankly corrupt Advocate Szabo to the ambitious, unscrupulous and completely out-of-her-depth AdovocateKarlsson), not to mention the ambition and publicity-seeking of a Public Prosceutor and a randy and stressed (female) police inspector and the undercover (and good-looking) Arab police officer Samy with whom she flirts.

For me one of the attractions of this second series is the argot, a mixture of slang Parisian French and slang Moroccan Arabic - I can follow most of the dialogue in both languages without using the sub-titles (which are pretty good, I'd say), but it does add an atmosphere of authenticity. Just as in modern 'popular' English, which is peppered with words orginating in India/Pakistan, Africa or the Middle East (which many people don't realise, so ubiquitous have they become), French is similarly admixed with a lot of north-African words and slang, even amongst native French, but of course in this cop show many of the ne-er do wells are of Moroccan or Algerian origin anyway, mainly Moslem but from what I can observe a few of them are probably north-African Jews too (when I lived in Casablanca in the early 1970s, for part of my time there I lived in an apartment in a smartish part of the city adjacent to the Jewish quarter or 'mellah', although many of the original inhabitants had left in the wake of the '67 war). The seediness, corruption and general back-biting, ambition and spite seems to involve all the communities portrayed in the programme, whether French, north-African or Jewish and whether they are the professionals (judges, advocates, police) or the low-life criminals who they are trying to catch or in some cases colluding with. Much grittier than most of the CSI offerings from the US - in fact I'd say the closest to it I've seen is the Glasgow-based Taggart, specially some of its earlier episodes.

Catch it on BBC4 (Sundays at 10pm, Fridays at 11.35pm or on the BBC iPlayer) if you can.


  1. Thanks for the tip Bill. I'll give it a go. I sometimes watch a few of the cop shows on TV5, channel 799 on Sky such as P.J. Une plongée dans le quotidien d'un commissariat de quartier parisien.

  2. Hope you enjoy it Graisg. I don't have Sky so can't unfortunately follow your suggestion.

  3. Never miss an episode of Spiral Bill, and saw the whole of the first series as well. I don't expect a gold star though.

  4. Just realised the comma is in the wrong place; oops!

  5. Hi APTSec

    I've checked on Amazon and see the 1st series is available, so I'll probably order it shortly. I/m currently transferring the 2nd series to DVD for future viewing, too.

    Lol - I had to check what you meant about the comma. I hadn't noticed until you mentioned it - there but for the Grace ...


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