Television noir expert Dennis Broe previews five upcoming international crime shows…
France now boasts three industry conferences where television series are unveiled – Cannes, Lille and Fontainebleau – which are geared toward promoting European and global shows, and are a great place to get an early snapshot of new crime drama on the way. What follows is five of the best crime series gleaned from what was shown at all three. Many of these series should be available on the Channel 4 streaming site Walter Presents, which was featured at the Serie Series conference at Fontainebleau. Walter is Walter Iuzzolino, a former Channel 4 commissioner – a sort of a one-person Netflix algorithm who chooses series based on well-constructed, innovative but also popular concepts. He is perhaps less prone to the Netflix approach which is merely what will attract the most new subscribers. Have a read through to find out about some of the crime, espionage and suspense coming soon to the small screen…
5 – Stella Blomkvist
This Icelandic series is a whodunnit in episodic format, and provides plenty of thrills as more than an adjunct to the sexually liberated behaviour of its female lead. Lawyer Stella Blomkvist, who is played by Heida Reed, often has cases that lead her into danger, but soon is drawn into a political conspiracy, and begins investigating the cover-up of a murder. The series focuses on corruption at the root of male power within the Icelandic state. A welcome throwback to a time when series could expose corruption and power relations without the moral ambiguity about power that often mars today’s more expensive Netflix and HBO productions.
4 – Fenix
This Dutch-Belgian co-production manages to expertly put a new wrinkle into the war on drugs category. The pilot episode focuses on a kidnapping with a special prosecutor and a drug lord trying to have the drug lord’s step-daughter returned. The series is filled with gritty, tough locales, and in its look and seediness recalls Flemish film noir such as The Ardennes, about the hallowed out lives of what looks like Belgium’s Appalachia, and Dark Inclusion, which is Hamlet in Antwerp’s diamond district. It manages a turn at the end of the pilot which utterly shocks and makes us realise that Fenix is indeed the Dutch word for Phoenix, as in rising from the ashes. I won’t add more except to say that it is the most startling and one of the best constructed pilots of the year.
3 – War on beasts
Exceedingly gritty in its own right is the French series Aux animaux la guerre, oddly, but perhaps appropriately, translated to War on Beasts in English. Based on a novel of the same name, the series focuses on a forgotten region of the country, the Vosges, in a town where the last factory, the only thing that stands between its members and utter poverty, is about to close. The series details the way its characters are then inexorably drawn to crime, such as kidnapping a prostitute in order to make money. Then there are the tensions between the temptation to turn to the far right for solace or for the workers instead to organize in their own defense. Very pertinent examination of France and indeed the Western democracies as a whole as citizens become disenfranchised. You can watch the trailer with subtitles.
2 – Kiss Me First
Now available on Walter Presents and Netflix, Kiss Me First is a British production that you may like if you enjoyed Mr Robot, or Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. Offline, the main characters exist on the fringes of a materialistic, money-oriented society. Online, life is verdant as they turn away from the militarist thrill of gaming and instead embrace the creation of a utopian site a bit like Second Life where they can meet. But as so often happens, utopia turns dangerous and in the real world real world murders begin to occur. The young heroine must find the identity of a homicidal gamer. Along with the carnage, the series is interested in the relationship between our on and offline identities and the characters in real life look somewhat bleached and expressionless, much like their avatars, which might be reflective of the way our personalities might be affected by online media.
1 – Banking District
Banking District is a Swiss-Flemish co-production set in a pristine, gleaming and dangerous Geneva. It’s about a private banking family feeling the heat from the Obama administration, which after its giveaway to US bankers then went after the secrecy of the Swiss banking industry to recoup its funds. The pilot, extremely well-written, details the downfall of the lead banker, the family’s connection to the mob, the backbiting within the family for power and how its outsider members, the black sheep sister who had refused to work in the industry and her whistleblower journalist ex-husband, begin to unearth the family’s secrets. The pilot focuses on the change in the sister and brings her sharply into focus in a way that bodes well for the rest of the series as, finally, someone turns the financial crisis into a credible crime show.
Dennis Broe is the author of: Film Noir, American Workers and Postwar Hollywood; Class, Crime and International Film Noir; Maverick or How the West Was Lost; and the soon to be published Birth of the Binge: Serial TV and the End of Leisure.