So long, Scandinavia. Bonjour, Benelux! 

Comparing the cops of Salamander, Midsomer Murders, Brooklyn Nine-Nine — and Danny Boyle's frustrating Babylon

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

So long, Scandinavia. Bonjour, Benelux! BBC4, your subtitle-friendly channel, has filled the hole left by Nordic-noir The Bridge with Belgian crime drama Salamander (Saturday). At first, I thought this might involve a series of murder mysteries set in Flemish country houses, all solved by a dapper English detective called Horace Parrot. Not to be. Salamander is a 12-parter that kicks off with a break-in at the very heart of evil, a private bank in Brussels. The robbery eventually lands incorruptible police investigator Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy, as he is chased by all manner of crooks keen to protect secrets they’d kept in their safe-deposit boxes.

Salamander, like its amphibian namesake, is a creation at once sleek and slow-moving. It took 12 TV minutes for six men to rob the bank — an eternity. Even I could crack a high-security facility in that time (I think). The dialogue was both spare and laboured, while clichés abounded — the lone good cop, the 66 stolen safety boxes, the banker baddies with their bald pates and sinister spectacles, a community of monks. Yet it was also gripping. The aesthetic was elegant, showing off Belgian architecture — less showy than French buildings, more grandiose than Nordic ones — to good effect. Gerardi, craggy-faced, with bohemian grey hair and a beard, was like a Rodin statue come to life. I will keep watching, if only to soak in the Brussels atmosphere and to find out what the monks are up to.

Did I say ‘so long, Scandinavia’? Not so fast. Midsomer Murders (ITV, Wednesday), epitome of the pastoral English whodunnit, fêted its 100th episode by setting it partly in Denmark, with Ann Eleanora Jorgensen from The Killing and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen from Borgen making appearances as Copenhagen cops. The episode, called ‘The Killings in Copenhagen’, was born of mutual admiration, as Midsomer is Denmark’s most popular foreign-TV acquisition. It opened with the murder of a man in a hotel room in the Danish capital. But the man was a Briton and was killed in a most British way, by a biscuit. It turned out he’s Eric Calder, the bikkie baron of a Midsomer bakery, so cue the entrance of DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon).

From then on, scenes of stark, cool Copenhagen with its savvy female detectives alternated with snippets of a sweet English tea room and a Willy Wonka-type factory that churned out teatime treats. An unevenmixture, and midway things crumbled. The episode veered between slick and slapsticky, and this became particularly odd where the killings were concerned. There was a sharp, darkly humorous scene where a Midsomer murder victim was cling-wrapped round a large shipment of biscuits that ended up being dispatched to Copenhagen, which didn’t gel well with a later, cartoonish section where the villain put another victim (a twee character in a shiny waistcoat) on a biscuit-making assembly line at the Midsomer factory. Push a lever and he’s flat as a flapjack! It was Tom Clancy-meets-Tom & Jerry, and it didn’t work.

Moving on to New York City — the 99th precinct of Brooklyn to be exact. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (E4, Thursday), to the consternation of many, snatched two gongs at the Golden Globes, achieving in 12 episodes what Breaking Bad only managed in five seasons. The once-sleeper cop show was also placed by Fox in a coveted post-Super Bowl slot. Does it deserve the fanfare? Of course not. But the sitcom is actually quite funny, with great ensemble acting. Andy Samberg is detective Jake Peralta, a loony break-all-the-rules cop who’d be fired from the NYPD except he’s great at solving cases. He’s constantly in trouble with po-faced captain Ray Holt (terrifically played by André Braugher). Nine-Nine works because it doesn’t try to be different and edgy, or bog itself down with a social or political agenda. The latest episode, ‘The Vulture’, was typical: snappy dialogue snappily delivered, with a tight plot (Peralta took clownish revenge after being ordered by Holt to pass his case on to a rival detective).

Last, and least, we have the puzzling Babylon (Channel 4, Sunday). This cop-comedy-drama series was much anticipated, being directed by Danny Boyle. A team of London Met policemen is faced with a spate of killings, even as they’re being filmed for a documentary. Meanwhile, an earnest new head of comms, hired from America, advises on ‘transparency’ in terrible PR-speak. The pilot episode tripped over itself in its efforts to be smart and current. There were lots of scenes of people looking at their iPad and iPhone screens, making for annoying, confusing visuals. The thriller element sagged as the murders weren’t treated head-on, but were distantly managed by cops either too distracted by their documentary or their smartphones.

Soon I ceased to care, and turned to my own smartphone to catch up with The Bridge instead. Skål!

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