The recent end of the second series of Hinterland cleared BBC4’s Saturday evening foreign language crime slot for a brand new series, this time from France.
The Disappearance tells the story of how 17-year-old Léa Morel (Camille Razat) goes missing while at a music festival with her friends. At first there’s simply mild irritation from her parents that she’s not back by the curfew time they’d set for her, but soon it’s clear that this isn’t just a teenager pushing the limits but is something far more serious.
Episode 1 follows the increasingly panicked search by Léa’s parents Julien and Florence (Pierre-Francois Martin-Laval and Alix Poisson), while by episode 2 the seemingly perfect Léa’s life is starting to be methodically unpicked, laying bare a drug problem and a secret boyfriend – although Julien seems far more appalled to discover that Léa was having lessons in motor racing. Oh, the horror!
The police are involved and take an immediately hostile and unhelpful position toward the family (and indeed, to pretty much everyone and everything). A single discrepancy in Julien’s account of his whereabouts the night Léa went missing is enough to see him immediately arrested and held for several days. It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence about the French legal system, even when lead detective Bertrand Molina (Francois-Xavier Demaison) eventually proves himself to be of the ‘tough but decent’ character type.
There’s plenty of interesting hints of further secrets to come (Léa’s older brother Thomas for example has definitely been lying to the police about something), and overall a missing person case has an inherent drama that’s hard to mess up, rather like a ‘ticking time bomb’ plot is almost impossible not to get some decent mileage out of. However at the same time it’s a very well-worn story trope and The Disappearance shows that it’s difficult to get something genuinely distinctive and different out of the scenario. The 2014 Irish drama Amber at least tried to be original with its use of broken timelines and different points of view to tell the story, but by comparison The Disappearance is unimaginatively linear.
The other aspect of the show that I have a problem with is the almost fantasy setting. Léa’s home seems to have been reproduced from the pages of a style magazine, while Lyon as a whole is so beautiful and picture-postcard perfect that it’s almost impossible to imagine any bad thing happening there ever. And the cast are uniformly beautiful to a fault, as though the entire city – even the relatively older inhabitants – are populated by unblemished models. The whole thing is so bright and colourful and gay that it feels like it’s set in some strange crossover world between Hollyoaks and Ballamory.
Presumably this is intentional and what the show will go on to do is peel away the surface layers of ‘perfection’ to show the decay and corruption underneath. Already Julien has dug far enough down to come across a camp of prostitutes and been beaten for good measure for asking too many questions. But the beauty of the city and its impossibly perfect people have already edged into fantasy stylings – Léa being a national-level downhill skier but apparently also somehow a motor racing prodigy as well is an example of the unreality present in the first two episodes that undercuts what should be the intense drama of an apparent abduction and leaves me scrambling to find sufficient suspension of disbelief to really get involved in the series over the remaining six episodes. Most of all I think is the sense that British TV has already done this sort of thing rather better in recent years, and that in this case going fishing for a EuroNoir product in the same vein was unnecessary and slightly unfortunate.
Still, as I said the start, it’s hard to get this sort of story so badly wrong that there isn’t a sufficient hook to make you keep wanting to watch to see how things unfold, and so I’ll probably stick with it unless something truly non-sensical happens in the meantime. That’s more than I can say about Dicte: Crime Reporter, the new Danish series that has just started in More4’s Friday evening spot, replacing the just-finished Blue Eyes.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Dicte, which centres on the eponymous Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle), a successful Copenhagen crime journalist who has moved back to her hometown of Aarhus after going through a divorce which leaves her relationship with daughter Rose (Emilie Kruse) somewhat strained. Within days of starting a new job with the provincial newspaper she stumbles across the dead body of a recently-pregnant East European immigrant at the dockyards and becomes intent on following the story to find out who killed her. Because reporters are exactly the same as police detectives, obviously, just the way that the pathologists in Silent Witness also routinely solve crimes.
The trouble is that the first episode has remarkably little in the way of tension or suspense to keep the viewer watching. An hour into the two-hour first episode I was bored and looking for something else to watch because this was just not grabbing me in the least. It reminded me of the sort of mediocre shows that used to pack the daytime TV scheduled before the BBC gave them an upgrade with superior fare such as Father Brown, The Coroner and WPC 56 all of which are far more full-developed and interesting than the oddly old-fashioned Dicte.
In the end, I did bail out of watching the first episode – the QI spin-off No Such Thing As The News was on the other channel and proved far more engaging and entertaining. It just goes to show that simply because something is Danish or subtitled doesn’t always mean that it’s always going to be a match for existing British content.
Dicte: Crime Reporter continues on More4 on Fridays at 9pm with weekly two-hour episodes.