Long-form storytelling through the medium of television is, like everything, a mixed bag. Just because you can make a 10-episode miniseries, it doesn’t mean you should, or that your story has enough skeleton to support the meat. When Hollywood isn’t stuffing its preferred political/cultural narrative down the viewer’s throat, it’s producing reboots and sticking electrodes onto ancient, bloated franchises to keep their legs twitching. (This is our fault.) So I’ve gone a little further afield for my video entertainment, focusing on foreign television programs.
La Trêve (The Break) Season One is a series I wholly recommend. A Belgian crime show in French, it takes place in Heiderfeld, a small town in the Ardennes, where a young black soccer player’s body is found on the banks of the nearby river. Yoann Peters, a police detective who has just moved back to Heiderfeld after a 20-year absence, investigates the crime, and we find, as is typically the case in such stories, that there’s a lot more to the town, the murder, and the townsfolk than anyone might think. Yoann Blanc as Peeters does an extraordinary job of portraying a deeply flawed man, making you like and dislike him at the same time. The other performances are likewise excellent, transforming them from a collection of quirky small town characters into actual people with lives and desires and personalities. Is it slow-moving at times? Yes. Does it matter? No. You want to see what these people are up to. You want to get to know them better. And you want to see what happens next. Even if you’re not a fan of crime shows (I’m not), you’ll enjoy Season One.
La Trêve Season Two picks up a few years after the first season in a new town with a new crime and a number of new characters. Peeters is back, of course, because there wouldn’t be a show without him, and he’s tried to move on after the last season’s horrible circumstances. Unfortunately for him, he’s pulled back into police work when an old acquaintance asks him to help her patient: a young man accused of a horrible murder that she’s sure he didn’t do. There’s less whodunit in this season than the first, which leaves room for the show to include more of the side characters, many of which are fringy sorts of reprobates who make the slowly-disintegrating Peeters look like a Carmelite nun by comparison. I enjoyed it as much as the first season, even though it’s not quite as good. A little over halfway through season two they introduce a strange twist that in any other show would seem cheap, and the last minutes of the final episode are a real kick to the gut.
Si No T’hagués Conegut (If I Hadn’t Met You) defies easy categorization. Is it a love story? A science fiction yarn? Both? A Spanish show, set in Barcelona, it posits a neat if not entirely original idea: a man (Eduard) loses his wife and family in a tragic accident, and a mysterious woman gives him a device that allows him to visit alternate universes and times to explore a number of what-if scenarios regarding his past, his family, and his potential culpability in their deaths. The scenery of Catalonia and Barcelona is nice to watch, and I found the difference between Mexican Spanish and Barcelonian Spanish to be a treat to hear. The storytelling was clumsy throughout, however, bludgeoning the viewer with obvious hints, but it kind of makes up for it with pathos. How do you go on when your wife and children are taken from you so suddenly? It’s a nightmare. The science behind it didn’t work well, but that wasn’t the point. The acting was uneven at best, and most of the other characters were likable enough. What makes this show stand out is how incredibly unlikable and irritating the female lead (Elisa) was portrayed. She’s angry and remote and bitter and snappish and entirely disagreeable throughout. It’s clear that she was written that way, but it made it most difficult to sympathize with her. One thing I found is that in the later episodes, when they portray Eduard and Elisa getting intimate, it was uncomfortable to watch, as though I were witnessing a sibling making love. Ew. This one’s a mixed bag. I kind of recommend it, but if you quit a few episodes in, you won’t miss a lot.
Osmosis is a French science fiction show that takes place in Paris. Interesting idea, decent special effects, horrible storytelling. Set a few years from now, when tech companies are assisted by AI, it tells the story of Paul and Esther Vanhove, a sibling pair who are developing an app that purports to find the user his or her soulmate. You get a tattoo, take a nanomachine pill, and the face of your soulmate appears in your mind’s eye. Sounds fascinating, right? The way they do it makes no sense. All of the beta testers’ soulmates apparently live nearby, which was too much of a coincidence to ignore (they should’ve hung a hat on it). The plot only moves forward because of bizarre personal decisions made by the characters. Worse yet, there’s a kind of SpongeBob SquarePants-style of plotting in which certain things happen that should end the show right there and then, but are handwaved later on as no big deal. It’s like when SpongeBob falls into a paper shredder, is completely disassembled, and then pops back to normal an instant later. Funny for a cartoon, not funny here. There’s no resolution at the end, no sense of a story ending. Think of it like an overlong Black Mirror episode: preachy, tedious, and simple-minded.