A rough-around-the-edges American finds himself in France, transporting a special kid with the help of some nuns. The kid’s father is a dangerous criminal. Some of the nuns end up dead.
I might as well be describing the new Walking Dead spinoff Daryl Dixon. Weirdly enough, I’m actually talking about another new AMC show called Monsieur Spade, which has a number of striking similarities to the Norman Reedus zombie show.
Of course, there are no zombies in Monsieur Spade. It’s a show about the same character Humphrey Bogart played in The Maltese Falcon, only now he’s played by Clive Owen. Spade has left his work as a private eye in San Francisco and moved to the bucolic French countryside, initially to transport a young girl to her father, and then as a permanent resident—married and settled down, in a rather bizarre twist for the hard-boiled detective.
I’ve seen just the first episode of Monsieur Spade, which premiered the same night as HBO’s True Detective: Night Country. I have mixed feelings about the show so far, though Owen does a great job as Spade. For one thing, it’s just hard to reprise a role made famous by Bogart. Good luck to whoever tries to remake Casa Blanca. Here’s lookin’ at you kid.
For another, while the series premiere ends on a really ghastly, fascinating cliffhanger, the story leading up to the actual mystery is slow and all over the place, jumping confusingly between timelines for quite literally no reason. Once the time-hopping is over, things get a bit easier to follow, but the time-jump is hard to follow and leaves viewers with a lot of questions. It’s a very clumsy way to build intrigue, especially since everything outside of the return of one particular character with a bad reputation is very mundane.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m fine with mundane. I could watch a show about Sam Spade shopping and gardening in provincial Bozel, France without the murder mystery. It’s a lovely setting, and I’m all for the droll, boozy conversations and getting to know the townsfolk. There’s a “cozy” element to this first episode that I’m not sure can survive its bloody conclusion (not that cozy mysteries can’t have bodies, but so many bodies?)
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Still, despite its muddled plotting and odd premise (do we need this to even be Sam Spade? Couldn’t Owen’s character be some new P.I. created just for this show?) I found myself enjoying Monsieur Spade for the most part. The old cars. The bustling market that made me want to sing “Little town, it’s a quiet village. Everyday like the one before . . . Little town, full of little people, waking up to say ‘Bonjour!’”
A part of me thinks it would have been better if they’d filmed the whole thing to look as though it had been filmed in 1963, sort of how last year’s The Holdovers was shot to look like a 70s’ movie. Give it a bit of a technicolor sheen or something. The intro had a very old-timey feel, and the episode opens on some great shots of Spade driving a gorgeous old car through the French countryside. I want the show to lean hard into that vintage feel.
In any case, I’m curious. I have no idea who the killer is or why they committed such a heinous crime. The first episode took its sweet time getting to the bloody stuff, but now that we’re here I want to know more. Maybe because I only just heard about this show and had virtually no expectations going in, I enjoyed it more than True Detective: Night Country’s premiere. It’s far from perfect, and it also suffered from segments that were hard to follow, but at least I didn’t walk away feeling a massive sense of disappointment.
You can read my Night Country season premiere review right here.
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