Monday, 3 January 2011


The TV legion of literary cops has now a new member and he's Italian... sort of. From the producer of the British version of Wallander, and of DCI Banks, comes Zen. Adapted from the Aurelio Zen series of books by Michael Dibdin, this new crime drama premiered yesterday night on BBC One.

Aurelio Zen, played by English actor Rufus Sewell, is an upright maverick detective working at the Questura di Roma of the Italian State Police. He's the epitome of cool: his name is cool ("It's Venetian"), he wears cool sunglasses and a cool suit, he drinks an espresso before going to his job and he pays it. Like John Luther, another maverick Beeb cop, his TV show has a (truly) visually super cool intro - with a beautiful theme composed by Adrian Johnston. Zen's love interest is played by Casino Royale's Caterina Murino - which is cool if you liked the movie. And like Luther he's a walking cliché but, unlike him, he's cool.

The three-part feature length drama is produced by Left Bank Pictures (Wallander) for the BBC (BBC Scotland) and co-produced by the Italians of RTI (Mediaset), the Americans of Masterpiece, German pubcaster ZDF and Ingenious Broadcasting, in association with LipSync Productions. The cast of the first episode is top-notch, starting with Sewell of course: Peter Guiness, Ed Stoppard, the legendary Anthony Higgins, etc. Even the great Catherine Spaak as Zen's Mamma.

Except for the Italian location Zen brings nothing to the genre. Of course both artistic license and suspension of disbelief are meant to allow the viewer to accept the fact that most of the Italian characters talk with diverse Brit accents. If "atmospheric" sleuths are not new on British telly (remember Maigret or Van der Valk) when it comes to Italian TV crimes your humble servant prefers Inspector Montalbano or even a classic like La Piovra.

Anyway people around the world like detective and crime dramas and the British television fiction industry tends to rival with its French counterpart these days for the title of biggest European TV police station. Maybe someday we'll have Damian Lewis as Aurélien Nez, a Parisian detective. Or a Moscow cop, French private network TF1 tried that in the nineties.

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