Friday, 26 March 2010


[6.52 - French Time] France has now its own House/The Mentalist/Monk clone.

France's leading network TF1 tries hard to find successors to some of their long-running hits. In 2009 they axed Navarro, launched in 1989 and starring veteran actor Roger Hanin as a cop who is our cultural equivalent of Barnaby Jones. Julie Lescaut, another police procedural, exists since 1992 and was revamped in 2008.

US networks spend fortunes in development each year, ordering myriad of pilots in hope of finding one or two they will make into regular shows. French television, of course, cannot do that and when you're not pubcaster France Télévisions (with the licence fee money) or pay TV Canal Plus, then it leaves you only two options: buy a foreign format or clone it.

TF1 does both. It airs the French official version of Law & Order: CI and RIS Police scientifique, dubbed "The French CSI" is actually the official remake of an Italian format. The network also prepares its own adaptation of British hit Doc Martin. But sometimes they find their inspiration abroad without buying the format: the laughable L'Hôpital was a copycat of Grey's Anatomy and the costly soap Seconde chance was the French Ugly Betty.

TF1 knows how much French viewers adore eccentric, apparently annoying but genius American sleuths like House and The Mentalist. How could the network ignore that? TF1 airs them and they are primetime rating bonanzas. Now they try the formula with a 90' pilot, La Loi selon Bartoli (Bartoli's Law).

Parisian actor Stéphane Freiss is Paul Lawrence Bartoli, an iconoclast Juge d'instruction (an investigating judge in French criminal law system) whose oddball behaviour hides a razor-sharp mind and a sincere empathy. He teams up with a charming young single mother named Nadia Martinez (Alexia Barlier), his new temp archivist who has a degree in psychology and doubles as a singer in a band.

Bartoli also has a Moneypenniesque assistant (Sophie Le Tellier) and he hires a disgraced cop as a PI (Lionnel Astier). His contact in the police force, Cappa (Philippe Bas), has the custody of his young son in spite of the fact that he's a poker addict, thanks to an intervention of the judge.

Stéphane Freiss looks like Hugh Laurie in House and borrows a little to Simon Baker in The Mentalist. Paul Partoli is snarky disrespectful, doesn't care about hierarchy, lives in hotel rooms, loves good restaurants (he's French) and has a soft spot for his lovely new temp (he's French). He also has a mysterious past and someone spies him and sends him toy soldiers.

La loi selon Bartoli could be a nice departure from the usual TF1 procedurals if Freiss was not trying his best to channel Gregory House as much as possible. Too bad because the character has his good moments, like when he's introduced to the viewer on a tree, the bus scene or the scene with Cappa's kid. And the "monkish" running gag of the shoes almost reminds Columbo at its best.

There are some good dialogues, even funny lines but also terrible ones and the intrigue is average procedural material. The cast is excellent, Alexia Barlier (Fast Track: No limits, Kali) could be the French cousin of Monk's Sharona but the club singing finale was useless. The music is reminiscent of Doc Martin and kudos to the production for shooting in France (in Aix-en-Provence).

Should La Loi selon Bartoli becomes a regular show (52' not 90', please) it would be the last place in France where you could find a Juge d'instruction, as French government is going to suppress this function.

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