Tuesday, 27 March 2018


A hand is found in the water, inside a hermetic bag. Alexandra Ehle, a free-spirited forensic pathologist, decides to lead her very personal investigation beyond the legal limits of her functions and the police work.
The bottom line: Coroner Marleau.

The crime dramas of pubcaster France 3 are a fully-fledged genre amongst this giant police station which is French television fiction. The channel's long string of hits includes collections like Meurtres à..., Crime à, or the "semi-anthology" Crimes parfaits. Series such as Mongeville or Commissaire Magellan, whose success spawned two crossovers. And one-off TV movies: Peur sur la base, starring Audrey Fleurot (Spiral, Witnesses 2) is a most recent example. Since 2015 the jewel of the crown of their crime/mystery line-up is Capitaine Marleau, the ratings juggernaut and pop culture phenomenon from helmer and producer Josée Dayan.

Created by the very busy novelist and scriptwriter Elsa Marpeau (1), this series stars Corinne Masiero as an offbeat, sharp-minded and quick-witted sleuth of the Gendarme nationale. The parka and the chapka of Marleau (no first name) are as known in France as Columbo's raincoat. Huge in both first transmission and repeats, Capitaine Marleau was last year's most popular French drama. No wonder why cousins of the eccentric female sleuth started to pop up on the channel. One of Marleau's less distant relatives was definitely the police captain played by Isabelle Gélinas in the first couple of episodes of Crimes parfaits. 

Alexandra Ehle (pronounced "Elle") takes the family tree to another level. Formerly titled La légiste, this 90-minute pilot was created and written by Elsa Marpeau in person. Julie Depardieu, who was irresistible in an episode of Capitaine Marleau as one of the gendarme's improbable deputies, plays the title role (2). Alexandra Ehle is a brilliant and whimsical pathologist (3) for the Institut médico-légal of Bordeaux. In fact, she's so brilliant and whimsical that the pre-credit sequence tells us she's "la meilleure légiste de France" (no less) but her previous assistant left her to become a hat maker. For those who didn't get that she's whimsical there's a subliminal reminder with her theme music, built on Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.

Monsieur, her dog, sits at her desk while she sleeps on an examination table. He's so cool that he can blink. The enthusiastic new assistant of Ms Ehle, the bumbling and uptight Théo Durrel (Xavier Guelfi), is a graduate from the Marleau Academy of Eccentric sleuth Sidekicks. Alexandra's contact in the police force is the gruff Commandant Antoine Doisneau (Belgian actor Bernard Yerlès as another cop). Doisneau pretends to be annoyed because he's less than a second fiddle in his criminal cases. The public prosecutor complained (off-screen) about Ehle's frequent interferences but Antoine has the ability to suspend his disbelief and the Code de procédure pénale because he's her brother. Of course, the Doisneau family was struck by a tragedy which prompted bro and sis to choose their careers.

Formulaic TV is not a crime, even on France 3 which tends to clone its own dramas (starting with its regional collections). It can even be entertaining when properly done. Alas, Alexandra Ehle is apathetic, cliché-ridden to the point of parody and filled with terrible dialogues. The investigation quickly loses all interest. There are some mandatory "office du tourisme" shots and if text messages a la Sherlock and speed up views weren't enough, Alexandra has an "uber-cool" app to represent the subject of her case in 3D. Sara Martins (Death in Paradise) plays Alexandra Ehle's no-nonsense boss Diane Dombres. The great Andréa Ferréol guest stars as Laurette Doisneau, Alexandra and Antoine's mother.

Also with Sophie Le Tellier (Ludivine Morel), Laurent Maurel (Joël Baupin), Philippe Caulier (Capitaine Roméo Charron), Nathan Courgeon (Mathis Doisneau), etc. Produced by Carma Films (JLA Groupe) and Étoile Rouge Productions with France Télévisions. Co-produced by R.T.B.F (Télévision belge) and Nexus Factory, with the participation of RTS Radio Télévision Suisse. Produced by Christophe Carmona & Clémentine Vaudaux. Jean-Claude Marchant exec produces. Music composed by Stéphane Le Gouvello. Cinematography by Dominique Fausset. Filmed with the support of Région Nouvelle Aquitaine. Directed by Nicolas Guicheteau (L'Art du crime, La vengeance aux yeux clairs).

(1) Elsa Marpeau also works for France 2's collection Mystère à Paris and she adapted Flemish crime drama Professor T. for TF1.
(2) Her father Gérard Depardieu was the special guest star of Capitaine Marleau: Philippe Muir (2015), the pilot of Capitaine Marleau.
(3) "Brillante, fantasque et libre", said the press release. For the readers who don't speak French it's the equivalent of "John River, a brilliant police officer whose genius and fault-line is the fragility of his mind."

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