Season 1 of the delightful French series Balthazar could very well be your next binge-a-thon when it premieres in the US.
Filled with cleverly-crafted red-herringed whodunit stories, Balthazar is an immensely enjoyable mystery-crime thriller series that stars Tomer Sisley (The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, We’re the Millers, Philharmonia) as forensic pathologist Raphaël Balthazar.
Professionally, Balthazar is brilliant. The youngest director of the Institut de Médecine Légale, a professor, and a legal expert (it even says so on his card), he is rightfully confident about being ace at his job and is rarely off the mark in the conclusions he draws about the victims and their killers.
He also sees and talks to the dead people on his autopsy table — and they talk back. Not in the supernatural sense, though. Balthazar immerses himself in the criminal cases and in the backstories of the victims, so stuff in his subconscious gets projected into his reality. And these seemingly real imaginings aren’t limited to his salle d’autopsie; they occur at home, too. With his wife Lise (Pauline Cheviller, Mystery in Paris), who he found murdered at their home twelve years ago.
So Balthazar’s kinda quirky. And despite being annoying, irreverent, and utterly full of himself, the man is downright endearing. His good looks and quick wit don’t hurt, either. (Not to mention his cooking and baking skills.)
Chief Inspector Hélène Bach (Hélène de Fougerolles, Murder in Strasbourg, Le secret d’Elise) might beg to differ (except maybe the part about his good looks). The no-nonsense police commander was recently assigned to this patch of the Paris police, and she has very little patience for the likes of Dr. Balthazar. (Well, little patience, period.) She encounters him for the first time at a crime scene — the home of a Paris Criminal Court public prosecutor and his wife, both shot to death. Their six-year-old daughter, while physically unharmed, is traumatized. The murders of the couple are not the only ones that Balthazar and Bach will have to investigate together before the killer is caught.
Other cases the two collaborate on involve an unidentified dead man whose facial skin looks like it’s been torn off and whose autopsy reveals years-old scars throughout his body; a young woman found frozen in the back of a lorry; a young woman whose bloodied body points to there being another dying or already dead victim; cut-up body parts found floating past a barge; and a woman found dead during a multi-car pile-up.
A case that Balthazar doesn’t work is one that compels him to (unofficially) re-investigate Lise’s murder. Given a particular clue found on the body of a recent male homicide victim, he wonders if the man in prison for his wife’s death is actually her killer. So begins Balthazar’s quest to solve his own murder mystery.
Sisley is fabulous as Balthazar, he of the bon mots, twinkly-eyed looks, and wry smiles. And de Fougerolles holds her own as Bach, she with a bike instead of car, a teen-aged son and daughter, and a husband who might or might not be cheating on her.
With shades of the eponymous detectives in River and Rocco Schiavone, and of unlikely yet effective mystery-solving duos like Brennan and Booth (Bones) and Chassagne and Verlay (Art of Crime), Balthazar is by turns dark and humorous, has tender, moving moments, and features (not gratuitously) graphic scenes that are not for the squeamish.
In a word, Balthazar is awesome!
The six-episode first season costars Yanig Samot (La Mante, Murders in Lorraine) as Detective Jérôme Delgado, Philypa Phoenix (Osmosis) as forensic pathology trainee Fatim, Côme Levin (Missions) as her trainee colleague Eddy, and Aliocha Itovich (Art of Crime) as Antoine Bach, Hélène’s husband.
Series 2, whose ten episodes are currently airing in France on TF1, is scheduled to debut stateside in spring 2020. Stay tuned for updates.
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