Salamander. TV Review

Director: Frank van Mechelen
Screenplay: Ward Hulselmans
Starring: Filip Peeters, Koen De Bouw, Mike Verdrengh, Violet Braeckman, Lucas Van den Eynde
Certificate: 15
Format: DVD
Reviewed by Guy Adams

The British public’s appetite for foreign crime imports has seen eager programme buyers scouring the markets for more of the same. The Danes gave us THE BRIDGE and Scandinavian (or scandal angina as my autocorrect will insist) successes have come thick and fast, with THE KILLING and BORGEN reaping particular rewards. BBC Four has been the channel of choice for TV viewers with Arrow’s Nordic Noir label serving the box set market.

Both now turn to Belgium for a series to fill their schedules. It’s unfortunate that reviewers met the series’ initial broadcast with a lukewarm response, comparing it unfavourably with the series mentioned above. You can’t help but feel the comparison is a little unfair, contrived purely because it’s a subtitled crime drama broadcast on the same channel. SALAMANDER is not THE BRIDGE anymore than MIDSOMER MURDERS is BROADCHURCH. It’s a hardly a comparison the programme makers would ever have expected to encounter.

When 66 safety deposit boxes in the Brussels Jonkhere bank are broken into, the culprits retrieve documents that can bring down several high ranking figures in the Belgian government. Paul Geradi (Peeters) is on the case, as are the members of Salamander, a secret organisation that has long manipulated political affairs from behind the scenes.

At twelve episodes, Salamander is something of a shaggy dog story (never shaggier than when Peeters is onscreen, like an ageing terrier who shops at Gap) and there’s no doubt that it would have benefited from a shorter season, allowing the plot to have been tightened a tad. It’s a perfectly enjoyable wander, however with some pleasing diversions via flashbacks to the Second World War. Hulselman’s script ensures the twists and turns just about fill it’s lengthy screen time.

A more serious flaw is that our hero’s investigation relies on a whopper of a coincidence. Never ideal in a crime plot. Coincidences happen, naturally, but you run the risk of the viewer losing their faith in the central character when it can be argued that he’d never have solved his case without one.

That aside, SALAMANDER is a perfectly enjoyable romp and the urge to ‘just watch one more episode’ is maintained throughout. Peeters makes for a strong lead and Verdrengh is particularly repellent as the villainous banker pulling the strings on behalf of Salamander.