Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: detective drama
Availability: Acorn – French subtitled
Plot: Created by Clothilde Jamin and Clélia Constantine, this French series was broadcast in Belgium and France in 2018. It was a big hit for the British streaming service Acorn, and they have announced a second series to come. The first episode starts with Raphaël Balthazar in his apartment eating breakfast, and chatting to his wife, Lise. He is stripped to the waist (this happens often in the series for reasons you will discover). Soon though, we realise that Lise is dead, murdered a number of years before. Her death continues to haunt Balthazar, who works as a forensic pathologist assisting the police in solving crimes. It is a standalone episodic series, each crime solved within an episode. But the death of Lise is an ongoing thread running through the series, increasingly involving Balthazar in dangerous and questionable practices. In the first episode we are introduced to Inspector Jérôme Delgado, who has worked with Balthazar for some time, and to Chief Inspector Hélène Bach who is new to the division. It’s clear from the start that the Chief Inspector finds Balthazar arrogant and egotistical. She has little time for his continuing demands for praise as he makes the discoveries that turn out to be critical to the solving of the case. But as Delgado explains to his boss, Balthazar is a brilliant professor, but he’s also a pain in the neck. He is certainly obnoxious, but in a triumph of scriptwriting, we find him really likeable. Central to the success of the series is the wonderful chemistry between Balthazar and Bach that carries the drama along.
Filming and setting: There is a lot of action in this series as the police and forensic pathology teams come together to solve crimes. Important to know is that a good deal of time is spent in the coroner’s laboratory where Balthazar dissects the corpses. When he is on his own in the morgue, he talks to the dead in the same way he talks to his wife at home, and they talk back. These imagined conversations help him solve the crimes. In any event, the autopsy scenes are not for the squeamish. I kept my eyes closed throughout the most graphic parts, and it wasn’t too bad.
Cast: Tomer Sisley is absolutely outstanding as Balthazar. He carries the role with aplomb – he is funny, inappropriate, haunted, passionate and full of egotistical self-importance. Hélène de Fougerolles plays Bach equally well and is a great counter to Balthazar. She is smart, serious, and also has her own family issues to deal with bringing additional depth to the series. The rest of the excellent cast support the action in their own ways. Côme Levin as Eddy and Philypa Phoenix as Fatim, Balthazar’s intrepid assistants, bring much humour to the series as they compete against each other for ascendency in the lab.
Personal Comments: This is a really excellent series, and I was disappointed to realise that series 2 will not be available until sometime later this year. Unlike the really dark detective programmes that are increasingly serialised, Balthazar has an enjoyable light-heartedness about it – similar to the wonderful Belgian series Professor T (if you haven’t seen that one, you have a treat in store). Balthazar is a five-star series that is worth signing up for Acorn’s free trial to watch.