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TV review: can Salamander fill the Scandinavian slot?

Lie back and think of Belgium. Are you seeing waffles and beer? Or perhaps Tintin and Snowy?

Whatever you're thinking of, it's certainly not frosty chic and brilliant drama.The BBC want you to think of these things, though. With The Bridge finished, and viewers bereft, BBC4 have immediately put the Belgian Salamander into the Saturday night Scandinavian slot as their new foreign-language crime drama.

Yet the show's writer, Ward Hulselmans, insists Salamander is nothing like the venerated Scandinavian shows, though this protestation risks making him sound like the lead singer of the clumsy band in the church hall who plead that they mustn't be likened to The Beatles - 'well, no-one was bloody well making that comparison!' we might grumble, still tender after the finale of The Bridge - but perhaps he's making the claim, not to clutch at Scandinavian coat-tails, but to hush those keen to fuse his drama to its predecessors.

So is this a brave new show, or just Belgian waffle? Salamander begins with crooks tunnelling into the vault of an exclusive private bank. There is certainly no icy Scandinavian style here, with the action seeming more like a clip from The Crystal Maze as the group crawl and burrow and scrape whilst a timer beeps away the seconds and their cronies urge them on.

The goal is a wall of safe-deposit boxes which they sear open with a blow torch. There are hundreds, but they carefully select 66, emptying them, not of money, but of letters and photographs.

When the theft is discovered, the victims insist there can be no police investigation and that the matter must be resolved privately. Each of the 66 targets form part of Belgian's political elite. Should the tricky contents of those safe-deposit boxes become public, the government will be choked in blackmail and scandal.

A pact of silence is agreed, but someone tips off the police and here enters Detective Gerardi, loaded with stubble, signet rings and shaggy, oiled hair, his white shirt open to a chest which almost glints with aftershave and bravado. The show rears into life with his appearance. He ignores orders to keep silent and goes barging off to investigate alone, bringing car chases and murders tumbling along behind him.

Salamander started slow though perked up once the boisterous Gerardi appeared, but the mild beginning seemed like a failing as the programme had been hyped too much as a replacement for The Bridge. That show gave us, in its opening scene, a severed body spilling its pink coils onto the tarmac whilst The Killing began with a woman being chased through a forest, so perhaps Salamander suffered in comparison as the only unpleasantness in its opening scenes was someone getting a burn on the wrist.

There was no fast plunge into panic, to which we've perhaps grown accustomed. Salamander is about a conspiracy so requires careful plotting and slow revelation, but the need to label it as 'Belgium's answer to The Bridge' perhaps warped our response to it and had us wondering where the guts were.

The same thing happens these days in publishing. Books are marketed as 'the new Bridget Jones' or 'if you liked Harry Potter, you'll love…' but this craze for imitation produces nothing but a tepid tide of trashy fan fiction. Fifty Shades of Grey has spawned fifty more hideous books and was itself a copy of the Twilight books which was, in turn, was sold as an antiseptic, teenage Wuthering Heights. Nothing is permitted to be genuinely new. It must simply be the new something else.

So don't approach Salamander as merely a new take on the Scandinavian dramas. Allow it to be just what it is: an intricate conspiracy, dependent on slow and measured revelations, threaded together with a boisterous detective who wouldn't be seen dead in one of those woolly jumpers.

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