On y va.
Simon Kapita (Bruno Wolkowitch), legendary PR man, friend and adviser to the French President, has left Paris, his PR company, his surprisingly patient wife and his Secret Pain behind for a top-tier job with the UN. But when Le Pres is mortally wounded in a suicide bombing at a factory, Simon dashes back to France, only to find that the evil, possibly fascist, permanently grumpy-faced PM Deleuvre is plotting to takeover before his boss is even dead, and is not remotely averse to un peu de cover-up and beaucoup de racially-motivated scaremongering if it helps him get the top job.
The justifiably outraged – but oddly difficult to sympathise with since he’s somewhat obnoxious himself – Simon swallows his Secret Pain, sets aside his swanky new life and recruits the apparently principled (we’ll see how long that lasts) Secretary of State for Social Affairs Anne Visage to run against Deleuvre and destroy him forever. Deleuvre, however, has other ideas, recruiting Simon’s protégé and (soon-to-be-ex) friend Ludovic (Gregory Fitoussi) and his old company Pygmalion to win, no matter what.
Et donc, the battle of the spin doctors begins: in the rouge corner, the veteran Simon, filled with the fire of righteousness and revenge, and furious not only at Deleuvre but at Ludo for betraying him; and in the bleu corner, the younger, hungrier Ludovic, the erstwhile student determined to beat the teacher, no matter how unscrupulous or cruel he has to be in the process.
Even with all the West Wing-style striding around going on (de rigeur now for all political drama, wherever it’s from), everything about Spin is very tv French and very, very glamorous.
Everyone has exceptionally complicated personal lives (ie is either having or has had an affair with everyone else), so there’s a lot of meaningful staring and sexual tension (both of the resolved and unresolved kind) a spot of enthusiastic sex, and more to come, I would imagine, on all those fronts.
Everyone is also incredibly suave and stylish, racing about in slick cars and wearing even slicker clothes, with the leading men clad in a succession of sharp black suits (Mon Dieu, I love a sharp black suit), and the leading ladies all in soft, super-expensive separates.
With all this loveliness and Paris and the halls of government in the background, then, everything looks gorgeous but, never mind all that, is the show any good?
On the strength of these two episodes, yes, it is, but… there are a few buts.
The first episode takes a while to get everything set up, the second is much better and, now Simon and Ludo have taken the gloves off and things are about to get properly nasty, I think the third will be great, especially since the political commentary seems refreshingly complex and clear-eyed, and the acting is excellent across the board.
None of it is helped, however, by what comes across as banal, clunky subtitling – changing the exciting “Les Hommes de l’ombre” to the uninspiring “Spin” is only the first example – stripping the dialogue of nuance (and sometimes grammatical sense) that I am sure would be there if only my French were up to understanding it all on my own.
The characterisation of the women is disappointing too, with all of them coming across as wholly dependent on the men in one way or another: determined journalist Apolline is ridiculously forgiving of ex-husband Simon, clinging on to him adoringly although he treats her more like a convenient scratching post than a partner; their astonishingly irritating student daughter works for a web design company “for pocket money” but spends most of the episode demanding Papa buy her things; and the lovelorn Valentine (Ludo’s on/off lover, but Simon has an interest there too, obv) spends most of these two episodes tearfully begging and shrieking at a visibly cringing Ludovic to spend more time with her, when any idiot can see that’s about as likely to work as buying a handful of magic beans and burying them dans le jardin at midnight.
At this stage, then, although Nathalie Baye does all she can with the as yet underdeveloped Anne, the show rests almost entirely on its two complicated, charismatic leading men, and Wolkowitch and Fitoussi acquit themselves with aplomb. For all his principles, Simon comes across as infinitely more self-righteous than righteous, and his fury that Ludovic has dared to take him on is clearly borne out of his own self-importance rather than any moral imperative, no matter how much he pretends otherwise. He’s also curiously old-fashioned, as is the whole show in some respects; it was made in 2011 and screened in France in 2012, which may account for it, I suppose, but still, the idea that a top-flight international political operative can’t use the Internet at all, or that the first anyone hears of the big scoop attacking his candidate (which by the way is obvious from the first scene of the first episode) is from a newspaper front page rather than Twitter, rolling news channels or the entire World Wide Web is particularly jarring. Bad boy Ludovic, however, is a much more enticing, intriguing creation: caddish, ruthless, blunt and unapologetic about what he wants and how to get it, and impossibly handsome at the same time, he’d make an appalling boyfriend but it’s difficult not to root for him, even though Simon is clearly supposed to be the good guy and Deleuvre is irredeemable.
Despite its flaws, then, there is a great deal to enjoy in Spin. Others may well disagree but I liked it, much, much more than the similarly themed Borgen and, while the Friday night slot is hardly an ideal one for drama that you need to think about, that’s what catch-up’s for. Regardless, I’m more than interested enough to keep watching and reviewing, whenever it’s on. Join me?