“If you’re going to have coincidences, get them in early” is a screenwriting mantra, and one that the team behind Paris apparently have no truck with. Everybody in this six-episode collision of the French capital’s political and criminal classes is connected to everybody else; that’s presumably the point the show’s trying to make, but, in a city of 10.5 million people, the coincidental meetings and occurrences – all taking place over 24 hours – stretch plausibility way past breaking point.
To describe this complicated web of characters and storylines would require a novel-length review, as well as countless spoilers – so many of the twists and turns rely on one character turning out to be related to another we’ve previously met. The basic set-up – which by no means includes all of the players and plots – involves a young transwoman chanteuse named Alexia (the series’ heart, brilliantly played by Sarah-Jane Sauvegrain), who is friends with charismatic gangland face Ange (Jérôme Robart). He’s dispatched by his boss to rob a secret document from the house of a politician, one of crucial importance to Prime Minister Michel Ardent (François Loriquet). At the same time, Alexia’s mother, Cathy (Nanou Garcia) – fiercely opposed to Alexia’s gender reassignment – is the head of a transport workers union, currently in talks with the PM’s government. And – deep breath – when the Prime Minister’s teenage son runs away from home, it’s Alexia who rescues the young lad from muggers and takes him in. Oh, and she’s also having an affair with a close friend of the PM.
Nevertheless, the show has a lot going for it. The characters are well-drawn and their individual wants and needs are, for the most part, compelling. This pays off with a fantastic last episode, in which all the disparate threads are tied up in a way that is both satisfactory, moving and – in some cases – shocking. Along the way, the deft plotting keeps us intrigued. There’s a gun we see in Episode 1 that changes hands throughout the series; that it is used to shoot someone is inevitable, but exactly who the shooter and their victim will be is a source of constant, underlying tension.
The show is at its best when putting its characters through the emotional wringer, as reflected by the stand-out moments: Cathy watching Alexia sing for the first time, a father being told that his son is dead, another mother reunited with her lost son, and a young man racing across town (in a hearse, no less) to get to his wife before she gives birth.
There are a lot of brilliantly executed small scenes, too, in which tiny actions convey more than any dialogue ever could. Particularly effective is a scene in the final episode that involves a character in bed simply pulling her sleep-mask back down over her eyes – to find out why that’s so effective, you’ll have to watch the preceding five chapters.
Yes, it could possibly have done with fewer characters and less enmeshed storylines, but for its six episodes, Paris tells a complex story with emotional resonance that reflects the diverse, seedy and vibrant world of France’s sprawling capital. With great characters, a wealth of Gallic acting talent and some first-rate dialogue, Paris is well worth a watch. Interest doesn’t wane over the six episodes but, come the end, it’s unlikely anyone will be clamouring for Season 2.
Paris is available to watch online and download on Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.