Nearly forty years after it premiered, Les Brigades du Tigre remains one of the finest French TV shows ever; one of the most popular too, as evidenced by the many reruns and the (awful) movie adaptation made in 2006. Its success was not merely a French-French thing as it was sold to about twenty countries including Japan, though it remains nearly unknown in English-speaking territories.
The 36-episode series chronicles the exploits of cops Valentin, Pujol et Terrasson from the Belle Epoque up to the Thirties. Valentin and his colleagues belong to the Brigades Mobiles launched in 1907 by Interior Minister Georges Clémenceau (whose popular nickname was "The Tiger" hence the title of the show) and as such are called to investigate a number of cases all across the country.
Unlike most American shows which are written by a team, Les Brigades du Tigre is the work of a single man, Claude Desailly, a helluva of a writer who wrote all of the episodes. Conversely, the series had only one director, Russian-born Victor Vicas, better-known to American audiences for his 1957 drama The Wayward Bus. With only two men in command, one might think the show quickly became routine, but it didn't. Since both their competences and their juridiction were quite large, the Brigades fought all kinds of criminals from gangs to psycho killers to murderous cults and terrorists, even spies and Raffles-like master thieves. Les Demoiselles du Vésinet, arguably the best episode in the series - and certainly the funniest - pits the trio against two loveable yet extremely dangerous old ladies straight out of Arsenic and Old Lace. The show works also wonderfully as a period piece, offering a convincing and detailed chronicle of French society in the first thirty years of the twentieth century. As the years pass by, fashion and mentalities change - and so do criminals. Vicas' direction is sharp and dynamic; Claude Bolling delivers a memorable score and then there is the acting which is uniformally excellent, be it the three leads or the guests.
The series' few defaults are tied to its age and comparatively low budget; CSI viewers may find the pacing rather slow and the image is somewhat grainy. Still, if you're willing to admit the limits of 70's French television, Les Brigades du Tigre is a terrific show, one of the few productions of ours that can measure up to the best of British and American productions.
One can't but regret that the seventh and final season was never shot due to a change of executives at Antenne 2, the network that produced and broadcasted the show - the new rulers were no fans and decided to pull the plug on it. As you can see, moronic network executives are not an American specialty.
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