When I was a teenager, I discovered Georges Simenon’s delightful Maigret book series. Maigret was an ordinary man, refreshingly devoid of the quirks, tortured backstory, and “chosen one” vibe that many fictional detectives have. I honestly don’t remember which Maigret stories I read–I just remember enjoying them, so much so that I still cite them as favorites. They remind me a bit of Nordic Noir but with a decidedly less dour tone.
When I heard there was a new-ish adaptation of the books, I was quite stunned to learn Rowan Atkinson had been cast as the main character. I think Atkinson’s Mr. Bean is one of the greatest characters ever, but I associate him with, well, not with mystery shows.
I was honestly having a hard time picturing him as Maigret. But now that I have watched the series, I must admit that I was wrong and I’m sorry!
Atkinson’s Maigret is more serious than his literary counterpoint, but the show preserves the ordinariness (or even what some might call the boringness) of Maigret. He’s good at his job, but he also has a good team and they don’t solve cases overnight. Things take time as they run down leads. Since the show is set in 1950s France, it’s also mercifully free of what has become my biggest pet peeve in modern mysteries: magical computer databases that know everything and pre-empt anyone from doing any actual detective work. But not with Maigret! It all helps lend an atmosphere of realism to the proceedings.
Each episode is a 90 minute long movie, which also ensures that there is time for the story to unfold. The episodes are mostly filmed in Budapest, and the result is a gorgeous, wonderfully atmospheric recreation of post-war Paris. My favorite episode was the third one, “Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads,” though I enjoyed all of them.
Since crime detection is a team effort in Maigret, the show fittingly has a solid supporting cast, with Lucy Cohu as Maigret’s loyal wife and Shaun Dingwall and Leo Staar as his most trusted subordinates, Janvier and LePointe. Standout guest stars include David Dawson (The Last Kingdom) and Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones).
My only complaints are minor. The production is British, though the setting is French. For the most part, it isn’t an issue because the main characters have fairly neutral-sounding British accents, but some of the minor characters sound like they wandered in from the East End, especially in the fourth episode. Of course, the alternative is them affecting very fake French accents, which wouldn’t be an improvement either, so I didn’t worry too much about it. There are also only 4 episodes (with no plans for additional ones), which saddens me because I would have gladly watched more.
If you like a good mystery seeping in historical atmosphere, give Maigret a try! And even if you’re not a fan of mysteries, you might still enjoy it! I watched it with my family, which includes both mystery buffs and those indifferent to the genre. Maigret got a thumbs up from everyone, and we were all sad to see it end.
Are you a Maigret fan? What was your favorite episode? Are you as shocked as I was at Mr. Bean’s detective skills? Tell us in the comments!
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