GOOD FRENCH TV:
NO LONGER AN OXYMORON
Tony le Dingue, played by Simon Abkarian.
The French love American TV series, whether schlocky or great. There used to be a regular TV show devoted to American series, and the cable channel Série Club shows nothing but. For some reason, however, the French have never been able to produce a series that lives up to the standards of the American variety, and there has been much hand-wringing and publishing of analytical articles about it lately.
All that seems set to change, however. The series “Pigalle,” which runs on Canal+, has won kudos, and now the state-owned channel France 2 has produced an excellent gangster series called “Les Beaux Mecs,” written by Virginie Brac.
The name means something like “wiseguys” – a term familiar to all Scorcese fans – in the world of French gangsters, and indeed there are some similarities between Scocese’s film Goodfellas and this series: the main character, Antoine (a.k.a. Anthony or Tony le Dingue – Crazy Tony, certainly an homage to a certain New Jersey mob man we all know and love), played by Simon Abkarian, grows up on the streets running errands for the local wiseguys before graduating into their ranks as an insider/outsider. After serving 24 long years in prison and becoming an accidental escapee just before he is paroled in the brilliant opening scenes, Tony throws in his lot with a bunch of young hoods from the suburbs, which makes for many amusingly fraught confrontations between youth and experience.
The show then alternates present-day scenes with flashbacks to the past to show us from whence Tony sprung and why he is as vicious as he is. Unfortunately, Abkarian doesn’t have the charisma that made James Gandolfini so lovable as Tony Soprano in spite of his sadistic, brutal side, but Les Beaux Mecs is a real winner, with its excellent production values, original concept and fine writing. Bravo to France 2, a public television station not previously known for its high-class series. Unfortunately, there are no plans to continue the story beyond the eight-part series already made, but let’s hope there will be more such efforts. Les Beaux Mecs airs on Wednesdays at 8:35pm on France 2. Heidi EllisonFavorite