ENTERTAINMENT

Can 'Salamander' Fill The Big Gap Left By 'The Bridge' On Saturday Nights?

11/02/2014 17:45 GMT | Updated 11/02/2014 17:59 GMT

Yes, yes, I know… 'The Bridge' has finished and it doesn't feel like Saturday nights on BBC4 can ever be the same again… or until Series 3 some time next year, anyway.

But hearts can be mended and, to ease our woes, from across the continent we've been sent 'Salamander' - a, get this, Flemish political thriller.

salamander

Filip Peeters plays Detective Inspector Paul Gerardi - dogged maverick, naturally

I think it's fair to say there's really only one Belgian that springs to mind when it comes to crime, and the solving thereof. Nonetheless, Brussels felt like a natural home for this conspiracy tale debut, and it was a lot brighter, by which I mean greyer, than many episodes of 'The Killing' and 'The Bridge'. I feel almost disloyal to Saga and Martin saying this, but I really enjoyed 'Salamander'. And I wasn't the only one, with more than a million viewers tuning in.

The series started with an audacious raid on a private bank. With the whole bank's booty at their disposal, in fact only 66 'sensitive' safes were ransacked by a band of elite robbers, led by Joachim Klaus (actor Koen De Bouw), who manages to remain charismatic even with a Davey lamp plonked on his head. And they didn't take everything, either.

Enter Detective Inspector Paul Girardi, rubbing his white-haired chin after receiving a tip-off from one of his informers. He's a - you guessed it - maverick cop, who'd rather spend his day off cuddling his lipsticked wife and not doing the shopping than solving a crime nobody wants solved.

salamander

An Miller plays Paul's troubled, but always lipsticked wife

But - and you guessed again - he doesn't take kindly to watching men inexplicably being bumped off while he's looking at them out of the window, or on the phone to them from his own uncleaned kitchen. That's because he just happens to be one of CID's premier detectives, a man who "when he meets resistance, digs his heels further in" according to his anxious boss. Naturally.

Yes, for the attentive crime drama viewer in our midst, there are easily some cliches and flaws to admit to in this fare, that has more than a couple of strands of Da Vinci Code DNA.

For a start, I haven't spotted an interesting female yet, certainly nobody to topple Saga Noren from her foreign crime throne, or get Sarah Lund in a knit.

salamander

The leader of the robbers is the charismatic Joachim Klaus, played by Koen De Bouw

The car is another problem (call me picky). The 'chase' - both of them, for goodness sake! - wouldn't have troubled Starsky and Hutch or even a speed camera, there's no way someone as experienced as Giradi would have parked right outside the bank when he knew he was being watched, and that beaten-up old Golf isn't a touch on Saga's vintage Porsche.

But there are the smaller things to enjoy - the big bald head of the resolutely unsmiling bank manager Raymond Jonkhere, bringing back flashes of 'Murder One' veteran lawman Ted Hoffman (Daniel Benzali), the flashes of Brussels architecture including the forbidding Palais de Justice, coincidentally the biggest building constructed in the 19th century.

And in the middle of it all, Paul Gerardi himself. Critics have spent an enjoyable couple of days deciding who he looks like. Alison Graham called him "a renegade from a 1960s Charlton Heston biblical epic". The Telegraph's Ben Lawrence decided he was "a cross between Richard Branson and Ernest Hemingway". The Indie's Ellen E Jones opted for "the love-child of Jeremy Clarkson and Father Christmas". This man is obviously eye-catching.

For my tuppence worth, he looks like an Aussie farmer forced to put on a clean white shirt, polish his boots (RM Williams, of course) and drag himself out for an evening dance. All languid walk and horizon-scanning gaze. But there's a twinkle in his eye and he likes his wife.

Any which way, in the much-remarked on absence of Saga and Martin, there are plenty more unpleasant companions to be stuck with on Saturday nights while it rains outside, and the Porsche is sitting somewhere having its engine cleaned.

Catch 'Salamander' Episodes 1 and 2 on BBCiPlayer. It continues on Saturday night on BBC4 at 9pm.