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A French Procedural, 'Balthazar,' is Worth Investigating
November 25, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Once upon a time, if you wanted to convey that a television character was a little wild or a little raffish, you gave that character a cigarette.

For a variety of reasons – all of them good – that's become more problematic.

Therefore, television writers being, by definition, a creative lot, have come up with Plan B: junk food.

In shows like The Mysteries of Laura, or The Killing, the lead characters reveled in diets that would make nutritionists weep.

They are now joined by Raphaël Balthazar, the title character of Balthazar, a delightful French crime series (with English subtitles) that becomes available Monday on Acorn.

Balthazar (Tomer Sisley, top) is a medical examiner in a French city that seems to need several medical examiners to keep up with the rate of suspicious and unsavory murders.

It's a procedural, and U.S. viewers will find familiar elements from a number of related American crime/police procedurals. Like Dana Delaney's M.E. in Body of Evidence or Morris Chestnut's M.E. in Rosewood, Balthazar makes the small, sharp observations and deductions that lead the police to solve difficult cases.

Balthazar also knows how good he is and comes to all cases with a confidence that strikes some of his colleagues as bordering on arrogance.

He figures it's not bragging if you can do it, and he doesn't much care if he occasionally annoys his police colleagues. In fact, he sort of enjoys it.

In this case, that would be Helene Bach (Hélène de Fougerolles), the newly-appointed chief inspector.

Balthazar, a dashing and handsome devil, pegs her as someone without a sense of humor, which means she becomes a prime target.

Bach turns out to be a little more complex than that, however. She also turns out to be married with two children, which makes things further complicated when she and Balthazar quickly establish strong chemistry.

Still, we suspect there's little chance they will jump into anything untoward because Balthazar has a tragic and psychologically debilitating personal story behind his jovial public mask.

A dozen years ago, he came home one night to find his beloved wife dead on their living room floor, hands bound and throat slit.

The fact a suspect was arrested has never lessened Balthazar's helpless feeling of utter loss, and while he has tried to laugh and party it away, he's never succeeded.

He eats, drinks, and makes merry, a colleague suggests, not to live life to the fullest, but to forget life and hasten the day it's over.

Happily for viewers, the morose and depressed Balthazar is not the one who gets most of the screen time. We know he exists, but his boisterous, witty, charming, and amusing alter ego, the one the rest of the world sees, dominates the show's weekly crime dramas.

Like all good main characters in crime shows, he has a posse, including his police pal Jérôme Delgado (Yanig Samot) and his acerbic assistant Fatim (Philypa Phoenix).

He rhapsodizes about the pleasures of sweet toppings on bread and munches on a bag of chips while they set the schedule for cutting the latest murder victim open.

Balthazar's skill and wit make him a compelling character, and his namesake TV show a clever if not revolutionary drama.

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