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Probably the Best of a Familiar Plot – PBS’ ‘The Tunnel: Sabotage’
June 15, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

For all the talk about summer blossoming into a fertile field for quality television, the truth is you have to hunt a little harder to find the good stuff once the days get longer and the nights get warmer.  

So here’s a place to look: Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), where you can watch an eight-episode, closed-end import detective thriller called The Tunnel: Sabotage.

Two detectives – world-weary Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane, top) and socially challenged Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy, top) – come back together to investigate the disappearance of a couple from their car in the Chunnel between France and England.

The man and woman are missing. Their traumatized young daughter can’t provide much information about what happened.  

Almost simultaneously a plane crashes into the English Channel, killing everyone on board. Exactly how these two events might be related, if at all, constitutes the first challenge for our team.

Since these incidents happened between France and England, the British Karl and the French Clémence are assigned to work together on the case. It’s a reunion since they previously joined forces in the first Tunnel series that aired on PBS last summer.

Karl and Elise aren’t your standard cop team. He’s got a flock of kids and seems to be constantly threatening to leave this job, except we realize he loves it way too much ever to do that.

Elise has a brilliant and very literal mind, like an extreme version of Emily Deschanel’s title character on Bones. Elise doesn’t pick up on body language, nuance, irony, humor, sarcasm or other common communication devices.

When she’s asked by a friend what she’s doing these days, she says she has a boyfriend. The friend says that’s nice and also interesting since Elise doesn’t seem to be “the boyfriend type.”

Elise says, with no trace of humor, “I’m trying it out . . . Sometimes he talks when I don’t want him to.”

Elise’s direct TV ancestry comes from The Bridge, the Danish series that was adapted for the U.S. by FX. She’s the same determined and somewhat fragile character as the female detective in The Bridge, challenged every day by a world into which she can’t quite fit.  

The Tunnel resembles The Bridge in several fundamental ways, mostly involving structure. In more ways, it takes its own path, and that’s to the good.

It’s largely a clutter-free detective story, in which the complex details almost all relate to the cases at hand.

We learn enough about the detectives, so they become flawed, sometimes annoying and increasingly interesting. Mainly we see them at work, painstakingly putting together hypotheses one factoid at a time.

The way the story is filmed, we know more about what happened than either detective, which adds further tension to their methodical search.

Dillane and Poésy handle their characters nicely, and the supporting cast uniformly falls in line.

In any case, The Tunnel: Sabotage isn’t designed as a star vehicle. The crime mystery gets top billing here, and the result is the sort of engaging story that provides a satisfying nightcap to a summer evening.

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I can not find this on my local PBS. I really enjoyed the first season
Jun 18, 2017   |  Reply
Cheryle Dean
Loved the first season of The Tunnel - looking forward to this second season. Hopefully it will be aired here in San Diego
Jun 15, 2017   |  Reply
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post