Monday, September 05, 2022

UFOs, on MHz


The French Space administrations office for UFO investigations, known as GEPAN, developed such a flaky reputation, it rebranded several times, changing its acronym to SEPRA and then to GEIPAN. Didier Mathure was maybe part of the problem. The closed-minded director of CNES assigned him to be the interim head, in order to clear its cases and shut it down. However, Mathure ill-advisedly develops Fox Mulder-like tendencies in creators Clemence Dargent & Martin Douaire’s UFOs (a.k.a. OVNIs), which premieres tomorrow on MHz.

Mathure was an elite scientist at CNES until the rocket he dedicated the better part of his career to exploded after take-off. As penance, the slimy agency director transfers Mathure to GEPAN, with the clear expectation he will close it down, stifling all talk of UFOs in the process. However, the perverse combination of Mathure’s spectacularly bad PR skills and his na├»ve misapplications of scientific method have the opposite effect. Interest in UFOs boom, along with reports.

Mathure does not necessarily believe one way or the other, but veteran French Air Force officer Valerie Delbrosse does. In fact, she encourages (blackmails) Mathure to make his findings public. However, that would hurt his ex-wife Elise Conti’s prospects of securing a high-level appointment at the European space agency. Still, he is starting to admit there might be something to a handful of select cases his predecessor started investigating, before disappearing on a sudden leave of absence.

UFOs
plays a lot of its X-Files-style business for laughs, particularly an alien-abducted flamingo and the bawdy postcards Mathure’s missing predecessor sends the staff, which they assume are clues. However, the underlying conspiracy narrative is still sufficiently interesting that it would probably still hold up if the tone were more serious. The late 1970s milieu adds a lot of funky texture (the references to the under-appreciated The Invaders are especially on-point), but the series sometimes fudges a little. Technically, Albert Barille’s Once Upon a Time…Space aired after Giscard’s presidency, but whatever.

Regardless, Melvil Poupaud, radically playing against type, is the engine that drive the show’s comedy. He is a lot like Fraser Crane—often painful to watch, but somehow, we keep rooting for him. He also has terrific chemistry with Geraldine Pailhas, who is highly entertaining when cutting him down to size. On the other hand, the shtickiness of Vera Clouseau (as the hippy dippy GEPAN receptionist-case interviewer) and Quentin Dolmaire (as the Trekker computer specialist) gets a little tiresome.

Regardless, Nicole Garcia makes a drily effective foil for Mathure as the Delbrosse, the shadowy puppet master. Plus, Paul Spera has one of the all-time great guest-shots with his appearance as Steven Spielberg, visiting GEPAN in search of material for a possible
Close Encounters sequel.

Arguably, there is enough clever alien-related mysteries in
UFOs to keep fans of the X-Files/Men in Black-style subgenre satisfied, while it also functions as an amusing space agency-set workplace comedy (it puts the dreadfully unfunny Moonbase 8 to shame). Potentially, it the elements to be a breakout hit here in America. Highly recommended for fans of sf comedy, the first season of UFOs starts streaming tomorrow (9/6) on MHz Choice.