Monday, December 26, 2022

Alter Ego, on MHz

Inspector Dea Versini’s imaginary friend is sort of like Harvey, but instead of a big white rabbit, “Jimmy” looks like a slightly cheesy James Bond knock-off. She knows he really doesn’t exist, but he is a helpful sounding board when she faces problems in her investigations or in her personal life. That happens often, particularly with the latter. Of course, she tries not to advertise his existence (in her head), especially not to her by-the-book partner in MHz’s new French series Alter Ego, which premieres tomorrow.

Single-mom Versini is a highly intuitive detective and a total mess in nearly every other way. Fortunately, her long-suffering Captain (or whatever the French equivalent) usually lets her work alone. However, he insists she partner up with Matthieu Delcourt, a fast-tracked detective temporarily assigned from above. The chaotic Versini and the meticulous Delcourt mix like oil and water, but there is also a mutual attraction neither wants to admit. Yet, they wind up rolling together in the back seat of Versini’s car late in the first episode, not that Jimmy judges her for it.

It is also obvious right from the start Delcourt has his own secret agenda. However, he and Versini will still manage to clear new cases by the end of each episode—judging from the pattern established by the first two.

The pilot episode is surprisingly clever, using viewers’ expectations against them when a muck-raking environmental journalist is murdered. Their second case hits pretty close to home for Versini when a doctor is murdered at the hospital where her husband works. That is how he refers to himself. Versini prefers the term “ex-husband.” However, they still work together pretty well as parents.

The whole imaginary friend thing sounds pretty shticky, like an early 1980s Tim Conwy sitcom, but creators Stephane Drouet, Lionel Olenga, and Camille Pouzol lean more towards neurotic deep dives into Delcourt’s subconscious, sort of like
Play It Again Sam, but Jimmy is a lot goofier than the Bogart Jerry Lacy played in Woody Allen’s mind.

Jimmy is what he is, but the key to
Alter Ego is the winning charisma and nimble comic timing Carole Weyers brings as Versini. She really is the show, managing to be smart, sultry, and nutty—frequently simultaneously. Frankly, Ambroise Michel is too stiff and too reserved to serve as a sufficient foil for her, at least based on the first two episodes.

Alter Ego
is built around a gimmick but the writing is more intelligent than premise might suggest. It is highly watchable and usually quite entertaining. Recommended for fans of off-kilter detective shows like Monk, Alter Ego starts streaming tomorrow on MHz.