Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Baptiste: The French Cop from The Missing

Julien Baptiste is a veteran cop, who specializes in finding missing persons, but not necessarily in securing happy endings. Of course, if were up to him every case would conclude with a joyous reunion, but things do not always work that way in the dark criminal underworld that he must navigate. After surviving a brain tumor, the French detective is not exactly retired, but he has something like emeritus status with the Amsterdam police force—even though his Dutch fluency is iffy. Unfortunately, the new case he agrees to take on will have many disastrous unforeseen consequences in co-creator-writers Harry & Jack Williams’ Baptiste, an original six-part series spun-off from The Missing, which premieres this coming Sunday on PBS.

Feeling lucky to be alive, Baptiste assumes he will mostly be a professional grandfather going forward. However, his wife would prefer to get him out of the house for a while, so as a favor to his old colleague Martha Horchner, Baptiste agrees to help the nebbish Englishman Edward Stratton find his niece, who has disappeared into Amsterdam’s murky world of sex-work and drug addiction—or so he says.

It turns out Stratton is not who he says he is—and neither is his niece. The reality is considerably more complex and subject to further revisions. Regardless, all the questions Baptiste asks draw the unwelcome attention of a Romanian human-trafficking syndicate known as the Brigada Serbilu. Presumably, the mysteriously vanished gangster Dragomir Zelincu (who has become a Keyser Söze-like legend for the Brigada) holds some answers, but finding him will only lead to more questions. Further complicating matters, there is business involving a considerable shipment of cash stolen from the Romanian gang.

Of course, it is all much more complex and perilous than that, but the Williamses manage to uncork several surprise game-changers at various stages, so let’s keep the details vague. This is definitely dark stuff. It is not as hard-boiled as Andrew Vachss novels, but the red-light district is definitely present throughout the series.

Still, it is rather refreshing to see a mature, emotionally healthy hero like Baptiste. Tcheky Karyo has played a fair number of heavies and arrogant authority figures, but the world-weary yet humane detective could well become his signature role. He is terrific projecting quiet intelligence (something more folks ought to try to do). While Karyo keeps it real and understated, Tom Hollander is a spectacular mess as Stratton. He completely upends viewer assumptions, over and over again. Jessica Raine also does a nice job humanizes hard-charging Europol detective Genevieve Taylor, who initially clashes with Baptiste, rather harshly.

As a series, Baptiste has just as much tragic angst as Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander, but the character played by Karyo is considerably more pleasant to spend time with. PBS conspicuously drops out the curse words, but the very adult situations remain clear as day. It probably won’t inspire many viewers to visit Amsterdam as tourists, but it might spur them to revisit some of Dick Maas’s films and the old Van der Valk series. Recommended for fans of British and European crime TV, Baptiste starts this Sunday (4/12) on most PBS stations.