Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games: The 1970’s, on MHz Choice

Few writers have been ripped-off as much as Agatha Christie. Seriously, how many And then There Were None clones have you seen? With that in mind, who could blame the Christie estate for cutting some licensing deals that are rather distantly related to her printed words? Swedish television developed a series based on Sven Hjerson, the meta creation of Hercule Poirot’s occasional companion, mystery writer Ariadne Oliver. Similarly, French TV has very loosely adapted some of Christie’s mysteries, with completely original characters in the ongoing series Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games. After seasons set in the 1930s and 1960s, the mysteries shift to the “Me Decade” when the ten-episode Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games: The 1970’s premieres today on MHz Choice.

In some ways, Captain Annie Greco is a feminist trailblazer, but she is also a tough cop, freshly assigned to city of Lille. Most of her insubordinate subordinate detectives are both sexist and incompetent, but Max Baretta has promise. His deductive instincts are not bad, but he has been banished to file room, because of his anger management issues.

Greco assigns Baretta as her partner, but his career resuscitation will come at a price. He must attend sessions with Rose Bellecour, the extremely fashionable psychologist they meet on their first case. Thanks to her parents’ cosmetic company, Bellecour has become the confidant of actress Anna Miller, whose co-star (and abusive ex) has just been murdered.

As the only episode of the season largely “inspired” by a particular Christie novel,
Endless Night, it is not surprising the like-titled episode is one of the most successful of the 1970’s. It also has one of the best guest-starring turns from Romane Portail as Miller. Those who prefer to watch rather than read Dame Agatha might know the 1972 film with Britt Eklund and George Sanders. If so, they can surely guess the killer, but that means Flore Kosinetz and Helene Lombard rather faithfully adapted it for Criminal Games.

The other episodes, which are almost wholly original, are more hit or miss. However, it is worth noting “The Mice will Play” incorporates elements of
The Mousetrap, with a mystery that hinges on an unwanted baby given up years prior. Poor Baretta also has a rare chance for healthy romance with Flore, an up-scale” “hospitality worker,” nicely played by Aude Legastelois.

Unfortunately, the bickering cats-and-dogs chemistry between Arthur Dupont and Chloe Chaudoye as Baretta and Bellecour gets very tiresome. Emillie Gavois-Kahn wears much better on viewers’ nerves over time as the no-nonsense Greco. However, her supposed obliviousness to the romantic interests of Jacques Blum, the coroner, also starts to wear thin. Furthermore, the hippy-dippiness of her new residence, the Nirvana Hotel, really gets shticky.

The 1970s will be too “cute” and too “funny” for a lot of mystery fans. Yet, you should give regular writers Kosinetz, Lombard, Thomas Mansuy, and Eliane Montaine credit. They always supply multiple credible suspects and try to hide the ultimate identity of each murderer until quite late in the third acts, through deception and misdirection. As a result, Greco’s cases are far more complex than Quinn Martin moron mysteries.

Regardless, there is probably a ready-made audience for the groovy costumes, which probably account for 90% of
The 1970s’ budget. Everyone looks very put-together and era-appropriate, from Bellecour’s eenie-mini-skirts to Greco’s fetish-noir leather jacket.

A lot of thought and effort went into
The 1970s. None of the episodes insulting telegraph the answer to each mystery and the period production is richly realized. It just needed to tone down the farcical rom-com elements, which play more like a 1970s sitcom than Moonlighting. Earning a mixed review, Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games: The 1970s is recommended more for fans of the era than those of Dame Agatha, when it starts streaming today (6/13) on MHz Choice.