“Non. I am not French. I am Belgium.”
The BBC seems to be the last vestige of T.V. for old white people, which seem to be primarily, mysteries. Or cop dramas. Or some combination therein. Look at Foyle’s War (which I highly recommend), or Midsomer Murders (which I only recommend if you like truly silly mysteries). Both contain the quintessential British copper – as the British would hope him to be – kind, reserved, slow to anger, not above the finer things in life, with a keen intelligence that pierces lies and unveils the truth.
Perhaps the most English show, with the least English character is Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, which finally ended in 2013. Believe me when I say it has been a loss. I will have to take consolation in the fact that I can now stream the entire show on Netflix.
Poirot, played by David Suchet, has been on and off the air for the last 20 + years, running through Agatha Christie’s major and minor works, and a few of their own(?). The initial episodes were about an hour long, but as production values went up the later episodes (starting in 2005) were lengthened to 2 hours, and the seasons whittled down to 4 episodes.
Poirot is not English. He is not French. He is Belgian. He is scrupulously clean, unfathomably meticulous, and in a word fussy. Yet it is this fussiness that makes him, as he will tell you himself, the world’s greatest detective. He can spot any snag in the carpet, or stray hair, he manages to put together the pieces before anyone else, and they almost always make for a great story.
Watching it growing up meant an evening snack of tea and cookies. My dad and I would sit down on his couch and see if Poirot was on, which was somewhat rare – to be honest I’m actually surprised that we caught any episodes at all, given how few there were, but then A&E must have been showing frequent reruns.
Watching Poirot filled another T.V. addiction. One that none of my friends would understand, and one which I could only talk about with my father. I watched them all start to finish – especially the ones that I would have been too young to watch. And then I watched them again. And then I watched them a third time. And now I just go for the episodes I don’t quite remember, or pretend that I don’t. I put them on when I’m getting ready, or when I’m making food, and tune out, just to come back to a point where Chief Inspector Japp is scratching his head, and saying “I jus don’t know haw you do it Pwah-ro.”
As with any show that is on air for a significant amount of time, you recognize a number of faces who have used the show as a jumping off point. Jessica Chastain was in an episode before she was in The Debt; Michael Fassbender was in an episode playing a beautiful drunk, before he was ever in Inglorious Basterds; and of course these are only the most recent and significant examples.
But more than that the show is calming in a deeply fulfilling way. Hercule always manages to figure out who the murderer is (hate to spoil the surprise there). You not only trust that he has the murderer, but that he knows – without a shadow of a doubt – exactly what happened. It is with regret we return to a legal system, and world, of doubt, and of poor forensic evidence, and extremely faulty logic.
With even more regret we realize that French is not the only language spoken in Belgium, but also Dutch – thus Suchet’s accent (decidedly French) is inaccurate. Therefore the English re-imagining of a culturally diverse and historically complex area is reduced to a simple phrase: “I am a Belgian.”
In a (very weird) interview Suchet talks with reporter Jacques Hyzagi about the fact that people use the show to combat depression and Suchet says “You have no idea the number of people who told me that exact sentence.” There is something about these shows with perfect officers (or perfect detectives) that reinforce the feeling that someone is going to find out what happened. That someone will get to the bottom of it. I wonder what will happen when these shows go away. For now I still have the BBC to carry the torch, if flickering, that makes the world seem easy to live in, even if I know it’s just an illusion