By my count there are at least 825,732.5 crime series currently running on television. In order to distinguish themselves, these shows need a hook, something to make them stand out. About half of them go with a brooding, sarcastic, and downright mean lead character, which doesn’t make them stand out at all.
If your main character is going to be obnoxious, then I’ve got two rules.
First, he (or she, but inevitably it’s a he) needs to be a genius. He needs to be able to solve impossible cases using just his brain power. That gives the show a reason to keep him around. If your detective is rude and can’t solve a case to save his life, then presumably his bosses will let him go. But if he can solve what no one else can, then it makes sense that they’ll keep him around. Secondly, he needs to show some modicum of kindness to at least one person. Audiences need to see he has some semblance of heart. Unfortunately, the French series Caïn completely fails at the first rule and just barely passes on the second.
Frédéric Caïn (Bruno Debrandt) is a jerk to everyone around him. He is rude, makes misogynistic jokes routinely, and generally behaves poorly. He constantly breaks the rules, breaks the law, and breaks nearly every social code you can think of. He does solve crimes but the show fails at making them interesting or all that complicated or difficult.
I am the sort of person who doesn’t try to solve the mystery in these sorts of shows. I’m happy to allow a series lead me where they want to take me and be surprised by the conclusion. Yet here, I often found myself knowing exactly who done it several scenes before the characters. If I can figure it out then I’m not really impressed when the characters manage it.
The only person Caïn shows any real kindness towards is his son Ben (Davy Sanna) but he’s given so little screen time and usually only exists so that Caïn can irritate his ex-wife Gaëlle (Anne Suarez) that it never prefers any empathy towards the detective.
I’ve failed to mention that Caïn is in a wheelchair (I guess the creators saw how successful House was and decided to up the disability factor). Five years before the series begins, he was in an auto accident in which he was possibly high on narcotics (yet somehow he remains on the force). The series does a good job of handling the disability. He never bemoans the fact that he’s paraplegic; it is never a source of sympathy or even anger. He rolls around everywhere and solves his cases. Yet it does portray the disability realistically as there are times when he must send others into places he simply cannot go. Other times, we see colleagues help him up or down flights of stairs. It’s nice to see a series treat a disability with respect and still recognize its difficulties.
I’m being a bit too harsh. Caïn is not a bad series. It’s just not all that good of one. It gets better as it goes along so that by Season Two I found it mostly enjoyable in a “I just want to kick back, relax and put something on that isn’t going to tax my brain cells” sort of way. His partner, and the only other person who can seem to stand him for more than five minutes, Lucie (Julie Delarme) is a fun teammate for him to bounce off of. But even she doesn’t get off scot-free as all too often she enables him. When Caïn does something foolish, and illegal, like break into a potential suspect’s house, she verbally reprimands him but then follows right along, showing no backbone whatsoever.
MHZ Choice has brought the first two seasons of Caïn DVD in three-disk sets. Each season contains eight episodes that are approximately 54 minutes in length each. For the most part, each episode is self contained, though there is a two-parter in Season Two. If you like crime mysteries set in foreign locales and don’t mind overlooking some pretty cliche storylines, then Caïn can be pretty enjoyable. However if you want something with a little more depth, then I think I’d skip this one. Might I recommend Spiral instead?