Spin: The Complete Series DVD Review: French Political Intrigue

This French TV series takes a look into the halls of power at the top tier of French government. Our guide is a veteran spin doctor named Simon Kapita, masterfully played with Clooney-esque gravitas and charm by Bruno Wolkowitch. Whenever a crisis emerges, Kapita is on hand to guide the President and assorted ministers in the best way forward. The original French title of the series translates to “The Men of the Shadows”, giving full indication that the story is more about the secretive PR pros behind the scenes than the government officials they represent. 

The series gets off to an impressive start when the current President is assassinated by a suicide bomber, setting off a mad dash to replace him. Kapita backs a dark horse political outsider named Anne Visage (veteran film actress Nathalie Baye), gambling that she has the skills to pull off an unlikely election victory. Kapita’s evil former protege backs the interim President, a pompous blowhard who immediately attempts to turn the assassination into a referendum on Muslims and border security, even when provided with evidence that the bomber acted on his own accord. The season ends on election eve, with Kapita’s hopeful grin indicating that his candidate may have pulled off a miracle win. 

Having not read any plot synopsis in advance, I audibly gasped when the opening scene of Season Two introduces us to ‘80s Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only) as the wife of the new President, who isn’t either of the candidates backed by our Season One spin doctors. It takes some time to adjust to the fact that the series was filmed around 35 years after her Bond days, and yet she looks remarkably unchanged. The season also introduces a new competitor/love interest for Kapita in the form of brainy knockout Aure Atika as the Secretary General. The new President quickly enlists Kapita to his team, seeking his help with daily issues as well as a looming PR disaster in the form of a covered-up vehicular manslaughter by his wife.

Season Three keeps the focus on the current President and his wife, but introduces new crises for Kapita to contain. The biggest issue is the public’s discovery of the President’s ongoing affair with a younger staffer, exacerbated when she ends up pregnant with his child. There’s also a rather tiresome subplot about Kapita’s reporter ex-wife ending up kidnapped by radical Muslims who hold her for ransom while threatening to execute her. This story also involves a French national who is radicalized by ISIS and sneaks back into France for nefarious reasons. The series is much better when it stays anchored at the Elysee, not grasping for sensational international intrigue. This season also answers the question “what would Carole Bouquet look like with a Julie Andrews haircut?” The answer: very much like Julie Andrews. 

With only three seasons running six hour-long episodes each, the complete series is a comfortable binge watch that still clocks in less than one traditional U.S. network drama season. The DVD box set cover picture and plot description are a bit of a bait and switch though, as headlining star Nathalie Baye and her campaign only figure into the first season, before being replaced by new headlining star Bouquet and vastly different storylines for the final two seasons. It’s odd that Baye departed after one season, and also odd that the superb Wolkowitch remained second billed for the whole series, even though the entire project revolves around his Kapita character. I guess that’s all a part of being a man of the shadows.

The series is very similar to the superb Danish series Borgen (recently revived on Netflix after a nearly decade-long absence), and I assume is probably also like The West Wing (I never watched it), so seek this out if you’re a fan of either of those shows or other political dramas. The best part is the impeccable performance by Bruno Wolkowitch, as well as the involvement of the veteran French film stars Baye and Bouquet. While the writing falters a bit in Season Three, the cast is great all around, crafting memorable characters tasked with the unimaginable burden of national power.

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Steve Geise

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