Black Spot may look familiar to you. It debuted on Amazon Prime in 2017, but then somehow the rights went to Netflix in 2019.
Another French Forest
Black Spot is a French-Belgian series (actually named White Zone, meaning “dead zone”, in its native French) about a mysterious small town in the forest where the murder rate is six times higher than the national average. The set-up will sound familiar to foreign crime drama fans: A small town sheriff who is a single mother and has a traumatic event in her past works with her mostly male staff to solve crimes, while carrying on a long-running affair with the married mayor who has secrets of his own. Additionally, there is a supernatural presence in the forest that may be real or may be a figment of the sheriff’s imagination. Either way, the forest is spooky, and I don’t know why people spend time there, because they seem to end up dead if they do.
Small Town Drama
The structure of Black Spot is crime-of-the-week, with an overarching mystery about the disappearance of the mayor’s daughter. Another thru-line involves a group of dangerous environmentalists protesting various goings-on of the mayor’s powerful family, who owns literally everything in town, including a closing saw mill and an old quarry. The season opens with, well with a dead girl hanging from a tree, but also the arrival of a fussy, Monk-like district attorney, who claims he wants to understand why the crime rate is so high in the town, but who really wants to uncover the mayor’s family’s corruption. The sheriff clearly has blinders on here, because she is in love with the mayor, and the rest of the officers seem to be resigned to the power structure of the town.
The Characters Are The Thing
A show like Black Spot survives by having good characters. Certainly the weekly cases need to be interesting, but really it’s about the relationships. On this front, Black Spot mostly succeeds. While I find the sheriff to be over emotional and damaged in a way that makes her an ineffective leader and mother, she doesn’t drive me nuts. Her backstory is an interesting enigma that unspools throughout the season, but doesn’t really reveal itself until season 2. Her two main officers are likable guys, one being a gruff older man who just wants to fish, the other being a loyal if sometimes contrarian sidekick. The mayor is tough to place for me. He’s a selfish jerk, but there is something likable in the way he is always there with his constituents. He is also trying to get out from under his venal father who pulls all the strings.
Watchable if Familiar
If you watch Black Spot, you will find yourself comparing it to other shows, for sure. Fortitude (see our review here) for the remote location, incestuous small town politics and supernatural force; Trapped (see our review here) for the feeling of isolation and the working relationship between the cops, Les Revenants and La Foret for the spooky forest, and many other shows that feature a dogged female detective who refuses to stop working, even if it kills her. Ultimately, even though it retreads old ground, it’s totally watchable. And in fact, it might be one of those rare shows where season 2 is better than season 1. Or maybe the town has grown on me, like moss on those trees.
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