Bravo gives 19-2 the anglo treatment

Premiering tonight on Bravo is the English-language version of Quebec TV series 19-2. Here’s what to expect.


The original French-language 19-2 represents a high-water mark in Quebec television; it’s a muscular, tightly plotted cop drama that eschews Law & Order-style crime-of-the-week storytelling in favour of a denser, grittier look at the everyday lives of Montreal cops. It’s not perfect, certainly, but after only two seasons, it’s carved out a prime spot in the television landscape. It’s not that far-fetched that it would be considered for an adaptation, although it’s a little surprising that the English-language version skews so close to the original.

The new cast of 19-2
The new cast of 19-2

The pilot episode is damn near a shot-for-shot remake of the French pilot, retaining the original’s moody score, handheld photography (original DOP Ronald Plante also lensed the pilot), character names, locations and even actor Benz Antoine, who reprises the role of troubled gentle giant Tyler Joseph. Both 19-2s follow the story of Ben Chartier (played here by Jared Keeso, a better fit for the upstanding, naïve Chartier than the admittedly great Claude Legault), a small-town cop who transfers to the Montreal police force after personal turmoil forces him out of his native Morin Heights.

19-2 posterHe’s paired with hot-headed Nick Barron (Adrian Holmes), an individualistic and bullish officer who has just returned from leave after a botched operation left his old partner (Victor Cornfoot) catatonic from a bullet in the head. The pair patrol the streets of precinct 19 (which roughly encapsulates St-Henri, Griffintown and Old Montreal) in a tentative partnership that sees them put through the wringer in more ways than one. When a routine operation goes haywire, Chartier is “let off the hook” by slimy Commander Gendron (Bruce Ramsay) provided that he “keep an eye” on the tempestuous Barron.

The original 19-2 wasn’t broken, so it’s clear that Bravo didn’t see a need to fix it. Those who have seen the original may feel a bit of cognitive dissonance at seeing these events play out so similarly with slightly different-looking characters (some of the casting is so spot-on, it replicates balding patterns). It’s particularly bizarre that the show runners sought to keep the francophone character names for characters that speak entirely in English. The biggest change (in the first two episodes, at least) is in the character of Barron, who was known as Berrof in the original and was a white guy of Bulgarian origin. Adrian Holmes is black, and (without saying too much more lest I spoil it for the uninitiated) the rewriting of the character should nudge the rest of the series in a slightly different direction.

The original 19-2
The original 19-2

For those who haven’t seen the original, however, 19-2 remains a compelling watch. It’s tightly paced, hitting a nice balance between overarching plot elements and routine cop show turmoil. It strikes a balance between the hopelessly depressing (such as when Barron and Chartier have to intervene in the case of a man abusing his senile, wheelchair-bound father) and the more amusing (Chartier’s first arrest involves being smacked around with a plucked chicken). It remains grounded at all times and makes great use of Montreal locations (although the language thing remains perplexing; no one seems to speak French or pronounce their own French names without an accent… even the actors that are ostensibly francophone). Directors Louis Choquette (La ligne brisée) and Erik Canuel (Bon cop, bad cop) split directing duties on the first season, keeping the original’s handheld look and poetic interludes intact.

It’s hard to say where 19-2 is going to head based on the first two episodes, but even if it does follow the original series to a T, it’s going to be worth watching. Anglophone television isn’t quite at the same level as the stuff out of Quebec, but this adaptation is a pretty good start. ■

19-2 premieres tonight on Bravo, 9 p.m.

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