Hot on the heels of Dicte, More4 is fashioning its own foreign-language crime slot on Fridays at 9pm. This is, obviously, most welcome, and for its second series from the continent in this strand the channel turns to Belgium. The Out-Laws (or Clan as it was originally called in its home country) is something a little bit different from the dark procedurals we’re used to in these slots – it’s more of a macabre comedy, which has, predictably, been called ‘deliciously dark’ in every preview I’ve ever read so far. After watching the first, feature-length episode I can’t really disagree.
The mood is playful, even though we’re plunged into the preparations for a funeral. We meet two insurance men – a kind of bickering, odd couple pair of brothers called Mathias and Thomas who hated their recently deceased dad – who, as part of their jobs, are looking into the case of the death of Jean-Claude Delcorps, that they think looks fishy.
The soundtrack is plucked and staccato as we’re also introduced to the family that surrounded Delcorps, or, more specifically, the five sisters of the Goethals family. In snippy, snappy sequences (complete with captions for each character) we meet Goedele, Jean-Claude’s wife; the eldest of the quintet, Eva; Veerle; the cartoonish villain Bibi, complete with eye patch; and the youngest, and most bohemian, Bekka.
The presentation of characters, the set-up of the story and the soundtrack give it an almost cinematic fairytale feel and, with five wicked sisters at its heart, that’s exactly what The Out-Laws is. There’s some Coen brothers in there, there’s some Wes Anderson in there and there’s some Desperate Housewives in there, which, as comparisons go don’t come better than that.
As the story unfolds, we find out in flashback sequences that Jean-Claude was a real shit. Insulting family members at the dinner table, playing tasteless practical jokes on his neighbours and controlling his wife Goedele with gleeful manipulation, his nickname within the sisters is De Kloot (I’ll leave you to google that one), but is referred to the less insulting ‘Prick’ in the subtitles. Eva, Veerle, Bibi and Becka hate him for many reasons but the main one is that he has taken their sister away from them. Their bond, they’ve always thought, has been impenetrable, but this vile, rude man has broken through and now must be gotten rid of.
The seed is sown, initially, by Eva and Bibi at a drunken New Year’s Eve party. Imagine if we could just get rid of him? Imagine if we could…? Seeds have a habit of growing if they’re tended to, and sure enough, by the end of the episode we see the two sisters planning to take advantage of Jean Claude’s trip to a chalet in the Ardennes alone. While he’s in bed, they sneak into the chalet, cut the gas tank and light a candle. When they’re waiting for the cabin to explode, they hear him talking on the phone outside. Just when they realise he went outside because of the lack of telephone signal inside, the empty chalet explodes. He cheats death.
And this will be the structure to the series, I think. Thanks to flashbacks we’ll see secrets within the family group revealed, manipulations and plans hatched and deceptions; we’ll see Mathias and Thomas’s investigations (and, in Mathias’s case, his closening relationship with Becca, which will complicate things); and, let’s not forget Jean-Claude’s death. How did he die? Which one of the sisters completed the task? Will they get away with it?
It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but The Out-Laws is cartoonish in its presentation of violence and evasion of death, and is quirky and interesting. And perhaps even compulsive viewing. Ask me again in a few episode’s time.