Cleaning Up: Spotless

After the detectives have gone and CSI gets done picking dandruff out of the shag carpet; after the police barrier tape comes down…then what?

Someone’s gotta clean up the mess. The crime-scene cleaning industry is probably the only part of the crime world that hasn’t been explored/exploited onscreen (Amy Adams’s Sunshine Cleaning doesn’t really count). Those poor guys get all the gore and glop the cops do, but don’t get a Bruckheimer series made about them.

Until now, that is.

Spotless, a new Esquire TV series, explores the domestic and criminal possibilities of mopping up after someone’s very bad day. Jean Bastière (Marc-André Grondin, a Québécois actor whose other work you probably haven’t seen—unless you watch a lot of Canadian film) runs a relatively successful crime-scene cleanup company in London. He’s very good at it. He’s got all the usual problems any young entrepreneur has to deal with: paying for the semi-posh townhome and the kids’ private schools; juggling a hot, nonworking wife and a hot mistress; handling a crooked sponsor in the Metropolitan Police…well, you know how it goes.

Jean also has a brother he hasn’t seen for several years. Martin (Denis Ménochet, Inglourious Basterds) is a gangster who’s all unchained id and sloppy work practices. He’s run out on his crew in France and brought a dead body full of heroin balloons with him. Naturally, he wants Jean to separate the horse from the corpse.

Apply British mobsters, various weapons, and grievous bodily harm—stir vigorously—and Jean soon finds himself working for mob heavy Nelson Clay (Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey). The deal: Jean will be handsomely paid to clean up after Clay and his minions at any time, day or night. If he doesn’t, he’ll end up in a hole. Mr. Clay does not take “no” for an answer.

Three episodes into the season of ten, and the basic plotline is becoming clear: Clay will have Jean make crime scenes disappear; Jean has to keep his wife from learning about his new client; Clay’s men will start turning on each other; and Martin’s crew (which has traced him to London) will soon be menacing Jean’s family. There will be blood, violence, drug use, soft-core sex, and lingering close-ups of industrial cleaning products along the way.

Jean isn’t the most charismatic leading man. His default setting is “brooding,” and nothing he does—including the aforementioned hot women—seems to give him much pleasure. You connect with him more because of the situation he's in than his sparkling personality. His reactions to the scrapes Martin or Clay gets him into are exactly what you’d expect from someone who’s floundering in a pool with no bottom, and because of that, you can relate to him even if you don’t exactly like him.

Martin, however, is great fun to watch. He indulges in all seven of the deadly sins, sometimes simultaneously, with the joy of a fourteen-year-old boy discovering the password to the TV’s parental controls. He’ll say or do whatever comes into his mind, often with expected results. However, when he wants something badly enough, he can switch on his animal charm and talk most anyone into anything.

The supporting characters of Spotless are a mixed lot. Julie, Jean’s wife (Miranda Raison, Spooks/MI-5), gets to be pretty a lot, nags a bit, but hasn’t yet made much of an impact outside of being the current object of Martin’s lust. Claire, the mistress (Tanya Fear, Kick-Ass 2), has at least some agency and can be a naughty devil, but it’s unclear what she gets out of her liaison with Jean or what her end-game is. (I’m still trying to figure out how a relatively average-looking guy manages to keep two gorgeous women on a string. The French accent? Brooding actually works? The mind reels.)

On the other hand, Clay is becoming more interesting and nuanced than the chief baddie usually gets to be in these series. Brendan Coyle seems to enjoy playing against his saintly Downton Abbey persona, but instead of bluster and macho, he projects the kind of quiet that’s a warning rather than a comfort.

The series has fine production values and looks like something you’d find on a network you’ve heard of before. Munich-based Tandem Communications (Crossing Lines, Pillars of the Earth), Paris-based Canal+ (tons of French premium cable), and Canadian firm Rosetta Media (Pinkertons) have been down this road many a time and know how to make everyone hit their marks. The Canal+ connection explains why the two male leads are French, as there’s no other good reason for it.

The series will run on cable into the middle of January. You can also catch up with streaming video on the Esquire TV website, which you should do if you want any of this to make sense.

Spotless is more entertaining than an unheralded foreign series on an obscure cable channel has any right to be. Because Esquire TV is basic cable, the more outré Anglo-Saxon words have been erased and the naughty bits have been snipped from the sex scenes. Still, there’s enough grime and bad behavior to keep you interested, the crime-scene cleaning angle is fresh, and you get to watch Mr. Bates be a real badass. What more could you ask for?

See also: NBC's Crossing Lines: Coloring Inside the Lines


Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 and his near-future thriller South both left plenty of messy crime scenes behind for others to tidy up.  He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.

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