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Featured TV on DVD Review: Maison Close: Season One

February 15th, 2015

Maison Close: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Maison Close is a French TV show set at a brothel in 1871. The first season came out in France in 2010 and did so well that it not only earned a second season, but also HBO picked up the rights to remake it. However, season two came out in 2013 and the ratings fell enough that the show was canceled and the remake appears to be on hold for now, possibly indefinitely. Since the show is set in a French brothel, it goes without saying there is sex. Is that the reason a lot of people tuned into the show in the first place? Possibly. Is there more to the show than sex? If not, is that why so few people tuned into the second season?

The Show

The show begins with the introduction of Vera, one of the prostitutes working in Le Paradis, a brothel. She is with a client, a general, but after they finish, she tells him he is her last costumer. It seems her lover, Baron Du Plessis, has paid her debts to the madam, Hortense Caillac, and with that, she is a free woman. At least that's what she thinks is going to happen. It turns out, Hortense Caillac has changed the conditions. It turns out business has been bad (I'm assuming because of the Franco-Prussian War, which ended in France's defeat the year before.) and she is deep in debt. Vera is her star prostitute and without her the business might go under. Vera doesn't manage to get her freedom, but only temporarily.

We also meet Rose, a newcomer to the city. She's looking for her mother, Marie-Jeanne. She doesn't know what happened to her, but she knows she was / might still be working at Le Paradis. Rose is getting married and wants her mother to be at her wedding. She is invited into Le Paradis and while she's there to see if she can find her mother, she is in time for Vera's going away party. However, while she thinks she is there just to look for her mother, she was actually brought there and "sold" into prostitution.

The first season focuses on the lives of these three women: Hortense trying to keep her brothel going, Vera dealing with her freedom being snatched away for a second time, and Rose dealing with being forced into prostitution.

I have a mixed opinion of Maison Close. There are certainly some aspects of the series that are key to understanding my overall opinion, some of which are assets and some of which really are not. On the positive side, the acting from the three main actresses is very good. Valerie Karsenti, Anne Charrier, and Jemima West were compelling enough to keep me engaged, even when the plot let them down. Speaking of the plot, it was melodramatic, to put it mildly. The series wandered into soap opera territory more often than I would like and that hurt. Back to the positive side, the period setting was a real positive for the show. The costumes and set design helped the series stand out. Unfortunately, sometimes the set was the most exciting thing that was happening on screen. The plot moved very slowly. This is what killed the show, in my opinion.

On a side note, while there is nudity in the TV series, there is not nearly as much as one would think giving the setting and where it was made.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD or Blu-ray is a very brief look at season two. There is also a booklet that has some interesting essays in it, as well as episode summaries.

The technical presentation is mixed. There are some scenes that look amazing, but others lacked the level of details I would expect from a high definition release. The blacks in particular were not as deep as I would like. It isn't bad, but it isn't great either. The audio is strong with clear dialogue, although it is in French only, so you will likely need to read the subtitles like I did.

The Blu-ray is currently cheaper than the DVD on, so the price is not an issue in that regard. It is expensive on a per-minute basis, but that is common for imported TV shows.

The Verdict

The acting and the period setting help Maison Close, but its melodramatic plot and slow pacing were a little too much for me. There are almost no extras on the DVD or Blu-ray, but at least the Blu-ray doesn't cost too much.

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Filed under: Video Review, Jemima West, Anne Charrier, Valérie Karsenti