Ken Tucker
October 02, 1992 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Oh, how my heart sang when I heard that the immensely talented Michael Gambon, the old Singing Detective himself, was going to play novelist Georges Simenon’s famous fictional crime solver, Chief Inspector Maigret. If any actor could capture Maigret’s Gallic grimness, his French-bred crustiness, it would be Gambon. And talk about a rich potential franchise for Mystery!: Maigret — if Gambon’s character takes off with viewers, the series has more than 80 Maigret novels to adapt for the small screen.

But oh, how my heart sank when I watched the first and second installments, this week’s ”Maigret Sets a Trap” and next week’s ”Maigret and the Mad Woman.” These British productions utterly fail to reproduce any sort of French atmosphere; when Maigret strides the halls of his Paris police station, you half expect him to bump into Rumpole of the Bailey.

And these adaptations remind you that while Simenon was great on mood and character, he didn’t cook up suspenseful plots. As for Gambon — well, he’s charming in his big-bear-with-a-pipe sort of way, but he seems to be bored and distracted much of the time, as if he’s hanging around only to pick up le paycheck. To think that Mystery! could offer us 80 of these limp things. C-

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