Running just 12 episodes Inspector Nardone is an Italian produced TV show based on the life of the real Mario Nardone, a post-war Milanese police officer. Transferred in after a successful, if embarrassing, operation, Nardone is everything the Milanese police department isn’t; focused, dedicated and honest.
On paper that sounds absolutely cookie cutter but the show takes all the usual rote elements and does things with them I’ve never seen before. Like Nardone, it comes in respectable and, like Nardone, it proceeds to upend a few tables and start a little trouble.
First off, Sergio Assisi as the inspector is fantastic. An endlessly prowling, kinetic presence he’s the most energetic down at heel cop you’ll see this year. He’s also the most cheerfully shabby. Nardone is a very relaxed lead for the most part and his genial demeanour is used as a shield from both the viewers and his boss. Assisi brings real intelligence and flair to the role and it’s the moments where the relaxed air slips that really work for him. His growing discomfort at how well his relationship with Eliana (Giorgia Surina) is going is a perfect example. As the episodes progress, he becomes more and more comfortable with this woman who is absolutely his equal and capable of dealing with his foibles. The moment, at the hinge of the series, where he proposes has real poignancy to it. A man who will face down corrupt establishment figures till the cows come home is visibly shaken at the thought of being rejected and when she says yes he’s not the only one who breathes out.
His team are equally eccentric and equally good fun. Eliana, introduced in episode 1 as the head of a chemical factory, is great. She and Nardone have a gentle, relaxed spark to them and Surina’s scenes with Assisi brim over with affection and playful intellectual sparring.
In the office, he’s partnered by Brigadier Muraro played with gentle presence by Luigi Di Fiore. Muraro is the voice of experience, a man whose ambition has scabbed over in the calcified food chain of the Milanese police. Nardone helps him become the man he wanted to be, he helps Nardone survive in the political climate and the pair form the heart of a very unusual unit. Spitz is a Jewish officer whose brilliance with forensics attracts Nardone’s attention. Rizzo is recruited from records and his factual recall is as effortless as his social skills are lacking while Suderghi is an automobile expert and former member of the Fascist party. All of these men have made mistakes, been compromised or in the case of Spitz, actively and aggressively assaulted by the country they swore to protect. None of them are whole. None of them have given up. In Nardone, they find not just a leader but a path back to the men they wanted to be, instead of who they are. The show takes huge pains to explore each one of them and the bond formed by their work with Nardone. As a result it quickly becomes an ensemble piece with each character taking their turn in the spotlight even as their actions drive the overall plot further along.
That leads in turn to a beautiful sub plot with Spitz and Luderghi. The Jewish officer buries his last surviving relative and vows revenge on the Nazis who killed her. He recognizes that Suderghi has a substance abuse problem and blackmails the former fascist into helping him.
Normally this would be the sort of subplot that would end fast and bloody. Here, it ends realistically. Suderghi gets the information Spitz needs, Spitz tracks the man down and discovers he’s fled to South America. Faced with quitting his job to end another man’s life, Spitz makes the decision to stay. He’s not happy about it but it’s not a hard choice and that gentle devotion not just to duty but to the future rather than the past is one of the most heroic moments I’ve seen in a cop show.
It also does something truly gutsy for a short run show. At the halfway point, a story called ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’, Nardone’s squad catch a multiple homicide at the same time as a lead on the Bosso case. The homicide is truly horrifying; a mother and her children, and the prime suspect, Rina Fort is an erratic but calm presence. As Nardone tries to get inside her head, his team get a lead, his boss finally gets on side and then…
With one case unsatisfactorily closed and the other closed enough they are ‘rewarded’ by being promoted and broken up. Then, years pass before the next episode. The tension inherent in the show is let loose as these men are promoted past where they want to be but, arguably, to where they should be. It’s a really gutsy move and it’s one that pays off, giving the entire cast a lot of new material to work with. It also casts the final operation to bring Bosso down in a strangely melancholy light. This is the case that has bound these men together and, once it’s done, none of them will ever quite be the same. Its closure but closure with consequence and the final scenes are surprisingly poignant. Nardone and his squad have healed in every way that matters and, in doing so, begun the same process for their city, their country and their future.
Inspector Nardone is a unique show. Drawn from history but definitively fictional in approach it’s a dark, sweet, very funny and at times oddly sad show. Like the officers at its centre it struggles to find its place in the world. And, like them, it ends up succeeding admirably.