By Chris Connor
While French Cinema has been ever-present for the past six decades through its New-Wave pioneered by the likes of Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut through cult classics like La Haine and Amelie, there is far less discourse surrounding France’s television output. In recent years, though, there seems to have been a shift in this regard, with the comedy dramas Call My Agent! and A Very Secret Service proving particularly popular among viewers and critics globally.
Call My Agent! first proved a hit with viewers in France – where it is colloquially known as Dix Pour Cent – since it first aired in October 2015. It was subsequently picked up globally by Netflix and its fourth and, for the time being final, series hits Netflix on 21st January. Absolutely delighting an ever expanding fanbase, Call My Agent! has become something of a sleeper hit, with a UK remake in the works. But the show still seems to sit under the radar to a certain extent, though whether this is down to the language barrier or the subject matter is difficult to ascertain. Hopefully the impending arrival of the new series will encourage abstaining viewers to finally delve into the Parisian ASK agency.
The show largely details the inner workings of ASK, one of France’s premier film agencies and the interactions the staff have both within the office walls and on set with an assortment of iconic and naturally French guest stars. Following the death of ASK founding member Samuel Kerr in the show’s premiere at the hands of a wasp, the remaining members of the agency, spearheaded by the short fused Mathias ((Thibault de Montalembert), struggle to simultaneously manage both the survival of the agency and the sometimes arduous demands of their celebrity clients.
What results is a fresh take on fame and the media industry and constantly engaging, with the younger members of ASK striving to reach the heights of their idols and the internal politics persistently intriguing and nuanced – focusing on Camille (Fanny Sidney) and Hervé (Nicolas Maury)’s relative inexperience for large segments helps to counterbalance much of the tension brought to the fore by the likes of the fatigued Mathias and Andrea (Camille Cottin), both in the latter stages of their careers.
With the help of the wealth of guest actors, the performances of the main cast across the board really help elevate the show from what might otherwise have been something more run-of-the-mill comedy. Camille Cotton as Andrea and Grégory Montel as Gabriel are consistent delights, although there is not a weak link to be found among the core cast, while some of the guest stars in the shows first three seasons include Oscar winners Jean Dujardin and Juliette Binoche as well as Isabelle Huppert and Monica Belucci, while stars appearing in the latest fourth season include Sigourney Weaver, Jean Reno and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Call My Agent! offers a perfect blend of comedy and drama – the comedic moments largely come at the expense of its many guest stars with Jean Dujardin providing some fine comedic moments of “method acting” in a moment that spoofs The Revenant or Daniel Day Lewis’s well-documented commitment to his roles. In addition to Dujardin, another highlight is the Cannes-set series two storyline prominently featuring Juliette Binoche, allowing her a chance to flex her comedic muscles (this episode contains echoes of Sophie Marceau’s highly critical 1999 speech which saw her booed off the stage). But there’s also an unexpected depth to many of the characters – as we spend more time with Mathias, Andrea and Arlette, each open up immensely and audiences can start to sympathise with their each of their personal struggles.
One of the shows biggest strengths is its dialogue with its creators expressing admiration for the works of Aaron Sorkin, particularly singling out The West Wing. The repartee at ASK is sharp and rapid-fire without ever becoming unbelievable, with volatile character interactions keeping the viewer on their tones – we’re never quite sure when one of the ASK agents will erupt and a fierce fight with the other staff might ensue.
With its fourth series, Call My Agent! will hopefully claim its place at the pedestal of Netflix’s international output. Needless to say, fans in the know are already heavily anticipating the arrival of this latest slice of drama from ASK, but fingers crossed that word of this Parisian-set treasure will continue to grow in the months and years to come. A loving ode to French cinema and television and of course its Parisian setting, there’s a wealth of treasures to be found here.
Call My Agent seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Netflix, with season 4 launching on Thursday, 21st January – check out our guide to the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or find something to watch with our TV Guide