Sacré bleu! When did the French get better than us at TV?

There once seemed to be an unspoken agreement that telly was one of Britain’s great cultural exports, writes Ed Cumming. Yet the likes of ‘Call My Agent!’, ‘Lupin’ and ‘Le Bureau’ have put that old chestnut to bed. What happened?

By Ed Cumming

The most upsetting development in TV this year has not been the BBC’s Olympic coverage, hard as it has been to be deprived of 24-hour kayaking. Nor was it the ending of Line of Duty, with its ominous implication that the series might run forever without ever finding the last of the bent coppers. Or Emily in Paris being nominated for the “Best Comedy” Emmy.

No, the only truly blood-curdling realisation has been that the French are making better TV than us. Probably the best comedy of the past few years is Call My Agent, which stars Camille Cottin as a talent agent forced to dig her stars, played by real-life actors, out of increasingly ridiculous scrapes while managing their own chaotic personal lives. It is French.

Definitely the best thriller of the past few years is The Bureau – in its home nation Le Bureau des Legendes – a gripping spy drama in which characters roam around the world protecting national interests while managing their own chaotic personal lives. In its depiction of technology, double-crossing and harsh realpolitik of modern espionage, it is closer to the spirit of Le Carré than anything we have managed lately, including adaptations of Le Carré. It is also French.