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.

Falling Back in Love With French via Netflix

French Netflix

How shows like “Lupin” and “Call My Agent!” have inspired me to pursue French fluency.

Growing up with a francophile mother, French has always been part of my life. My special stuffed animal was Babar the elephant, and weekends were spent singing the translated version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with a group of children who were far more multilingual than me. In college, I spent a year studying in Paris, living with a host family and their three-legged dog, Colonel Moutard. Still, like many adults who spent their school years learning a foreign language, my opportunities to speak it dwindled after graduation, and so did my confidence. Continue reading “Falling Back in Love With French via Netflix”

What to Watch After You’ve Finished ‘Lupin’

If you want to go deeper, and darker, into what la belle France has to offer, here are some shows you’ll want to stream next.

Caroline Proust as Laure Berthaud in France's Spiral.

French TV is having a bit of a moment. That’s mostly thanks to Netflix’s Lupin, the soigné gentleman-caper series starring Omar Sy that debuted on the service earlier this month and promptly swept The Queen’s Gambit crowd off its feet. (And not just them: Lupin attracted the attention of some 70 million subscribers in January, according to Netflix, more than have watched BridgertonEmily in Paris, even—mon dieu—Tiger King.) And no wonder: Lupin is zippy, light, irresistible, the kir royale of TV. (Call My Agent is also seducing the Champagne-streaming set with its Parisian blend of urbane workplace comedy and atomized sex appeal.)

I’m a French TV partisan. I love this. But I have to say, especially when it comes to Lupin, I feel a bit left out. The French do crime better than anyone (except maybe the Scandis), and Sy is incredibly appealing, but Lupin has too much romanticism and frictionlessness to satisfy proper crime fans like me. It’s escapism—nothing wrong with that. But if you want to go deeper, and a bit darker, into what la belle France has to offer, here are some shows you’ll want to stream next.

The Bureau

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France’s hit spy series is more John le Carré than Homeland—and thank goodness. Realism and humanity prevail in this complex but absorbing drama, which has been helmed by Éric Rochant through five seasons. (The recent season finale was turned over to celebrated filmmaker Jacques Audiard.) It’s part workplace drama, part character study, part globe-hopping suspense series as DGSE agents infiltrate jihadist groups and tangle with the CIA. The lead, Mathieu Kassovitz, who plays a superspy code-named Malotru, is a fascinating study in French masculine ideals—handsome, wounded, lovelorn, stubbornly brilliant, kind of short. Hugely recommend.

How to Watch: Stream on Sundance Now

Spiral

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Another long-running classique of French TV, Spiral takes the cop-and-justice beats of Law & Order and the subtlety and knottiness of The Wire and combines them in a deeply satisfying police procedural. Lupin makes the French capital look glossy and alluring; Spiral takes off the filters and shows Paris’s grimy side. The crime scenes can be gruesome and macabre, but this is not a sensationalist show, and its leads, particularly Caroline Proust as the police captain Laure Berthaud, are ruggedly human and flawed in all the right ways. Spiral has been around since 2005 and is now in its eighth and final season, but don’t be deterred. Start at the beginning, and you will be drawn right in.

The Chalet

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Netflix’s The Chalet

If the above options seem a bit sober minded, try the ludicrously fun suspense thriller The Chalet, in which a group of (attractive, Gallic) friends arrives at an Alpine hotel near a small, curiously abandoned French village. There is a hooded killer in the woods who begins to take the wedding group down one by one. The proceedings are more Agatha Christie than gruesome slasher, and a double-timeline structure keeps the storytelling complex, with long-simmering secrets gradually revealed. Pulpy and propulsive, this is one to save for a Saturday binge.

How to Watch: Stream on Netflix
Continue reading “What to Watch After You’ve Finished ‘Lupin’”

Best French Shows on Netflix — ‘Lupin’ & ‘Call My Agent!’ Review

Francophilia finally comes to Netflix.

By Leena Kim

Until very recently, French content on Netflix left un petit peu to be desired. It hasn’t been a barren landscape, exactly, but the genre hadn’t quite reached the level of American success as shows and films from some other foreign nations (see: Korean dramas and the Spanish hit Money Heist). And no, Emily in Paris does not count.

Now, the Breton tides have turned. Take the critical and commercial successes of Lupin and Call My Agent! The former, which premiered on Netflix earlier this month, is projected to hit 70 million views in its first 28 days, surpassing The Queen’s Gambit, and the latter, whose fourth and final season dropped on the streaming platform last week, has been around since 2015 but is finally getting the international attention it deserves.

The acclaim is warranted; these two shows are excellent. But there’s also the perpetual American obsession with all things French and especially anything with Paris as a backdrop, which is even more wanderlust-inducing during this era of quarantine and border lockdowns. This truth undoubtedly explains Emily in Paris‘s outsize, if polarizing, popularity last fall. Refreshingly, these shows are free of tired clichés about Parisian life, and hopefully indicative of what’s to come. Netflix has made a clear commitment to investing in France: last year the streaming behemoth opened sprawling new headquarters in Paris and pledged to double its investment in French productions and partnerships.

But until then, put these two gems in your queue ASAP.

Arsène Lupin is as indelible to the cultural canon of France as Sherlock and Bond are to England. For those unfamiliar with this gentleman chief and master of disguise, created by novelist Maurice Leblanc in 1905, think of him as an early 20th-century Danny Ocean, except that Lupin works alone and only robs those who really deserve it—usually severely ethically challenged one percenters. There have been countless adaptations of the character, in TV, film, theatre, video games, literature, even a Japanese manga series.

Continue reading “Best French Shows on Netflix — ‘Lupin’ & ‘Call My Agent!’ Review”

Comme une Française: Practice Your French with the Netflix Series “Lupin”

Comme une Française

Have you heard about this one? Lupin is a brand new French series that’s been streaming on Netflix since January 8th. I really enjoyed it — so much that I binge-watched it in just three sittings! In today’s video, we’ll learn more about this well-known French character, Lupin, how he influenced the Netflix series, and why this is such a great option if you’re interested in practicing and improving your French oral comprehension. (There are MANY different dialects in this show!) Let’s dive in.

Take care and stay safe. 😘 from Grenoble, France.

Géraldine