While at the moment there is a plethora of entertaining series on television – history, politics, fantasy, and that's just The Crown
– it won't be long before the menu for Christmas viewing is upon us, and if it looks a little tired and same-old same-old then here is a suggestion for a series – of which there are three seasons – that wrapped up last year but is available on Netflix. If you missed it, it has a lot to offer: drama, humour and intrigue – not to mention style (The New Yorker
dedicated an article to its elegance) – and an unimaginable cast of characters. Don't let the fact that it's in French put you off; subtitles capture the wit and are excellent, and Paris has never looked more beautiful.
Among the accolades for Call My Agent
are: best writer for Fanny Herrero, who is also behind the concept of the series; best actress for Camille Cottin (who is making the French version of Fleabag
); and the best TV series in France. No wonder the big-name French actors accept invitations to appear. Set in the cut-throat competitive world of actors' agents, the Parisian agency, called A.S.K. (the initials of its now deceased-in-curious-circumstances founder), has on its books some of the best-known French actors, but keeping them happy, out of trouble and respecting their contracts is full of pitfalls.
The four main characters at A.S.K. take it in turn to be the focus of each episode, which includes integrating into the story the actor with whom they are having a problem, be it Isabelle Huppert, Juliet Binoche or Jean Dujardin, among others. Isabelle Huppert, for instance, has signed up for too many films at once, and getting her from one to the other, without breaking her contracts, falls to her agent, more a minder in this case.
What is delightful about the structure of each episode is that the 'guest star' is fully part of the story, at times sending themselves up, but always appearing – as much as possible – to be 'ordinary', a human being (albeit very rich and glossy) who actually has feelings and worries like the rest of us: body image, family, ageing.
It would be hard to select which scene is the funniest: perhaps where Juliette Binoche, preparing for her appearance at Cannes, splits her extraordinary designer dress, and then decides to give an ad hoc feminist speech; or when Jean Dujardin, having played the role of a noble savage, finds it impossible to return to real life and dress accordingly. This is, after all, the country of Feydeau, and the French do farce exceedingly well. This is a wonderful team that has its timing to perfection.
The agency, while brimming with secrets and seething with jealousies, is also a place of fierce loyalties and friendship. They help each other out of difficult situations, sometimes reluctantly, but despite competitive feelings among themselves they want to see A.S.K. maintain its place in the agency world, where other agencies are just waiting to poach the talent.
The cast is, on balance, early middle-aged, which creates a particular atmosphere, bringing in different life situations, making the agency believable, with the younger trainees working hard to find their own place. The newest recruit brings with her a shocking family secret. The oldest (at 86 but you would never guess) the actor Liliane Rovère, is remarkable, wise and all-seeing, yet one can see the steel that got her to the position she holds. In one episode she is challenged to reflect upon her earlier years.
As well as a balance of ages, Call My Agent
features excellent roles for actors who are black and mixed race and others who play gay and lesbian characters. The love relationship between Andréa (Cottin) and the female tax inspector is followed through the series as Andréa realises that being an agent is not the only role she wants to play in life. Mistakes are made, relationships come apart, catastrophes are avoided, secrets are revealed.
Perhaps being French it is very philosophical. While there are some tears, it is laughter that carries the day. It is truly c'est la vie