Why Call My Agent! should be your next box set
Matthew Turner | On 03, Mar 2019
The more high-profile stuff might get all the attention, but French comedy Call My Agent! (aka Dix Pour Cent) has quietly become one of the very best TV shows on Netflix. A huge success in its native country, the show depicts the business and personal lives of a group of talent agents, the central gimmick being that several French movie stars play exaggerated versions of themselves, like in Extras or Entourage. With all four seasons available to stream on Netflix, here are seven reasons why this comédie charmante should be your next box set:
1. The workplace comedy set-up
Set in modern-day Paris, the show centres on the employees of talent agency ASK (Agency Samuel Kerr), whose clients include the crème de la crème of French cinema. At the end of the pilot, their illustrious leader, Kerr (Alain Rimoux), dies suddenly, while on holiday in Rio – a rumour quickly spreads that he died in an orgy, but, as the staff keep pointing out, “No, he swallowed a wasp.” This ignites an internal power struggle at the agency and sets up several seasons’ worth of conflict.
2. Captivating characters and pitch-perfect performances
The performances are superb across the board, creating a collection of captivating characters with compelling comic chemistry. They’re split into two groups: the four agents – wily, somewhat aloof Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert), old-school, been-around-the-block Arlette Azémar (Liliane Rovère), ambitious womaniser Andréa Martel (Camille Cottin) and the relatively more relaxed Gabriel Sarda (Grégory Montel) – and their loyal assistants, ultra-camp Hervé André-Jezak (Nicolas Maury) and hyper-sensitive Noémie Leclerc (Laure Calamy). In the pilot, newcomer Camille Valentini (Fanny Sidney) joins the team as Andrea’s assistant, with the staff unaware that she’s Mathias’ illegitimate daughter, a secret that pays great comic dividends throughout the series. The final member of ASK is receptionist Sofia Leprince (Stéfi Celma), who has her heart set on becoming an actress.
3. Glorious guest stars
For fans of French cinema, the guest stars will likely form a key part of the show’s appeal, but the genius of Call My Agent! is that all the jokes work even if you don’t recognise the actors in question. The performances from the stars themselves are extremely game and often surprisingly close to the bone – the very first episode has Cécile de France considering botox in order to get a part in a Tarantino movie, after she’s rejected for being too old (39), while the fourth episode has Audrey Fleurot (of Spiral fame) struggling with being asked to play a pole-dancing stripper, after having just given birth. It’s testament to the show’s popularity in its native France that it’s been able to attract bigger and bigger stars as it goes along: the first season has the likes of Nathalie Baye and the second has Isabelle Adjani and Juliette Binoche (in a very funny Cannes-set episode), while the third turns the star power up to 11 with inspired appearances from Jean Dujardin, Monica Bellucci, Beatrice Dalle and Isabelle Huppert.
4. Razor-sharp writing and precision-tooled plots
Each episode is beautifully structured, with the central plot depicting a crisis involving whichever actor the episode is named after (e.g. Dujardin has become so attached to a Robinson Crusoe-like role that he refuses to come out of character after the movie wraps), alongside the more soap opera-like dramas of the office staff and a season-long plot of sorts, e.g. the agency suddenly being audited by a tax inspector (Ophélia Kolb as Colette) and Andrea complicating matters by falling in love with her. In addition, the razor-sharp writing takes several knowing swipes at the film industry, exaggerating certain elements for comic effect, but remaining rooted in basic truth, to the point where you can imagine certain actors and directors cringing in recognition.
5. Humour and heart
Created by Fanny Herrero and Dominique Besnehard, the show achieves a perfect harmony of laugh-out-loud humour and a touching sense of humanity and warmth. There might be inter-office rivalries and secrets, but these characters are a family, and their various interactions are genuinely touching. The humour takes several different forms, from high farce to witty word-play (the English subtitlers do their best, but you can tell there are some choice gags getting lost in translation), as well as visual jokes, inspired running gags and brilliant character comedy. The show’s MVP in that respect is Camille Cottin’s Andrea, the sort of character whose response to finding herself in the countryside without a 3G connection is to call the police.
6. The attention to detail
The level of detail in each episode is extremely impressive, with gags that suggest the writers really did their research. For example, one running gag involves Hervé constantly answering the phone and having to explain to the caller that no, the star they’re after doesn’t actually live at the office. Similarly, the script is full of fun references to real-life films and incidents (such as scandals with actors) that really ground the show in a recognisable reality.
7. Six episode seasons
As with British comedies, Call My Agent knows the value of a short season, so each is comprised of just six hour-long episodes. That makes for an extremely pleasurable binge-watch as all three seasons can be devoured in under 18 hours. Fair warning, though: you’ll be desperate for more when you finish the third season. Happily, a fourth has been confirmed.
Call My Agent! Season 1 to 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.