So, it’s been a while since I last posted on here. I’m afraid I’ve been awfully busy. As those close to me will already know, I am currently on my year abroad in Paris. It sounds dreamy, but I feel somewhat cheated. Paris under lockdown is not Paris. The streets are sorrowful, tense, lacking in their usual wonder and magic. This is not the Paris I had imagined when I used to dream of my year abroad. I want to experience Paris so desperately, but Covid is not making things easy for me. It is because of this that I turned to Dix Pour Cent (Call my Agent!). Dix Pour Cent has allowed me just a glimpse into a bustling, admittedly romanticised, Paris, a Paris full of life, a Paris where the only thing in the air that’ll hurt your lungs is all the second-hand smoke. And it is joyous.
I have been looking for a good French comedy for a while now, and have trawled through my fair amount of merde — Au Service de la France and The Hookup Plan being two of many French shitcoms. Of course, it is slightly unfair to call them shitcoms, since I have to recognise first and foremost that French humour is simply incredibly different to British humour; French humour is much more expressive, loud, often very physical, whereas British comedy tends to be much more subtle and understated. This immediately makes it much harder for French comedies to impress me, which therefore posits the question: How did Dix Pour Cent succeed?
Well, to start with, the programme is sound on a conceptual level. The show follows the lives of a talent agency and its agents, looking after their egotistical and eccentric actors. What’s effective straight away is that these actors are genuine French stars playing themselves, and they are genuinely big names in French cinema: Jean Dujardin, Juliette Binoche (who was far more impressive in this than when I saw her in the 2015 production of Antigone at the Barbican) to name but a few. What’s nice also is that these actors take on small roles, rarely appearing in more than one episode. This means that they don’t draw focus away from the main plot lines of the show, and their involvement alone acts almost as an homage to the profession they are in, as well as to all the people that make their profession possible. Furthermore, the show has a nice meta quality owing to its focus on the agents, and yet this is subtly employed, which is refreshing to see.
However, none of this is totally original. Ricky Gervais’ Extras does all of this incredibly well, and crucially about 15 years before Dix Pour Cent. But I don’t mind this. I would rather see a comedy which is heavily inspired on a well-written, well-made show rather than see an original concept being butchered. But, it does need to have some sense of originality, else it just becomes another US Office or any other American piece of garbage. And here, its originality lies in its plot.
The plots of this show are very strong, and they don’t take any time getting going. From the very first episode, we find ourselves asking multiple questions about the characters and relationships we know nothing about: we immediately care about them as people, and the scenarios are sufficiently unique. Judd Apatow always follows the rule that ‘comedies should be, above all, good stories,’ and this is a really good example of that. What’s more, given the focus of the whole agency, there is plenty of scope for multiple major plotlines, which of course become intertwined over the course of the four seasons. In fact, the secondary plotlines, involving the genuine French stars, are often significant in the long run, which is testament to how well this show is written. True, it can be a bit clichéd at times (the season three finale being the prime example), but this doesn’t take away from the show too much, and the rest of time, the plots are so strong that these moments often go unnoticed. The plots are the bread and butter of this show, and are nicely seasoned with good character development, and the show is topped off with a decent ending. I’ve certainly seen better endings in comedy (Fleabag of course being the best there is) but it certainly isn’t a bad ending by any stretch of the imagination, and crucially it means that the show doesn’t grow stale, and I always have immense respect for a show when it does this. Fundamentally, this is a well-written, imaginative show.
However, though good writing will take a show far, it is always reliant on good performances to bring the words to life. Fortunately, the whole cast is pretty solid. It’s really hard to pick faults in the main cast, and special commendations go to Nicolas Maury (Hervé) and Camille Cottin (Andréa). In addition, the performances from the stars are right on the money — not too much to take the attention, but not too little to mean that their presence isn’t felt. I do have to concede however, that as a non-native French speaker, I cannot be an authority on French acting. I am not naturally attuned to the subtle nuances of the language, and often I am spending so much time just making sure I understand what’s going on rather than critiquing the delivery.
Now you’re probably wondering: is it actually funny? Well, yes, yes it is. And importantly, it is funny for English and French audiences. There are many punchlines in this that are very French, and the humour is often physical and bold, but there are moments where the humour is more subtly embedded, as you might find in British comedy. The French comedy is, however, quite accessible even for a foreign viewer. Also, given so much groundwork has been done with the character development, there is also quite a lot of natural free-flowing comedy; the sort of comedy when you feel personally involved in it. I also like how the show isn’t trying too hard. So often comedies will try to be funny above everything else, and then just fail miserably, but here nothing seems forced, owing to its intense focus on the plots. The comedy is good, and I found myself audibly laughing on occasion. It’s not amazingly funny, but it is by no means unfunny. It is overall very pleasant viewing.
This show is not without its flaws, but I am in too good a mood to go into those. I genuinely really enjoyed this show, and it has reinstalled my faith in French television. It has given me a taste of the life that I should be living, the Paris that I should be seeing, and I am so grateful for that. It has allowed me to immerse myself in Paris a little more. It’s been a comfort, a language exercise, and a pleasure to watch. Gladly, I give this show my approval.