Friday, April 2, 2021

Calling All Fans of "Call My Agent!"


It was my own agent (Hi, Stuart!) who first turned me on to Call My Agent!. This French series originally titled Dix Pour Cent (or Ten Percent), was spread over four seasons, beginning in 2015. Which means its memorable stars have by now all moved onto other projects. When I get to the end I’ll certainly miss them.

The series explores day-to-day life in a talent agency, where starry clients are the norm. The brilliant title sequence begins with a young woman in full eighteenth-century aristocratic attire. She seems to belong at the court of some King Louis, until we watch her beautifully shod foot step over a series of wires and cables. At which point we know we’re on a movie set . . . and before long the same fille is striding out the door, clad in sneakers and tight jeans.

  Part of the fun of Call My Agent! is that it features real-life celebrities who seem to be having a ball playing slightly ungainly versions of themselves. They’re always in crisis mode:  two old-school performers are in the midst of a longtime feud; an up-and-comer slated to star in a road movie has panic attacks when behind the wheel; a well-known twosome break up just before they’re scheduled to shoot a film that will tap their romantic chemistry. An American viewer can’t fully appreciate these unfamiliar French vedettes, but as the series wears on it presents some names well known on this side of the Atlantic. One example: Juliette Binoche, who in the second-season finale appears as the celebrity host of the Cannes Film Festival. Not only is Binoche trying to elude a stalker but she’s also forced to make her big welcome speech while wearing a hideously poufy designer gown. I won’t soon forget her desperate sprint to locate the ladies’ room behind the scenes in the cavernous Palais.

 Though the warts-and-all French celebrities are charming, the series’ focal figures are in fact their representatives, who’ll do (just about) anything to further their clients’ screen careers. The jostling among them is sometimes reminiscent of Mad Men, though this is hardly a period piece reflecting a bygone era. People of color play some of the featured roles, and one of the agents—the uber-passionate Andréa—is unabashedly gay. She’s a vivid presence, as is the fashionably scruffy Gabriel (who perhaps unwisely gives his heart to a fledgling actress), and the dapper Matthias, whose personal secrets come to the fore over the course of seasons 1 and 2. But the audience favorite may be wide-eyed young Camille, the diligent assistant whose journey into the business of agenting we follow over the course of the series. Is she the Peggy Olson of Call My Agent? Not exactly, but I look forward to following her trajectory in seasons 3 and 4.

 There was a time when episodes of a mostly comedic TV series could be viewed in any order, since (during a season, at least) no big transformative changes took place. But in Call My Agent!, as in so many of today’s series, there is a constant unfolding of events that change everything. I’ll avoid any big reveals, so as not to spoil the fun, but do expect a glimpse of the softer side of Andréa, and wait for the moment when the starchy Matthias melts into a puddle of deep emotion. Minor players too are full of surprises.

 Call My Agent! is a terrific way to improve your grasp of colloquial French. Thank goodness, though, for subtitles.



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