Last Thursday, Netflix released the final season of the French television series Call My Agent!, which follows the professional and personal embroilments of a Parisian talent agency called ASK. Real French movie stars—like Isabelle Huppert, Fabrice Luchini, Juliette Binoche, and JoeyStarr—appear as supporting characters alongside mainstays Camille Cotin, playing self-assured lesbian powerhouse agent Andréa Martel, Laure Calamy as a hilariously expressive and tenacious assistant, Stéfi Celma as an aspiring actress who works reception, and Nicolas Maury as the droll, gay office gossip with a rich interior life. The show is a huge hit in France, with 3-4 million viewers per episode, and internationally, too—there are rumblings of remakes from Europe to Asia to, of course, the U.S.
But like one of its forebears, beloved workplace comedy The Office, there will likely never be anything quite like the original. Call My Agent!’s French title is the more-to-the-point Dix pour cent, a reference to the ten percent agents make from their clients’ production deals. And it’s French directness that has defined this fast-paced, bingeable comedy-drama, created by Fanny Herrero, throughout its four seasons. Rather than glamorizing the world of movie stars and production deals like some sort of French Entourage, the show has always been frank about the moral and artistic compromises made for big money—and the struggles even the most ethical agents endure not merely to raise their clients’ profiles, but to elevate the quality of their opportunities.
Of course, this perspective makes sense for a show that takes a studied yet facetious look into the French film industry. Western Europe has pumped out its share of cynical blockbusters, but funding for the arts and high-minded ideals are still relatively easier to find there than they are stateside. In fact, France itself has resisted the Netflix-ization of cinema in favor of keeping theaters and smaller production companies alive, which has had the effect of making it harder for Netflix-produced films to be eligible for the Cannes Film Festival. This irony isn’t lost on Call My Agent!; the show’s writers sneak in light-hearted anti-TV digs wherever they can.
The show is also, to use a worthy cliché, very French. Adultery is a fact of life, barely worthy of scorn; both nepotism and cronyism are justified through the good luck of great talent. And of course, Black and Arab actors just manage to figure into the narrative, with their racial identities generally elided for a focus on their socioeconomic backgrounds. Besides JoeyStarr (and a brief appearance by former NBA star Tony Parker), the show never managed to secure the participation of France’s few big name actors of color, like Leïla Bekhti (Tout ce qui brille, A Prophet, The Eddy), Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Lupin), Tahar Rahim (A Prophet, The Mauritanian, The Eddy), or Aïssa Maïga (Bamako, Russian Dolls, Caché). Whether they turned offers down or simply weren’t asked will be up to shrewd interviewers to find out.
Still, the show manages to deliver on its aims, which the finale makes clearly known. Rather than dragging on the popular series long past its expiration date, Herrero lets the gang go out on a high and without the saccharine bow-tying in which many popular series indulge. Instead, a borderline sociopathic rival agent plays her last hand, and ASK’s “family” of professionals face unavoidable existential questions. The show mustn’t go on, Call My Agent! seems to say in a concluding episode that begins with international box office titan Jean Reno throwing in the towel on his own illustrious career. It’s a surprising direction for a lucrative show funded by a streaming giant—and in a year filled with many industries’ avoidance of hard-to-face realities, it’s also a relief.
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