mily in Paris has nothing on Call My Agent! Five years before Emily’s cartoonish send-up of French working culture, Call My Agent! captured it in full force – complete with champagne-fuelled working lunches and volatile office politics – with a warmth and authenticity that only a French-made show could have. Now the drama/comedy is back for a fourth and final series, with a different writer (Fanny Herreo who wrote the first three series has said she is exhausted, prompting some to wonder whether there is some drama worthy of the show behind her decision).
In the third episode of this series, an obnoxious young actress explains the concept of agents, and of the show. “They’re here for the rough times,” she proclaims. “We just go for the drinks.”
Call My Agent! follows four agents crisis-managing those rough times, while also navigating the clusterf*ck of their own office politics. In series one, their agency’s founder died suddenly on holiday in Brazil, putting its future in jeopardy. But what gives Call My Agent! real panache is that each episode revolves around a real-life famous person, usually in a scrape. Highlights of previous series include the stunning Monica Bellucci being spectacularly unable to find a date, and Juliette Binoche slurring her words at Cannes.
This is the first series with an international star doing a cameo – Sigourney Weaver, who nearly chokes on her orange blossom macaroons when she discovers that her love interest in the film she has come to Paris to shoot, is a man of a rather more advanced age than she would like.
However, this isn’t straightforward snarky celeb send-up TV. Although it pokes fun at the famous, it does so respectfully, with a generous wit that is never malicious. Dominique Besnehard, who created it, worked in French talent agencies for decades and the show is suffused with love for the arts. There’s a healthy helping of farce, in the French tradition (this series features Charlotte Gainsbourg in a complicated situation worthy of a Molière play in which she pretends to have broken her leg by slipping on a banana skin to avoid telling an old friend that she doesn’t want to be in his film).
What makes Call My Agent! different to Ricky Gervais’s celebrity snafu sitcom Extras, or W1A, is that all the agents are excellent at their jobs. Seeing their offices, in the centre of Paris, has a particular frisson right now, at a time where it feels like we have been working from home for so long that time has lost all meaning. Despite the optimistically bright yellow sofas, working life is challenging and one of the things that gives Call My Agent! its je ne sais quoi is that you can never predict what the characters will do next.
Andréa (Camille Cottin, the show’s breakout star, who plays Fleabag in the French version and was Hélène in Killing Eve) is under particular strain, which leads to some tour de face set piece rants. She has just had a baby with her girlfriend Colette (Ophélia Kolb) and is finding it hard to navigate life as a working mother – there are some particularly entertaining scenes at her daughter’s nursery, where they expect parents to be involved. She would rather help clients with their own relationship troubles than face her own. Cottin gives a fantastic, nuanced, believable performance – and she has perfected the smart-casual working wardrobe with some enviable knitwear.
Every office has an Andréa, gritting their teeth and getting on with it, and only slightly fewer offices have a Noémie, who has gone from being the boss Mathias’s assistant and mistress to his girlfriend – if you think it all sounds stereotypically French you are right, she even eats gargantuan croissants for breakfast. She wears her heart on her sleeve as she takes on more responsibility at work and meets Mathias’s friends, comparing herself to his gorgeous ex-wife Catherine (played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, or Sylvie in Emily in Paris). Mathias’s long-suffering daughter Camille has stayed at the agency, still assisting Andréa and mostly remaining calm and charming in the face of total chaos.
Mostly the new writers have preserved the show’s tone and the characters. One criticism though is that there isn’t enough in this series of Arlette, the office elder played by the 87 year-old Liliane Rovère, with a literal lapdog named in homage to French actor Jean Gabin.
Endings are difficult but Call My Agent! is quitting while it’s ahead, following the showbiz rule of always leaving the audience wanting more. Having said that, I’m still hoping for a comeback.
All four series of Call My Agent! are available on Netflix from January 21