Call My Agent!

We have roughly 80 actors per agent. We find them parts, negotiate contracts, manage their careers...And we get ten percent of their pay.

A witty, engaging series about a talent agency located in Paris in which all the employees love each other like family – yet lie all the time.

I enjoyed this show immensely. For me it was a change of pace: not the standard sitcom, not a dramatization of real or historical events, and not even science fiction in which the planet or at least the ship was in mortal danger. It is a show where there are mostly happy-ish endings and plenty of twists and turns to keep it entertaining. (Note that I watched this in French, as in my part of the world, English was not an option, so I will be supplying no quotes. But most regions will allow you to watch this in English.)

Agents of ASK include: Andrea, a beautiful, assertive woman in her late thirties, who prefers women for sex but tends to treat them poorly. The younger male agent is called Gabriel, and he is the kindest, most soft-hearted of the agents. Arlette, the senior of the remaining agents, is rather past the age of retirement (which is usually earlier in France) and has the most charming little dog (Jean Gabin). This dog goes everywhere with Arlette and even sometimes manages to forward the plot. Finally, there is Mathias, the senior of the male agents, who is the slimiest of the bunch.

Then there are the agents' assistants: Noémie works for Mathias, and she is in love with him. We also see her behaving in a devious manner, which for me was off-putting at the beginning – until I realized that all of the characters were devious. Hervé works for Gabriel, and Camille replaces Andrea’s assistant, who quits because Andrea is too demanding. Camille serves as a point of view for those of us who have never worked in the industry. Finally, we have Sofia, who in the first episode is working as the receptionist.

It makes sense that those in the industry would be able to write about the industry. And what an industry it is, full of conflict and ambition and hierarchy! The agents are a barrier between the celebrities and the rest of the world. The agents flatter and praise the celebrities, but the agents themselves are flattered and praised by those trying to break into the business.

Egos are fragile, as the façade is supposed to be glossily perfect, but everything is executed by flawed human beings, and emergencies, both major and minor, happen all the time. Because this is television, often at the most inconvenient times of day. What do you do when an actor is overscheduled? What do you do when an actor keeps getting the hiccups? What do you do when an actor, dressed in a tight-fitting dress right before she is supposed to appear to give an award at Cannes, needs to pee? What about the writers, the directors, those who do costumes and make-up?

Warning! there are a few spoilers for the first episode, as this episode is what sets up the structure for the next four years. The first episode, which is titled “Cécile,” revolves around Cécile de France, the real name of a real actor (who is from Belgium and not France, despite her name). In fact, each episode has one or more real stars in them, sort of playing themselves, although with what I presume are fictionalized problems.

This set-up is absolutely brilliant. It is an automatic draw-in for the series. Apparently, some of the actors were initially reluctant to play themselves, but they overcame their hesitation as the series became a hit. Despite having some ability in French, I was not familiar with most of them – but now that the series is available in English, these actors will get more international attention.

The name of the agency is ASK, Agence Samuel Kerr, because Samuel Kerr is the head of the agency. In this episode he is preparing to go to Brazil, his first vacation in eight years. The fact that he has not had a vacation for so long tells us how vital he is to the agency, as well as what sort of hours these people work. His departure is executed with great fondness – there seem to be no tensions between him and those who work for him. His employees give him a hat for his journey, and they gather on the balcony to wave good-bye as he leaves. This may happen in real life, but for a TV show this seems too good to be true – where’s the conflict if everyone likes the boss? However, at the end of the episode, the agency receives a phone call from Brazil: Samuel Kerr died after accidentally swallowing a wasp. This sets up all sorts of structural problems in the agency for the rest of the seasons. Will they be able to keep the actors that ASK has been representing, especially Samuel’s? Who will run the agency now? What to do about his widow, who doesn’t want to keep the agency?

The plot for ”Cécile” revolves around the fact that Cécile de France has been denied a role in an American film and how no one at ASK wants to deliver the bad news to her. Despite how her agent – in this case Gabriel – prevaricates (partly as he works to change the minds of those doing the casting), we see at the end how fond actor and agent are of each other, and how well Gabriel understands his client.

Title musings. The title in English is “Call My Agent!” (with an explanation point), which is useful because it lets all English speakers know the series is about agents. But the title in French, in my opinion, is better. “Dix pour cent” translates into ten percent, which is the amount that an agent earns from each contract and which puts the emphasis on the agents’ point of view – the money they are chasing, their bottom line. Finally, the title of each episode focuses on one or more of the actors featured in the episode. For example, season 1 episode 1 is called “Cécile” for Cécile de France, just as “Sigourney” is the title for the episode 5 of season 4, as it features Sigourney Weaver.

Bits and pieces

The show had one American, Sigourney Weaver, play herself. Although she has a decent command of French vocabulary, I hope my accent in French is better than hers! Or perhaps she was deliberately making herself sound more American, which is how I get rid of telemarketers (convincing them I don’t speak French).

Just lovely to see all the places around France. Mostly in Paris, of course, but also Cannes, and the French countryside – the rolling green that seems to go forever in summer.

I have read that there may be a fifth season after all, sponsored by Netflix. If so, and if it is consistent with the previous years, the season would drop in November of 2021.

Many conversations take place in the elevator; in one episode two characters get trapped in it. A voice always announces how the doors are either opening or closing, and frequently the opening or closing suits the emotions of the scene.

Viewers need to understand the French laws, such as those pertaining to sexual harassment and paternity, are different than in other countries. I am not a lawyer, and certainly not a French lawyer, so I will not review them for you.

Every season (so far) has six episodes, each about an hour long, if you are considering your time commitment.

Overall rating

The fact that I persisted in watching this series even when I couldn’t access it in English (but you probably can) is a testament to its excellence. Three and a half out of four palmes d’or.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

4 comments:

Heather1 said...

Victoria, based on your review, I had to check this out. I am on the 3rd season. Here in Montréal, it plays in French, with English subtitles. My French is good so that works nicely.

I love this show! I love how devious the characters are even as they truly love one another. I love how they protect their clients. I love how the client/stars are portrayed as selfish, vain and silly... but in a loving way... as if we know that they are to be excused.

I particularly enjoy Hervé, who speaks in such a particular manner and tone of voice. Oh... and Noémie. She started out as a slightly unlikeable cliché... and become so much more.

I'm having a great time.

Victoria Grossack said...

Heather1, it's so gratifying to find someone decided to watch a show because of a review - and that they are enjoying it. Thanks so much for letting me know.

I did not like Noémie at first either, but she grew on me too.

I was stuck with French subtitles, but at least they matched (mostly) what the characters were saying.

Heather1 said...

I finished the series. As the French say (at least here in Québec), miam miam! This is like saying Yum! I enjoyed every second of this series. So many delightful snippers from the guest stars... Jean Dujardin biting the dog... Charlotte Gainsborough's look of misery as she was fitted with a third robot arm... Juliette Binoche desperately looking for a bathroom at Cannes... Sigourney Weaver teaching everyone a thing or two... Jean Reno's Santa Claus. And while I would love to spend more time with these characters... especially my beloved Hervé, I can see why this was a good ending. Plus... just the way they lived in Paris was marvelous. Thank you again Victoria for recommending it!

Cesare said...

Although I am not Fremch and French is not my primary language either, I lived in Paris for some time and this series depicts France and especially the Parisians perfectly - and it is very funny, with some of the biggest stars of French cinema and television making fun of themselves.
I read somewhere that there are plans for a US version, but I am not sure it can work: Although American actors often like to pretend they are like "common people" and make jokes about themselves in talk shows, I doubt they actually have the sense of humour that is necessary for such a show.