Why do the French struggle with TV comedy? Theirs is a language of élan, of insouciance, of le grand frisson, as demonstrated in their films, from Godard to Varda, Denis to the Dardenne brothers. And yet it’s taken until now for a genuinely funny and well-written series to emerge from across La Manche, rollneck tucked in, Gauloise dangling from lip.
Call My Agent!, the word-of-mouth hit about a boutique talent firm in Paris, is sharp, sardonic and – of course – irresistibly chic. Based on the experiences of a former agent, Dominique Besnehard, it’s also capable of pathos when you least expect it – a soupçon of sweetness served with the snark. The show, returning on Netflix for its fourth and final season, details the daily travails of four agents struggling to keep their company afloat amid a series of crises. They fix. They scheme. They backstab. Whatever it takes.
If the premise seems unoriginal, the resulting series is anything but. Far from a compendium of clichés about the showbiz world, Call My Agent! is not only a hymn to the art of cinema, but also a subtle skewering of the abnormality of fame, with each episode featuring a big name sending themselves up in vaguely plausible ways. So we get Isabelle Huppert gamely playing up to her reputation as a workaholic. Or Monica Bellucci desperately trying to pull a “regular guy”. Or Jean Dujardin stuck in survival mode after “doing a Day-Lewis” for a viscerally intense film not-too-dissimilar to The Revenant.
But what of season four? Business as usual? Well, not quite. In a plot development worthy of the programme itself, Fanny Herrero, the screenwriter and driving force behind Call My Agent!, has not returned for the final run after her request to be given the title of series’ showrunner was flatly refused. Glamorous guest appearances by Charlotte Gainsbourg, roped in to star in her mate’s terrible movie, and an avuncular Jean Reno contemplating retirement help compensate. As do the performances: Camille Cottin, especially, remains a swaggering tour de force as Andréa, the hyper-seductive, hyper-efficient agent now juggling parenthood with running the agency, while Nicolas Maury’s Hervé is a constant delight. But be that as it may, without Herrero, the show has lost a scintilla of charm, resorting once or twice to heavy-handed twists reminiscent of a soap opera (one subplot involves the most Machiavellian of agents arriving from a rival firm).
Similarly, whereas in the past the guest names have never been made a focal point, Sigourney Weaver’s appearance threatens to overpower the plot, as she tries to convince the director (Guillaume Gallienne) of her new film that her love interest should be 35-year-old Gaspard Ulliel. Speaking mainly in French, Weaver – who signed up to Call My Agent! without reading the script – chews up the scenery, performs a Lindy Hop and is generally allowed to side-line the series’ main story arc: the fate of the agency.
I’m nit-picking, but only because Call My Agent! has consistently set the bar so high. As for the ending, the show deserves kudos for resisting the temptation to pump up the poignancy or deliver some corny resolution. There’s talk of there being a film. So perhaps this is not goodbye. Merely au revoir.