Ramianne is a TV show & movie enthusiastic who loves to reflect on characters and stories. She is particularly character-driven. She/her
The TV industry has grown exponentially in the 2010s and it doesn't seem ready to stop its ascension in the 2020s. With the Internet and global online streaming platforms like Netflix, it has become more than easy to have access to new TV shows from all around the world. The golden age of TV shows does not stop at the US borders, far from it.
The TV industry in France is well organised and settled. Maybe too much, even. TV channels, both private and public, know the French audience and what they want to watch, and they deliver that well. But for the most part, that's about it. French TV shows are mainly of two kinds: soap operas and detective/crime stories. Of course, we have a few other genres, but the most accessible ones on prime time are of those kinds. Which, in itself, isn't a bad thing. I'm not complaining about the fact that it's soap operas and detective stories rather than about the lack of diversity and innovation. My problem is that it's safe: people like these genres, so we give them that; it brings the money it needs to bring and everyone is happy.
Except for the fact that, as I said, international content is more and more available. And everyone, especially young generations, realise that French content proposed on TV is a little bland. It's not bad quality per se, it's just already seen. With the amount of new content, new stories, new types of characters, and new ways of using and playing with the TV show format, younger generations keep abandoning French TV to turn to online (American *gasp*) streaming platforms with much more exciting and innovating content.
French TV producers are not dumb though. Slow, maybe, but they are now fully aware that if they want to bring young audiences back in front of their TV screens, they need to propose much smarter, innovative content. They need to push limits and barriers, and start proposing diverse stories more. And that's exactly what they're doing.
So, as an encouragement of French TV's new wave of creativity, and because I have lately watched a couple of great French TV shows, here are five French TV shows I am recommending you to watch asap.
C'est parti !
1. Dix Pour Cent ('Call My Agent')
If you ask French people what are the best French TV shows currently airing, there's a high probability they will give you, among others, 'Dix Pour Cent' (literal translation: 'Ten Percent', title in English: 'Call My Agent'). I don't think anybody envisioned this little show as something that would grow so popular, and yet here we are. Allociné (France's biggest cinema and TV's reviewing website) described it as "more than a success, it's the French TV show we kept on waiting for". Just that. As the show comes sadly to an end, I don't think I would be exaggerating by saying it will stay as one of France's most important TV shows, as it marked the true shift in French TV's production.
Pitch: The daily lives of the employees of an artistic agency in Paris after their founder died in an accident. An excellent show to delve into the intricacies of the cinema industry and the star system, behind the scenes. The title comes from the fact that typically, an artistic agent takes 10% on their client's fee.
Number of seasons: 4 (finished).
The plus: Since the story is about an artistic agency, you will see a plethora of cameos of France's biggest film stars (and more), playing themselves (or usually a parody of themselves). Imagine if Hollywood's A-list stars all played a parody of themselves in one TV show: well it's basically that, but in French.
The minus: If you don't know anything about French cinema and its stars, maybe you won't appreciate the show as much as French people do. But look at it this way: if you know nothing of France's star system, take this as an entertaining lesson about it. A great occasion to learn a little bit about French culture!
'Dix Pour Cent' trailer (French subtitled in English)
2. Skam France
Aah, 'Skam France'. The first French TV show I ever watched. The one that actually made me come to terms with my country's TV production. The one that also enabled the successful launch of France TV Slash, France Télévisions' (public sector) platform dedicated to the youth. Adapted from the hit Norwegian TV show 'Skam', 'Skam France' started off as a dull remake: exact same plot, same scenes, same lines, almost same camera shots as the original. The interest of a remake is to relive the original story you love but in a new, creative way; no one is interested in seeing the exact same thing twice. But with season 3 and forward, 'Skam France' got it, started to go in its own direction while still being faithful to the og show, and it became an instant hit.
Pitch: The daily lives of a group of high-schoolers, without taboo. Love, friendship, abuse, betrayal, bullying, coming-out, sex, religion, mental illness, disability, you will see these teens try to find themselves while battling all these different aspects that real teens also deal with. 'Skins' but less crude, and more modern. 'Skam' means 'shame' in Norwegian.
Number of seasons: 6 (renewed to at least season 8).
Dates: 2018 - in production.
The plus: Season 3 and the love story of Eliott and Lucas. When you know a little bit about the LGBTQ+ community's enthusiasm and responsiveness on social media when seeing representation of their own, it's not a surprise that season 3 is the one that catapulted 'Skam' (the og show) as an international hit, and that season 3 is also the one that made 'Skam France' shine the most. It could have been a miss if they kept on following word for word the original, but they caught themselves in time and delivered in the end what can only be called a masterpiece of a season.
The minus: As ever with shows following a bunch of high-schoolers, a question arises when these characters finish high-school. Should the show change of generation, like 'Skins', or follow their first characters after high school, like 'Gossip Girl', or a bit of both, like 'Glee'? As season 6 follows the younger sister of one of the first characters, and with her a new generation of teens while still following the og gang, the question seems unanswered for now. But this period of transition is always tricky to navigate, so we'll have to wait and see how 'Skam France' does. Also if you have seen the og 'Skam', the two first seasons will feel painfully boring.
The highlight of the highlight: Eliott and Lucas' love scene, S3E7 (subtitles available in 33 languages)
3. Family Business
If there's one producer that understood French audiences' eagerness to consume new content, it's Netflix. The American giant saw the potential in the European and especially French market, and did not wait for everyone to catch up on them. Netflix has the great American ability to try about everything and not fear failures, because they know that's how innovation works in this business: how do you know if the risks you took will pay? Well, you try and see. And if it fails, you try again in a new way, and see again. And with effort will come success, but this success will be so great it will erase all the failures. So Netflix produced a bunch of very different (and for France, VERY innovative) shows: a political drama happening in *gasp* not Paris, a horror (no, not thriller, full-on horror!) show, a teen fantastic (FANTASTIC!) show, a sci-fi (with robots and all!) show, etc. If you don't understand why I'm so ecstatic about these, then you haven't yet understood how dull French TV production is. Since I couldn't talk about every single Netflix French show, I picked the one that had the biggest success to date: 'Family Business'.
Pitch: A Jewish comedy about a family casher butcher shop turned into an underground cannabis shop after the son heard that cannabis will become legal in the next few months. The whole family gets involved, with delightful dynamics to ensue.
Number of seasons: 2 (renewed for a 3rd).
Dates: 2019 - in production.
The plus: The charismatic cast. If you're not French, you may not know comedic geniuses Gérard Darmon and Jonathan Cohen, but I am 100% confident that you can still enjoy their (and their co-stars') great charisma and talent.
The minus: In my opinion, it is a bit slow to start and it took me a while before getting fully sucked in. But I blame that on the fact that it's a new beginning show, on a totally original idea, on a platform where artists may still not know how much they are allowed to do. I haven't seen season 2 yet but I feel it will feel more comfortable and free to be even crazier than the first.
'Family Business' season 1 trailer (French subtitled in English)
One day as I was coming back home from work, I was mindlessly staring at the walls in the Parisian subway, waiting for my train to arrive, and I saw a new poster that wasn't there before, an interesting one. On it, a picture of a family around a dinner, and big captions all around, saying "the most Emmy awarded TV show in history" by The Hollywood Reporter, for example. As someone that prides herself on knowing TV shows' big news and wants to work in this industry, I was in shock of not hearing of this new show before. What was it? It didn't ring any bell. And then I read the title, 'Mytho' ('Lie' in French), and smirked. Clever. Actually, very clever, I want to know more. I was shocked a second time when I realised that this very clever communication was for a *gasp* French TV show. Back then, I had quite the aversion for it. I was genuinely very intrigued by a French TV show for the first time. And when I watched it, I wasn't disappointed. The poster may have lied on the number of Emmys, but not on the quality of it.
Pitch: In a suburban neighbourhood, a mother of three is exhausted of carrying the house and their family life on her back. One day, after learning her partner is cheating on her, she snaps and lies to her family by inventing herself a breast cancer in order to gain their consideration back. A powerful story about the mental charge of women and especially mothers in our present day society.
Number of seasons: 1 (renewed for a second season).
Dates: 2019 - in production.
The plus: A very original idea that allows the show to both do deep characters study while also tackling many contemporary issues. While the story focuses on Elvira, the main character, every other character has their place and each story is told honestly and without judgement. There's no good or bad person, no ridicule. It sometimes titters on the absurd side in a very French fashion (in the literary sense of the term) that makes for a delightfully original storytelling.
The minus: Six episodes go by so fast. The humbling will of the show to treat every character with respect while trying to still focus on Elvira as the core of the show, ends up being a struggle for the show's limited time allowed. We are left with a sense that we need to know more of almost everyone except Elvira, even her children! There are many great secondary storylines that deserve to be developed more, and the show knows it. Hopefully, that will be solved in the upcoming (and much awaited on my end) second season.
'Mytho' season 1 trailer (no English subtitles)
I had to end with my latest obsession, 'Mental'. Do you remember France TV Slash? France Télévisions' platform dedicated to the youth that 'Skam France' helped to launch successfully? Well France TV Slash wasn't done with Nordic shows. Its second show, 'Mental', is also an adaptation of Finnish show 'Sekasin', and benefited from 'Skam France' popularity. France TV Slash is supposed to be for the youth, so about the youth they talked again, this time in a psychiatric institute. If 'Mental' has gone more unnoticed than its predecessor, it deserves as much praise. With 'Mental', France TV Slash proved themselves as a new important competitor in the French TV show landscape.
Pitch: After being arrested, Marvin, 17 years old, managed to enter a youth psychiatric institute called "Les Primevères" instead of going to jail. There, he meets new friends, and realises that mental illness is way more complex and human than what he thought. Think 'Fly Over the Cuckoo's Nest' but with teens.
Number of seasons: 1 (renewed for a second season).
Dates: 2019 - in production.
The plus: Simon. It's this kind of character with whom I fell in love instantly. A kind of character I also have never seen on French television or even in French cinema. A one-of-a-kind, scene and show-stealer character that reveals young talent Louis Peres at its best. I dare you not to fall in love with Simon. And guess what: he's bi, so no matter your gender, you have a chance.
The minus: This is a baby show in all its meanings. A new show, made by a new platform, produced by a new production company (Black Sheep Films), with new talents. Obviously low-budget, the show seems to hesitate to reach its full power, so you keep asking for more. Come on, 'Mental', don't be shy! Unleash your power and untapped potential! Luckily for us, we have a second season coming in which, hopefully, it will grow in confidence and therefore in quality.
Bonus clip of Simon with the therapist (English subtitles available)
And here comes the end of this article! I hope I will have triggered your interest in trying at least one of these. As someone that had for a long time an issue with French production in general (TV and cinema), I am ecstatic to see this new dynamic burgeoning, and I hope I managed to share a little bit of it with you. Thanks for reading me! What did you think of it? Do you have other French TV shows you like? Feel free to comment!
© 2020 Ramianne