If you know, you know. The utterly charming Call My Agent! has become a word-of-mouth hit in the UK, five years after it first began in France, and just in time for its final season to appear on Netflix, with subtitles, for those of us still languishing at the GCSE stage of asking directions to the swimming pool. The series, which is entitled Dix Pour Cent in France, follows the backstabbing, scamming and scheming at a talent agency in Paris, while propping up its more devious machinations with a deep-rooted love of people and, above all, cinema. It is one of my favourite series of recent times.
To recap, for those at the back: Agence Samuel Kerr (ASK) has been in a state of turmoil since the very first episode, when its eponymous founder unexpectedly choked on a wasp. Over the past three seasons, the programme has rotated its cast to find a villain, then shifted them out of the role again when it suits. It always picks up exactly where it left off, so at the beginning of this fourth and final run we find the inimitable Andréa in charge of a reduced agency, scrambling to fill the void left when Mathias and Noémie decided to get out of the agent game and into the production business.
It might all sound a bit insider-industry, and therefore dry, but it isn’t. It’s far too self-aware for that, and certainly too silly. Most of the film and TV stars that the agency looks after are real celebrities, sending themselves up, which led to the wonderful spectacle of Jean Dujardin, unable to break character as a wild man of the woods. Apparently, Call My Agent! had a hard time attracting cameos to begin with but, as it built a name for itself, the stars began to flock. While Juliette Binoche saw out season two, I think the turning point was the Monica Bellucci episode in season three, which became as much about Bellucci satirising her own public image as an insatiable sexpot as it was about the agency. Similarly, Isabelle Huppert took aim at her reputation as a workaholic (and showed a surprising flair for slapstick) as she attempted to navigate multiple commitments across one night in Paris.
The guestlist for the show’s send-off, then, is as starry as you might expect. Charlotte Gainsbourg appears in the opening episode, and Jean Reno in the last, with Sigourney Weaver representing Hollywood coming to town, although I wonder how easy it was for her to keep a straight face while quietly insisting that Camille cut up her meat for her. The series is a little grander this time round, with the occasional big, cinematic flourish, which only serves to bolster its manifesto for cinema as an art form that should be seen on the big screen.
As well as roles, contracts and an increasingly hostile industry, the agents have their own messy personal lives to navigate. Mathias has broken free, while Arlette continues to pull the strings, although she never gets quite enough to do. Gabriel is still nursing confused feelings for Sophia, who has her own confused feelings about fame. Meanwhile, the magnificent Andréa – one of the great TV characters of the modern age – is trying to work out how to balance being a parent to her baby with being a parent to the actors who act like babies. Call My Agent! had built her up into such a formidable figure that I worried it might lose its nerve and reduce her to an emblem of women’s struggles with a work-life balance. Thankfully, it ends up being far more complex than that.
Call My Agent! is as soapy as it is serious, as willing to throw in a big, melodramatic shock moment as it is to sit and savour its quiet and profound beats. At times, its silliness stretches credulity – most of the plots could be resolved in five minutes, if only the characters would talk to each other directly – but it is so charismatic that it almost always gets away with it. I have grown extremely attached to the ASK family, to the extent that I began offering unsolicited advice to the screen. “Just hire a more senior agent!” “Just tell him the truth!” “Andréa, no!” In the final episode, I welled up, more than once. But this remains a wonderful, bright series until the end, and it does end – properly, satisfactorily and neatly. It may be too neat for some but, by this stage, the agents have surely earned their commission.