France isn’t well-known for its stellar television, but a recent surge of great shows is making it worth your while to tune into some French channels.
And remember that if you binge-watch these French shows, you’re not being lazy and unproductive — you’re practicing your French.
1. Marseille, Netflix
This is Netflix’s first French-language original series, produced entirely in France and starring none other than Gerard Depardieu. The premise is a struggle for power between a mayor who has been in office for 25 years and an ambitious young man set on taking his place. Filmed in the vibrant southern city of Marseille, the series has been dubbed France’s version of the American remake of House of Cards. It’s set to air sometime this year.
2. Versailles, Canal+
Much like its namesake, this show was really expensive to make — the most costly series ever produced in France, in fact. That means a budget of about €30 million for the first ten episodes. To appeal to a global audience, the show was shot in English, which some French critics weren’t too happy about (but at least you won't need to use subtitles.) The plot follows the antics of 28-year-old Louis XIV, who wants to build the greatest palace in the world. The first season premiered in November, 2015 and it’s been renewed for a second season which starts filming in January.
3. Le Bureau des Légendes, Canal+
This show is about a French intelligence officer who worked undercover for six years in Syria. But after coming home, he can’t seem to shake his secret identity. The creators are trying to make the show as realistic as possible, having met with actual spies as part of their research. At the 2015 Series Mania festival, an international television festival in Paris, the show’s first season was nominated for “best French series” and the main actor won the prize for “best male actor”.
4. American Dream, Canal play and Canal+
It might not sound French, but American Dream is indeed a French production. This dark comedy tears apart the glorified concept of the American dream. It focuses on a young man named Omar who flees from police to the United States to join his childhood friend, Jimmy. But they soon realize that Los Angeles isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when they get tangled up in the local gangs. The show guest stars American actor Michael Madsen, known for his roles in Quentin Tarantino films such as Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Sin City, and the newly released Hateful Eight.
5. Une chance de trop, TF1
This thriller is based on a book by legendary mystery novelist Harlan Coben, and the French are loving the suspense. The last two episodes of the first season drew about 8 million viewers. The plot centers on a young mother whose life is turned upside down one morning by two gunshots. She awakens from a coma eight days later to find that her husband has been killed and her daughter kidnapped. Suspected by the police, she begins searching relentlessly for her daughter.
6. Dix pour cent, France 2
Photo: France 2
A refreshing change from France’s usual somewhat dark, dramatic series, this comedy is about three rival talent agents fighting each other for the best roles for their prestigious clients. In each episode, a different real-life French film star plays themselves. The best part is that they aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves. The first season’s notable guest stars included Cécile de France, Françoise Fabian, Joey Starr, and François Berléand.
7. Disparue, France 2
Photo: France 2
Inspired from a Spanish show, this popular detective miniseries attracts more French viewers than American favourite Grey’s Anatomy. The disappearance of a teenage girl on her birthday devastates a family in Lyon. It’s been compared to the UK’s Broadchurch, because in both shows the detective has a complex past and the family doesn’t seem to be telling the whole truth. You might recognize actress Alix Poisson from another celebrated French show, Les Revenants.
8. Les Témoins, France 2
Photo: France 2
This show has a unique but extremely creepy premise. In northern France, six corpses are dug up and then meticulously rearranged in two houses to form new families, each with a wife, a husband, and a teenager who didn’t know each other before their deaths. Marie Dompnier, the actress playing one of the investigating police officers, won a prize for the show at a festival in Biarritz.
9. La Stagiaire, France 3
Photo: France 3
If you’re looking for something a little lighter than rearranged corpses, this courtroom comedy could do the trick. It actually started out as a film, and due to its popularity, was extended into a series with the same main actors. The show follows 50-year-old Constance Meyer who decides to continue her studies to become a judge. Much to his dismay, a younger and very uptight judge finds himself with an overly eager intern.
10. Le Passager, France 2
Photo: France 2
This mini-series set in Bordeaux is adapted from a novel written by the show’s creator. A psychiatrist, bored of his job, finds his professional interest renewed when he receives a client who lost his memory the day before and was found near the scene of a horrible crime. The psychiatrist works with the police captain to solve a series of crimes inspired by Greek mythology. The main actor won the “best actor” prize in 2014 at the Festival Séries Mania, a TV festival in Paris.
by Katie Warren