REVEALED: The French in-jokes from TV series Call My Agent

REVEALED: The French in-jokes from TV series Call My Agent
The stars of TV series Dix pour cent (Call My Agent). Photo: AFP
The global success of the French TV series Dix pour cent (Call My Agent) is all the more remarkable for it being choc-a-bloc with rapid-fire jokes that you need a thorough knowledge of French culture to understand.

As well as being an excellent and funny watch, the TV series set in a Paris talent agency is also highly educational.

While the series mostly follows the lives and loves of the agents, each episode has a guest star, playing themselves. These are all big names in France so the show provides a crash course in the big names of French TV, film and music, from the obvious like Jean Dujardin to the less internationally well known like Audrey Fleurot.

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But while some jokes are funny wherever you are from – like Jean Dujardin 'going full Day-Lewis' and gnawing the head off a live rabbit – there are also plenty of French 'in jokes' that people who grew up elsewhere are likely to be oblivious to.

Here's a selection of some you might have missed:

Get thee to a nunnery

Actress Beatrice Dalle refuses to play a nude corpse at the start of her episode, abandoning the morgue for the convent to take time out from an industry she says is dictated by the lascivious male gaze.

Fair enough. But for decades Dalle has excelled in extreme and outrageous roles as an object of desire, from her breakthrough in the racy “Betty Blue” to sex-crazed cannibal in “Trouble Every Day”.

In real life, Dalle often hangs out with nuns enjoying convent retreats and speaking openly about her faith and love for Jesus.

Abracadabra

The first episode of the fourth series features what would seem a random bit of fantasy, with a dwarf snapping her fingers and a lift door closing like magic. The gesture comes from a long-running French TV series, “Josephine, Guardian Angel”.

In it diminutive angel Mimie Mathy helps the needy with empathy and magic and at the end of her mission disappears with the same finger-click she makes in the lift.

But in “Call My Agent!” Mathy is no benevolent spirit. Mischievously flipping type, she plays a nasty piece of work looking to settle a score with ASK.

Forever Godefroy

Jean Reno may be familiar to world audiences from “Leon” and the cool pilot holding his own against Tom Cruise in the original “Mission: Impossible”.

But as far as the agents at ASK are concerned, Reno will forever be Godefroy de Montmirail, the idiotic medieval knight who time travels to the 20th century and drinks water from the toilet in the slapstick “The Visitors”.

That is the name that keeps getting repeated at the agency, much to Reno's dismay.

Because Godefroy de Montmirail to many in France is synonymous with numbskull.

Old foes

A decades-long rivalry between two of France's most enduring female stars appears several times in the series, with the bickering silver fox duo Francoise Fabian and Line Renaud.

Why they're arguing draws on their contrasting reputations in real life and the opposing attractions of money and intellectual cred. Fabian the heavyweight film actress is known for cerebral classics such as “My Night at Maud's”, while Renaud the much-loved popular singer cozied up to rightwing president Jacques Chirac.

One word changes everything 

There is a world of difference in France between who you use the polite form of address “vous” to and the informal one, “tu”.

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The grammatical minefield can lead to all sorts of embarrassing faux-pas and unintended insults.

Its power to define the pecking order comes out in the affair between hot-shot agent Mathias and his secretary Noemie. Not even their years of secret bonking can apparently break down the formal manner in which they address each other.

The critical moment comes at the end of series three when Noemie, clutching a bunch of folders after fleeing the office, is asked by Mathias if she will join him in his new agency.

“Oh, are we using the tu now?” she replies, taken aback, that after working their way through the “Kama Sutra” together they were now finally getting grammatically intimate.

What's in a name 

Jean Gabin, the dog, has been in the series from the beginning, at the feet or in the arms of Arlette, the matriarch of the ASK agency who walks the corridors doing minimal work but making razor-sharp comments about the lives of her younger colleagues.

For the series, Arlette is the spirit of golden age cinema, and so her dog is named after one of its great French male stars.

But Gabin was no heartthrob, and her growly dog sounds very much like the gnarled Gabin, whose most famous role was the brute train engineer of “The Human Beast”.

So there you have it – slumping in front of the TV is educational. There are also lots of great external shots so people know Paris can also have fun spotting famous landmarks or even their own neighbourhoods.

 

Originally shown on French terrestrial TV, all four series are now available on Netflix as Dix pour cent in French or Call My Agent in English.


Member comments

  1. So frustrating that in France Call my Agent only has French subtitles!! Netflix say thia at the request of the producers. But why???

    1. yes I totally agree! My family & friends in Australia have watched it on Netflix, so why can’t we? How is it possible to watch it otherwise? do we have lobby the producers???

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