Arts·Warm Blanket

How French import Call My Agent made me forget about COVID monotony and became my happy place

Laurence H. Collin found an inescapable joie de vivre in the addictive Netflix series.

Laurence H. Collin found an inescapable joie de vivre in the addictive Netflix series

Call My Agent. (Netflix)

Warm Blanket is a series of personal essays from Canadian writers and artists reflecting on the pop culture that has brought them comfort and coziness during one year of the pandemic.

No matter how many critical accolades or recommendations from my peers a TV series gets, I've often struggled with taking the leap into a new one. Who are these people on my screen and why would I want to hang out with them for so many hour-long blocks? During the colder months of my lockdown blues, this reluctance to invest into unfamiliar universes and character dynamics has mostly kept me to just binging hours of unchallenging content. With little to no energy, attention span or hunger to broaden my horizons, my ideal comfort viewing experience has mostly amounted to watching drag queen Jaymes Mansfield transform cheap wigs into better wigs or custom doll-making videos on repaint extraordinaire HeXtian's channel. 

However, after much insistence from one of my best friends, I gave into the French workplace dramedy Call My Agent! (whose original title Dix Pour Cent refers to the commission agents get). And after watching it all, I realized there's a core element to both this series and my black hole of YouTube tutorials that scratched the same itch I had in times of isolation and an absence of a professional milieu. There's just no denying the immense satisfaction to be mined in the act of watching people do something they love and are damn good at.

Whether it comes in the form of a scripted series or DIY artists filming from their bedroom, expertise is expertise, and it never gets tiring to watch. The agents at the centre of the breakout series picked up by Netflix (and with adaptations either in developments or in talks in something like 12 other countries) aren't depicted as mercenaries in the way most showbiz satires tend to. In fact, salaries and contracts are virtually never discussed on the show. Instead, it's a genuine passion for the arts and a complete devotion to attaching the best talent to upcoming film and theatre projects that drives these industry players through wildly entertaining obstacle courses of negotiation and ego management, often at the cost of their own personal lives. 

The cast of Call My Agent. (Netflix)

One of the main selling points of Call My Agent! is its carousel of guest appearances from powerhouse actors such as Isabelle Huppert, Jean Dujardin, Juliette Binoche and Monica Bellucci in self-deprecating episode-long arcs. But make no mistake — the agents are the true stars here. And there's something quietly spectacular about getting to see them flex their prowess in the field, about discovering the full measure of the type of interpersonal intelligence needed to make it to the top of the profession.

If that premise sounds a little bit boutique — as in likely to only appeal to lovers of French cinema or the inner workings of the entertainment sphere — the show's general mastery of everything that makes riveting television is something I cannot stress enough. Here is just an incredible, exceptionally well-written cast of characters brought to life by actors that navigate slapstick comedy to high-stakes drama with stunning ease. Andréa (Camille Cottin) is cynical, driven and hyperactive; Mathias (Thibault de Montalembert) thrives on power and ambition but isn't without redeeming fatherly qualities; Gabriel (Grégory Montel) bonds with the talent on his roster like no other, but emotionally speaking, he hasn't quite made it out of teenagehood; and Arlette (Liliane Rovère) represents the living memory of la scène Française of yesteryear. 

The trio of assistants by their side are no less endearing and complex. Competent but fragile Noémie (Laure Calamy) gets one of the best growth stories across four seasons, while soft-spoken gay man Hervé (Nicolas Maury) is our secret moral compass. And Camille (Fanny Sidney) starts out as the ideal newcomer POV, but her slow climb through the ranks of the agency manages to subtly redraw its power structures.

Isabelle Candelier as Annick Valentini and Thibault de Montalembert as Mathias Barneville in Call My Agent. (Netflix)

I'd certainly be remiss to not mention another huge component of what turned Call My Agent! into a top-shelf warm blanket to get me through the dead of winter: it depicts its milieu so richly that it ends up feeling a lot like a Parisian vacation. And I don't mean an antiseptic one straight out of a travel brochure à la Emily in Paris, (although several episodes, like the one set at the Festival de Cannes, display jet-set glamour that is simply to die for). But everything from the indoor décor to the 0-to-60 confrontations to the meetings in trendy cafés give it enough vibrancy that it turns into a full escapist experience a mere two or three episodes in.

And even as bitter rivalries and unscrupulous double-crossing repeatedly bring the agency to the brink of collapse, Call My Agent! never loses focus of the importance of the workplace as an extension of the family unit. While it did make me miss my real-life colleagues — even the ones I didn't always get along the best with — the series became something of a substitute for my long-gone work environment over the two-week period in which I consumed it.

For a show I got into just out of some need to witness well-dressed, persuasive professionals work their magic behind the scenes of the star système, the last thing I expected was for it to provide me with a sense of normalcy. Call My Agent! made me forget about the monotony of Zoom meetings altogether, or about how I haven't had a chance to go out for drinks with the staff after a gruelling shift since March of last year. It took precious little time to get immersed in the inner lives of ''these people on my screen," wishing for the very best to happen to them and the enterprise, no matter how cutthroat, messy and exasperating they could be. And unlike the endless string of niche wig-styling and doll-painting videos that had previously soothed my brain, Call My Agent! is the one happy place I'd encourage just about anybody to visit.

Read all 12 essays from the Warm Blanket series here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laurence H. Collin is a lover of all things horror, good and bad drag, 00's pop-rock chanteuses and old Hollywood gossip. Montrealer through thick and extremely thin.

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