When Amazon dropped Ten Percent, the English language version of Dix Pour Cent, which was the original French title of Call My Agent (keep up at the back), the tenor of the reviews was that the adaptation was fairly pointless, largely because the producers chose not to depart from the original storyline very much.
A straight remake, then, almost a shot-for-shot duplication. The action is transplanted from Paris to London, and the cameo appearances are well-known British actors rather than well-known (?) French actors, other than that, same show, complete with all the flaws of the original.
Why was Call My Agent so popular on Netflix in the first place? My theory is that it was because of lockdown. People generally don’t really like watching subtitled shows, but because of the lockdown(s), everybody got desperate.
For myself, I did “watch” Call My Agent, or I should say I was in the room while it was on, but as I treat television as radio with pictures, I didn’t really read the subtitles. My understanding of the show, therefore, was based on my shaky schoolboy French and my high level of media literacy. Anyway, my opinion is and was that it was fairly harmless, lightweight, but that it wouldn’t have been so popular if not for lockdown. It was two kinds of escapism: light entertainment, and dreaming about Paris when we couldn’t go there.
So the English version is almost exactly the same, as I said, except we’re no longer in lockdown and only wankers think London is cool. The show does have several flaws that make it a bit irritating. Here goes.
First of all, the theme music. JESUS CHRIST. If you’ve never heard it, count your blessings; if you have, then rest assured that the deafness is only temporary, unless you deliberately stuck knitting needles in your ears so you wouldn’t have to hear it again. The screeching singing is like two forks tangled together in a drawer, and it’s possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
The irritant music, sans vocals, continues throughout every episode, with the jaunty piano bar interludes padding each one for length. It’s the kind of music used to make unfunny comedy shows seem more, you know, funny. It’s the Comic Sans of music, and like Comic Sans, it’s terrible.
Moving on from the music to the premise of the show, are we supposed to believe that this talent agency in London, which seems to have so many prominent and successful actors on its books, is also in deep financial trouble? Clearly, the joke of the programme is that nobody knows what they’re doing, but still. I’ll redact the names, in case you are the one person who enjoys cameo appearances, but these people are all working and presumably paying the commissions. Shaky premise aside, the show really rests on the one joke (nobody knows what they’re doing) and repeats it over and over again.
The script that accompanies this one joke is dreadful, and it’s one we’ve seen before in a slightly different (but not different enough) context. While there is a team of writers, and they were clearly adapting the original French thing, the principal brain behind this is John Morton, who was also responsible for the BBC-satirising W1A, and the Olympic Games-satirising Twenty Twelve. If you know those scripts, then you know Ten Percent. It’s a lot of people sitting in meetings looking bewildered and or bored and saying, “Yes…” and “Of course…” over and over again.
It’s tired and it is tiresome. Haven’t we been here before, with a show about the meaninglessness of work, the pointlessness of meetings, and the vacuousness of corporate communication? We have. And we have the “Great!” “Super!” guys from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin to thank for it. Jack Davenport has almost nothing to do except look puzzled and say, “Yes…” at intervals. Meanwhile, Maggie Steed says, “Of course they do,” at similar intervals. Another actor (actually several of them) get to make the same face across the office over and over again. And then there’s the perky American who is “Really excited!” but secretly sad. It’s all very lazy writing. Why give anybody anything to say when you can just have them hem and ha and apologise all the time?
It’s all a bit unforgivable. As to the actors who were clearly queueing to gently send themselves up as the variously stitched up, long-suffering, disenchanted, tolerant, slightly insecure clients of this agency? Shame on them.