Summer is in full swing, and while there is plenty of Nordic noir TV to help you stay cool, you might also want to chill out to the French spy spoof TV series A Very Secret Service.
Very few French comedy series have screened in the US and UK, so it’s great to see A Very Secret Service (Au service de la France) make its way across the Atlantic and the Channel.
Touted as a mashup of “James Bond” films and The Office (with a visual nod to Mad Men), A Very Secret Service debuted on Arte in France last October. It is the small-screen creation of Jean-Francois Halin, the screenwriter behind the French spy satire feature films OSS 177: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio.
While the television series’ twelve half-hour episodes are similar to Halin’s movies in their parody of secret agents, they also mock secret service-dom in general and government bureaucracy, misogyny, chauvinism, racism, and a change-averse France in particular.
Welcome to 1960 and the France of Charles de Gaulle, a country whose colonial power is in rapid decline, despite the Gallic pride and delusions of a grandeur gone by.
In Paris the French Secret Service hire the good-looking, properly-raised, and intelligent but impressionable 23-year-old André Merlaux (Hugo Becker, Chefs, Gossip Girl) as their new recruit. His boss is Moïse (Christophe Kourotchkine, Match Day), the Director of Operations, and three agents are tasked with training him in spy-hood.
They are Moulinier (Bruno Paviot, Détectives), the head of African affairs; Jacquard (Karim Barras, Daedalus), whose responsibility is Algeria; and Calot (Jean-Édouard Bodziak, Yves Saint Laurent), a specialist in Eastern European countries. What André doesn’t know yet is the head of the spy agency is none other than the intimidating Colonel Mercaillon (Wilfred Benaïche, Nicolas Le Floch).
André’s training is to prepare him for tackling the most delicate of missions, from becoming friends with the Germans and keeping Algeria French, to figuring out America’s obsession with communism and preserving the colonial empire. And lest I forget, the one thing the French do better than anyone: going on strike.
What he learns about being the crème de la crème in the world of international espionage is the devil is in the details. France’s superiority comes down to its brilliance in administrative intricacies. Cases in point: answering the telephone and getting the proper rubber stamp.
But while on his way to elite secret agent status, André pulls a no-no by falling in love with the wrong woman. She is Sophie (Mathilde Warnier, Caprice), a wannabe modern woman who happens to be the Colonel’s daughter…
A production of Mandarin TV, A Very Secret Service is written by Jean-Francois Halin, Claire Lemaréchal (Plus belle la vie), and Jean-André Yerlès (Paris 16ème), produced by Gilles de Verdière (Main courante), and directed by Alexandre Courtès (The Players).
The first season of A Very Secret Service, shown in French with English subtitles, premieres on Netflix in the US and UK on Thursday, 30 June 2016.
A second season is in the works.