March 28, 2017

Call My Agent, French rom-com tv series on Netflix

Let me state that I love romantic film comedies which the French seem to have mastered to perfection.

Imagine my delight to find a TV series billed as original content on Netflix that captures the madcap breeziness of this genre. The show, Call My Agent, also listed as Ten Percent, depicts four agents who deal with spoiled actors, temperamental film-makers and difficult screen writers while they manage their own wackily complicated lives.

The creator, Fanny Herrero has cast Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Gregory Montel and Liliane Rovere as the quartet of agents that you both love and hate-watch throughout the six episode Season 1. Cedric Klapisch, one of my favorite comic French film auteurs and his wife, Lola Doillon, a director and writer in her own right, are on board as episode directors.

The cameos made by French personalities will tickle film buffs, including Nathalie Baye and her daughter Laura Smet (her father is rock musician Johnny Hallyday), Audrey Fleurot (Spiral, A French Village), French rapper JoeyStarr and Cecile de France (who is in HBO’s The Young Pope), among many others.

Some people complain about sub-titles after a hard day at work, but witty dialogue and droll acting should pull you through the extra reading effort. Keep your eyes peeled for the terrier named, Jean Gabin who gives Asta of The Thin Man fame a run for his movie mutt money.

Marseille – French tv series on Netflix

Netflix is embracing original tv projects in other languages with Marseille, a French production starring Gerard Depardieu currently trending on the streaming service.

Depardieu plays Robert Taro, the longtime mayor of Marseille. There are some parallels to Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of a fictional Chicago mayor in the Starz show, Boss. Both characters are portrayed, warts and all. Taro is up for re-election. He loves his city and does a reasonably good job as mayor, but is considered “old school” and is secretly addicted to cocaine.

His rival, Lucas Barres (malevolently played by actor Benoit Magimel) is a former protege who is even more flawed than Taro. Son of a convict mother and raised in the foster system as an orphan, Barres uses his sexual wiles to sway both sexes, makes questionable deals behind the scenes and hires thugs to “convince” voters. Taro’s wife, Rachel (the elegant Geraldine Pailhas), is a talented cellist suffering from a neurological disorder. His daughter, Julia, played by Stephanie Caillard is dating a drug-dealing young man of Arab heritage. Actress Nadia Fares is cast as Vanessa d’Abrantes, the villainous political accomplice of Barres.

This series does not share the excellence of French show Spiral, but it has some redeeming qualities. The cinematography of Marseille really gives you a good feel for this southern French port city. Production values are high with elegant art direction and an interesting music soundtrack. The show gives you a unique perspective on political campaigning in France, proving that politics is a rough business in any country.

Depardieu, who has had a successful decades-long career in film, is still an imposing figure both physically and in his acting technique. Magimel is a revelation as he matches Depardieu in presence and skill.

If you are working on your French conversation, you will hear current slang that you definitely won’t find in Balzac or Moliere!

Montalbano and The Young Montalbano, Italian detective programs

I’m trying to learn more Italian right now and, short of visiting Italy, watching television shows “in italiano” seems to be the next best thing.

Inspector Montalbano is a beloved Italian detective tv series based on the best-selling books of Andrea Camilleri. The episodes began appearing on tv in 1999 and are slated to continue airing through at least 2017 or 2018. I have been watching old episodes on MHZ Choice.

Salvo Montalbano, charmingly played by actor Luca Zingaretti, is the middle-aged Chief Inspector of Police in Vigata, a fictional town in Sicily. Supporting characters include Mimi Augello, his womanizing deputy, bumbling police officer Catarella, his stalwart assistant Fazio  and Pasquano, the dead pan local coroner.

As charming as the original series is, I have liked The Young Montalbano, the tv prequel even more. Michele Riondino plays Montalbano as a young man who has just been appointed police chief of Vigata. The episodes show the origins of his chilly relationship with his father, his first encounters with his co-workers, and how his job has negatively impacted his love life.
Both Montalbano and The Young Montalbano are highly entertaining with stunning cinematography and clever plots, but the prequel has a bit more heart. Six new episodes of The Young Montalbano will premiere on MHZ on May 17, 2016.

Witnesses (French tv) and Deutschland 83 (German tv)


Netflix just added an engaging French detective series called Witnesses (Témoins) starring Thierry Lhermitte who plays former police chief Paul Maisonneve as he investigates a series of murders in a village on the north coast of France. He is aided by detectives Justin (Jan Hammenecker) and Sandra (Marie Dompnier) who discover that Maisonneuve is implicated in the murders.

Sundance TV dipped their toe into sub-titled programming with the French series, “The Returned” (Les Revenants) and now are trying their luck with “Deutschland 83” in German. Set in the Reagan era before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the series follows a young East German soldier who is commandeered to infiltrate Western military interests for Stasi, the infamous East German intelligence service. Based on two episodes, I can say that the mixture of pop music from the 80s and the high production values make this a series worth watching. It marks the first time a U. S. network has broadcast a German-language dramatic series. (However, MHZ, the independent, non-commercial education broadcaster has previously featured several German-language dramatic series on PBS-affiliated stations and on their web site.)

Don’t get me wrong, there are many television programs I watch in English, but if you are curious about the world, watching tv programs from other countries is the next best thing to actually traveling there. If you can get used to the sub-titles, It’s a dandy way to brush up on your contemporary foreign language knowledge while being entertained by excellent dramatic television fare.

Other blog posts on Foreign Crime Drama:

MHZ Networks in Transition

I have written about MHZ Networks before, but they are in transition so I thought I’d keep Foreign Crime TV fans updated. The launch of all-new MHZ Choice, a paid subscription service does not happen until the fall, but this summer you can catch some free programs on the MHZ Networks site that are hard to find elsewhere.

Right now, in the full episodes section of the MHZ web site, one can “catch up” on episodes of The Legacy from the producers of the popular Danish series Borgen, the Norwegian thriller Codename Hunter, the Swedish kidnapping drama Medicine Man starring Mikael Persbrandt (Gunvald Larsson on Beck) and The Talisman from the team that created the original Wallander and Hamilton tv shows.

The MHZ site offers a free month if you sign up for updates about its Fall 2015 launch. To be sure, the American market for foreign-language crime drama tv programs is a niche market, but the demographic contains people who are well-traveled, literate and discerning purchasers of entertainment and various products and services. No es verdad?          

An article on  Acorn.TV will be forthcoming as they continue to add interesting new television fare to their subscription model.

Elizabeth Doyle is a singer, pianist, composer and writer.

For more of her articles on Foreign Crime Drama:

“The Time In Between” on Hulu and 
“Generation War” on Netflix

Avid interest in Europe of the 1930’s and 1940’s continues with two European TV series available for streaming on Hulu and Netflix. “The Time In Between,” a Spanish TV series based on a best-selling novel by Maria Duenas, is set during the Spanish Civil War and the lead-up to World War II. British and Spanish operatives collaborate to keep a Franco-led Spain out of the larger conflagration with Germany and Italy.

The lead character, Sira Quiroga played by the lovely Adrian Ugarte is a seamstress/spy who becomes embroiled in romantic and political intrigue in Spain, Morocco and Portugal. The 17-episode series, shot like a feature film has stunning cinematography and has cliff-hangers galore. The costumes are especially amusing with floral prints, drop-dead evening gowns, fur accessories and dramatic hats on display.

My audio-centric ears winced at the synthesized instruments for underscoring and some of the live music sequences that have a very un-period sound, but this is a small quibble with the production itself being quite good. My larger complaint is with Hulu who plays the same commercials in Spanish with annoying repetition. If you can amuse yourself during the frequent commercial breaks, you may enjoy this very popular TV series from Spain currently on Hulu.

With a sigh of advertising relief, “Generation War,” a German TV mini-series on Netflix is commercial-free in its three 90-minute programs. Hospital and battle scenes would be ludicrously punctuated with toothpaste and insurance ads. The plot begins with two soldiers, a singer, a war nurse and a Jewish tailor meeting for the last time as 20-something friends in 1941 before all of them are swept up in the maelstrom of World War II. We follow each of their journeys until post-war 1946.

The production attracted 7 million viewers in Germany last year and created vitriolic debate. While some fresh themes are explored like soldier-life on the Russian front, desertion, pacifism and medical care at mobile units, howls of protest were heard over the slanted historical tone including the depiction of the entire Polish Resistance as being anti-semitic and “the Nazis” as some separate group from the people at large in Germany. With that said, if you have an interest in World War II history, this 270-minute production may be thought-provoking, infuriating and entertaining, all at the same time.

LibriVox, for the Audio Book Lover

Did you like being read to as a child? A company called LibriVox may just bring back some of those memories for you on your computer, smart phone or tablet. LibriVox features free public domain audiobooks  which means they have mostly older classics that no longer are owned by the author or their estates. Not only do they have full length novels, but a variety of writings. If you are a Mark Twain fan, for example, not only do they have “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” but they have his journals, letters, speeches and his newspaper articles.

I myself have been listening to things like “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, short stories featuring Arsene Lupin, the French Sherlock Holmes written by Maurice LeBlanc and Jules Verne’s “Voyage To the Center of the Earth.” One can find many titles read to you in French, Italian and other languages as well as English.
As a kid, I read the Classic Comic version of “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott. As an adult, I wanted to experience the work as originally written, but the prose defied me if I sat down with the physical book. Now thanks to Librivox, I am listening to the unabridged novel in my car thanks to a connector that links my iphone to my vehicle stereo.

If you yourself want to exercise your voice-over skills, Librivox also allows people to volunteer their reading services for the site. For the most part, these amateur recordings are quite good, my only quibble being the occasional reader who mangles pronunciation.

Now if only I could finally listen to “Beowulf” without risking falling asleep at the wheel!

MHz is now streaming!

Finally, MHz Worldview has streaming options on its web site! For those of you unfamiliar with this global TV company, their programming could be found for years on public TV stations with foreign TV episodes of all types, but they were especially noted for their foreign crime drama selections including Montalbano, Borgen, Spiral and Brunetti. You could either watch the shows on a local public TV station in a haphazard fashion, or buy the relatively expensive DVDs from them for each program series.

Now you can watch their on-line live channel with crime drama being featured most evenings.
Please consult their TV schedule and plug in your time zone to determine when to catch the live episodes.  A second web site feature allows you to watch seven full episodes anytime with periodic rotation of new material. I can recommend the Swedish Wallander episode 
“The Troubled Man” and Unni Lindell’s “The Honey Trap” from Norway now available on the site.

I found this helpful guide to MHz’s list of Foreign Crime Drama: for the world citizen in us all

Interested in brushing up your Spanish or starting French or German from the ground up?  I have been checking out an internet languague learning program called and I can say that the lessons are fun, effective and addictive. There’s even a voice recognition function that allows you to emulate the native speakers.

As you get further into a language, the program grades your pronunciation by percentage. The beginning phrases allow you to have basic conversations. The program then keeps adding new words and phrases that quickly build a basic understanding of the language. Grammar points are clearly defined and examples are given. Images and sound clips support new vocabulary retention.

If only this program had been available in my undergrad days when I was struggling with Deutsch! Rates may vary, but my monthly bill comes out to $5.50 for unlimited use of lessons for my chosen language. Choose from 12 different European languages. Bonne chance!

Foreign Crime Drama Television Shows

Some of the best television is being produced outside of the United States. The internet is affording us more access to the best of world tv dramas. Foreign television companies are producing some of the most impressive shows with American producers then remaking them in English. 

Take AMC’s “The Killing” for example, a remake of “Forbrydelsen,” the hit Danish series, or “Wallander” the Kenneth Branagh PBS series versus the Swedish production with Krister Henriksson or the honor-ridden SHOWTIME production “Homeland,” a borrowing of the original Israeli series “Prisoners of War” now available on HULU. As good as the American shows are, the foreign originals are even better. Two challenges arise: one has to read subtitles and availability can be akin to a scavenger hunt. The effort is definitely worth it on both counts however. 

When choosing my favorites of the bunch, I must add “Broen/The Bridge” from Denmark, a fascinating crime show that starts with a female body being found on a bridge halfway between Denmark and Sweden and “Borgen,” the political drama about a fictitious first female prime minister of Denmark. Both shows grab you and keep you wanting more.

I can’t help but mention two more of my favorites: “Spiral”/”Engrenages” from France, a crime drama that didn’t snag my interest initially but bears patience as the plots and characters weave together in an ingenious way (now on NETFLIX streaming), and “Commissario Brunetti,” a curious yet entertaining production set in a gloriously filmed Venice but cast with German actors.

Many of the best programs are only available if you buy the DVDs from Amazon, MHz networks or another internet sales site. Beware of the DVD format as some only come in a PAL version unplayable on American DVD players. I’m told you can buy international DVD players at Indian shops on Devon Avenue in Chicago or at similar ethnic neighborhood shops if you are reading this from a different city.

One would hope that the streaming services such as NETFLIX, HULU (although they feature Spanish lanaguage telenovelas and Korean programming) and AMAZON Prime get savvy about this burgeoning interest in foreign television and provide us with more streaming content from Europe, Australia/New Zealand, South America and Asia.

I plan on making foreign crime drama television a special interest on my blog and web site, so check back from time to time as I add more reviews.

Here is an aforementioned service that sells DVDS, but also broadcasts on public television stations nation-wide:

A list of the programs noted above:

“Borgen” (Denmark), political drama. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

“Broen”/”he Bridge” (Denmark), crime series. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

“Commissario Brunetti” (German), crime series set in Venice. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

“Forbrydelsen”/”The Killing” (Denmark), crime series. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

“Prisoners of War” (Israel), psychological/political thriller. Available at HULU.

“Spiral”/”Engrenages” (France), crime drama. Available on NETFLIX streaming.

“Wallander” (Sweden), crime series with Krister Kenriksson. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

Other recommended foreign series:

“The Eagle”/”Ornen” (Denmark), engaging crime drama. Available on HULU and NETFLIX streaming.

“Epitafios” (Argentina), gruesome crime drama. Available from NETFLIX by mail.

“Inspector Salvo Montalbano” (Italy), lighter-hearted detective series. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

“Irene Huss” (Sweden), female detective series. Available for purchase from AMAZON.

“MI-5” (Great Britain), absolutely riveting spy drama. Available on NETFLIX streaming.

“The Protectors” (Denmark) fast-paced crime drama. Available on HULU and NETFLIX streaming.

“Varg Veum” (Norway) crime drama. Available for purchase at AMAZON.


Elizabeth Doyle is a singer, pianist, composer and writer.

For more of her articles on Foreign Crime Drama: