November 24, 2017

Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion Kick-off Concert Sunday, July 23 at 6:30 pm at PianoForte

Headliners at PianoForte include Lynne Jordan, Claudia Hommel, Elizabeth Doyle, Kat Victoria along with Ava Logan, Cynthia Clarey, Natalja Aicardi, Ty Cooper and Barb Smith with pianist Paul Coscino.

People keep asking me what this “Connexion” is all about. In a nutshell, it is a three day conference with American and French singers in Paris. This is no mere touristic visit to the City of Light, but a meeting of vocal artists from Chicago and Paris to discuss the performance, history and future of cabaret. We hope this to be the first of annual conferences which will alternate between Chicago and Paris, our sister city.

Some of the weekend highlights will include visits to the Museum of Montmartre with its excellent collection of cabaret memorabilia, to the Sunday morning open sing-along at the Petit Bal Musette on the rue Mouffetard and to Le Lapin Agile which has been a cabaret venue since 1860.

Clinicians both French and American will present a concert on Saturday evening, September 16 at Studio Raspail; conference participants will be featured in a concert on Sunday, September 17 at l’Espace le Scribe.

Morning and afternoon sessions will be master classes and special presentations such as Kat Victoria’s show on Black female singers in Paris, Michel Trihoreau’s history of cabaret with singer-guitarist Michel Grange and Yves Bertrand’s program on singer-songwriter Marcel Legay.

The conference is not only for singers. We have some fans who will be attending the evening performances of the “Connexion” in Paris.

Cabaret fan Clyde Whitaker is flying into Paris from Thailand.

The funds we are raising in Chicago are predominantly to pay for the Paris venues and the salaries of French musicians and clinicians. Please support this musical project that strengthens the bond between Paris and Chicago. Your attendance at one of our benefit concerts, your purchase of a raffle ticket or your donation will help make this international cabaret exchange a reality. Long live cabaret in Paris and Chicago!

For more information on the Chicago concerts and the Paris Conference, please go to:

French television shows available on streaming services

Anyone who wants to begin learning a language or freshen their knowledge of current dialogue in a foreign language may consider checking out television programs in that language.

My emphasis in this blog post is on French programs that have legible sub-titles on internet streaming platforms.

Even if you aren’t trying to learn a language, you will delight in Gallic crime shows, dramas and comedies.

MHZ has a large collection of French tv shows, but Netflix also has some very interesting selections. You can add the MHZ service to your Amazon Prime account, or add the app to your Apple TV line-up. Please consult the link below to see how else you can access MHZ. Hulu is adding a few more French programs so check them out as well.

I will continue to search for more French television series on streaming services. If you run across anything good in French, please send me your French tv recommendations and where you found them.

Bonne chance!

French television shows available on streaming services:

Braquo – MHZ – A brutal but well-made police procedural.

The Break (La Treve) – Netflix – An unsettling Belgian psychological crime series.

Bureau of Sexist Affairs – MHZ – Comedy shorts on various topics.

Cain – MHZ – A charming cop show starring Bruno Debrandt.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – Netflix – A comedy about stars and their agents in France.

The Churchmen (Ainsi Soient-Ils) – MHZ – A thoughtful drama about young men studying to become Catholic priests.

Detectives – MHZ – A light, entertaining detective series.

Dolmen – MHZ – A ridiculously romantic series if you are in the mood for such fare.

Frank Riva – MHZ – The iconic Alain Delon plays an ex-detective who returns to the fray.

A French Village (Un Village Francais) – MHZ & Hulu – Historical fiction about World War II in a small town in France.

Kaboul Kitchen – MHZ – Comedy set in Afghanistan. Not my cup of kefir, but some like it.

Maigret – MHZ – Simenon novels are depicted on the small screen. Very popular, but not one of my favorite series.

Maison Close – Hulu –  Quite raunchy story about a bordello in France. Only if you are not easily offended.

Marseille – Netflix – Fair to middling political intrigue in Marseille. Tune in to see the marvelous Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Magimell who goes toe to toe with him.

Paris – MHZ – Off-beat series about Parisians whose paths cross in surprising ways.

Pigalle, la Nuit – Hulu – A dramatic series set in Paris’ Pigalle area depicting tawdry doings.

The Returned (Les Revenants) – Netflix – The dead return. Season 1 was mesmerizing; Season 2 bored me to … tears.

Spiral (Engrenages) – MHZ & Hulu – Voted best 2015 tv show in the world and rightly so. Crime, legal and political skullduggery.

The Witnesses (Les Temoins) – Netflix – Decent detective series starring Thierry Lhermitte.

And for short clips for the beginning French student:

Oh La La, Hollywood Speaks French (two French sisters in the U. S.) – youtube

“Paris,” French TV series on MHZ

Those wanting to improve their ear for current spoken French might enjoy Paris, a 2015 French tv series currently available on MHZ network. The first few minutes are confusing, but try to finish episode one of the six episode series. A seemingly random cast of characters will quirkily cross paths in the next 24 hours.

A woman who is a union rep for transportation workers will deal with her troubled husband, her transgender son/daughter, her soldier son and have a private meeting with the Prime Minister of France. The PM will deal with a runaway son, his distraught wife, his staff, his frenemy, the current Attorney General and political intrigue of all sorts. The Attorney General will inadvertently deal with his pregnant housekeeper, his journalist wife and the transgender son mentioned above. The pregnant housekeeper’s ex-con Muslim husband will get a job working at the funeral home owned by the brother-in-law of the female union rep.
You get the picture.  We are shown a kaleidoscope of people in Paris from working class, to wealthy and powerful along with very shady characters involved in strip joints, gambling, burglary and smuggling young women across the French border. All will become part of the woven tapestry that is Paris.

Every person depicted is somewhat an anti-hero with both good and bad qualities on display, but you will marvel at how the plot knits all of their lives together. In the process, you do get a sense of a day in the life of Paris, albeit a day that is transfused with love, crime, politics and high drama.

For a monthly fee, MHZ is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.  Here are some other articles I have written about MHZ, the streaming service that caters to lovers of European dramatic television programs.

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!