It’s no longer a surprise to learn that a friend who you think might have ghosted you, fallen off the grid, or — oh no! — been kidnapped has instead become entranced by some TV series and is spending every available waking moment plowing through scores of easily accessed episodes. Binge syndrome is a real and ever-present danger in the era of digital streaming. Signs and symptoms include glassy eyes, atrophied muscles, and reliance on catch-phrases, vintage and recent.
As the bandwidths widen and more video services flood that marketplace, the need for content has exploded: Old classics are recycled, more recent shows are repurposed on new delivery platforms, fresh prestige programs are in production, and top-grade series from overseas are finding American audiences. I can’t wait for the upcoming seasons of the ultra-complex, time-bending sci-fi thriller Dark and the dreamy, noirish Weimar Republic drama Babylon Berlin, both from Germany.
Meanwhile, the following three shows, all quite different and all available on Netflix, have distracted me with high-value viewing. If they appeal to you, you might lose touch with everyone in your life for an unspecified period of time. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
‘CALL MY AGENT!’
The French TV series Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!) is a real find: a blithe, smart inside-showbiz comedy about the professional and personal goings-on at a high-end Parisian talent agency in constant upheaval. To sweeten the deal, genuine, internationally renowned French stars including Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Jean Dujardin, Monica Bellucci, and Isabelle Adjani are on board as fictionalized versions of themselves. The big-name guests are generally depicted as clients of the agency, former clients, or prospective clients, and they are all happy to make fun of themselves, even to the point of embarrassment, in the service of humor.
Although that could be enough to generate interest in the series, what really makes Call My Agent! sparkle is the ensemble cast that portrays the executives and staff of the agency. These characters are recognizable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the entertainment world and are so three-dimensional that caring about them is a fait accompli. With the blend of fictional creations and actual celebrities, there are similarities to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, and Extras, and the off-kilter workplace dynamics bring a dash of The Office to the proceedings. Fans of those other shows could easily find a lot to enjoy in Call My Agent!, which has been on the air in France since 2015. There are now 18 hours ready to watch, and Series 4 is in production with plans to release it later this year. Allons-y!
Having debuted in Britain last October, Giri/Haji is a thoroughly compelling, multinational mix of action, mystery, and morality play. The title is comprised of two Japanese words that translate as Duty/Shame and get to the heart of the conflicts that drive the series. It’s an eight-episode corker starring Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire, Trainspotting) and a terrific but previously unknown-to-me Japanese actor named Takehiro Hira as detectives from two different worlds and cultures. Hira’s Kenzo Mori travels from Tokyo to London to look into the disappearance of his brother who had gotten himself in trouble with Yakuza mobsters. Reaching England, Mori meets Macdonald’s Sarah Weitzmann, a constable with the Metropolitan Police, and they become uneasy allies. Things ramp up from there, courtesy of various underworld adversaries who have unsavory objectives of their own.
It’s smart, exciting, and surprisingly droll in spots, but doesn’t stint on the drama and character development as in a more conventional crime series. Giri/Haji expands and enhances the genre. It’s one of the coolest and most captivating procedurals I’ve seen since Line of Duty, the excellent ongoing British series about a police anticorruption unit — and that’s a sterling recommendation.
‘TOAST OF LONDON’
Until I saw Toast of London, I didn’t know how much the world needed a half-hour TV comedy about a pompous hack actor and his loony peers. Toast of London — the uproarious misadventures of the titular twit of a thespian Steven Toast as he flails, fumbles, and fulminates over his less-than-stellar fortunes — launched with a pilot episode in Britain back in 2012. That was followed by three six-episode seasons of the show, co-created by and starring Matt Berry. He’s probably best-known in the United States for playing a porn-obsessed nobleman-turned-vampire on the FX horror-comedy series What We Do in the Shadows. But Toast of London — finally on schedule for a fourth season after a five-year break — is the surreal, sneakily savvy riot that truly and deservedly marked Berry as a BAFTA-winning comedic force.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @cultureblaster