Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Au Service de la France

‘A Very Secret Service’ Review: Netflix’s French Spy Comedy is ‘The Office’ by Way of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’

Not only is the “new recruit as audience surrogate” a time-tested method of spy agency stories, but it’s one of the simplest ways to get a literal foot in the door on a TV show. In the case of the French comedy “A Very Secret Service” (released in the United States as a Netflix Original), young counterintelligence newcomer André Merlaux (Hugo Becker) gets to be the doe-eyed conscience of a show where international diplomacy gets tossed around like manila folders full of classified material.

Andre joins the (fictional) French Secret Services in 1960, but the Cold War only permeates his new small inner circle of colleagues as much as it upsets the normal day-to-day business of a workplace that seems more banal than cutthroat. Writer/creators Jean-François Halin, Claire Lemaréchal, and Jean-André Yerlès manage to harness that droll side of a spy job for their benefit, using André’s growing list of lessons to paint a bizarre bureaucracy where global ramifications often come from a simple government form.

Despite its setting, “A Very Secret Service” still has a lot of the hallmarks of a workplace comedy. There are the interoffice romances, unusual personal secrets that slowly trickle out to the entire staff, and the love interest who ends up being far more than they seem. It does take a while for André’s colleagues to feel like distinct individuals, but when they do, Calot (Jean-Édouard Bodziak) emerges as the goofy paranoid second-guesser, Moulinier (Bruno Paviot) as the short-fused, aspirationally suave type, and Jacquard (Karim Barras) as the guy with some unconventional side ventures.

What could be a series of whirlwind missions abroad and domestic negotiations back in Paris end up being a chance for André’s bosses to diplomatically faceplant. Over time, “A Very Secret Service” sheds its Former French Colony of the Week approach to make it more about the weird internal office politics of the Service itself. As André moves through the ranks to higher and higher clearances, it becomes more and more incidental where he goes.


Trust me, IT IS hilarious! Now go watch it: that's an ORDER!

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