Best French TV Shows
Always wanted to know what the Best French TV shows are? Well, look no more…
Whilst Emily in Paris (which I only recently discovered ought to be pronounced Emilee in Paree) is certainly an entertaining watch, and a very surprising contender at the Emmys this year, it’s not exactly a show that has been cited for its accurate representation of French culture.
Instead, I’ve summarised my favourite French shows that are actually watched in France (and not just to mock Americans). From police thrillers to star-studded agency dramas, je vous présente: my top five favourite French shows.
Best French TV Shows (that Aren’t Emily in Paris)
Spiral is a series beloved by French and Anglophone viewers alike. A co-production between Canal+ and the BBC, this show ran for a whopping fifteen years, putting out eight seasons in that time. Each season presents a new mystery while the cast remains the same, the interpersonal relationships between these characters providing as much intrigue as the murders that they spend their time solving. This show approaches the mystery from all angles of the legal and criminal process, with scenes taking place in the courtroom, police station, and the criminal hotspots of Paris’ banlieues. The police officers in this show are the ultimate anti-heros: incredibly good at their job but with disastrous personal lives, moral flaws galore, and a tendency to unnecessary violence, which casts a critical light on policing in France.
One of the latest in Netflix’s expansion to non-English language series, Lupin is a show about a man wronged in his adolescence who seeks revenge through a playful mixture of heist and disguise, all in the style of his fictional hero, Arsène Lupin. The real star of the show is not the intricate plot however, but the scintillating performance of one of France’s biggest talents: Omar Sy. Having shot to stardom as the star of Intouchable, a box-office hit in France that has since inspired a rather less successful American remake, Sy has since taken leading roles in projects alongside Bradley Cooper. He is known not just for his acting work but also for his activism, standing against police brutality in France and the USA, earning himself a spot on the Times 100 list of influential people, the only Frenchperson to appear on this list.
Call My Agent – Best French TV Shows
Call My Agent, titled ‘Ten Percent‘ (Dix pour cent) in French (the cut that talent agents take from their acts), is perhaps my favourite French show of all time. It follows the lives of talent agents so busy looking after their, often child-like, clients whose hectic work-life has left their personal lives a disaster. Equal parts heartfelt and hilarious, this show is a workplace dramedy with a revolving door of famous French celebrities, all of whom playing heavily fictionalised or satirised versions of themselves. The show is a love letter to the industry it so jovially portrays, the bad celebrated with the good as a highly dysfunctional family bands together in some of the most unusual circumstances.
The Returned (les Revenants)
Based on the French film of the same name, Les Revenants explores what happens when dead people come back to life and resume their place in society. Not quite zombies but definitely not alive in the true sense of the word, all sorts of strange happenings occur when these figures force this small French mountain village to reckon with a past that has bled into the everyday. We meet a girl who died on a bus ride four years previously, an eight-year-old boy who would be forty-three had he not been murdered, and a suicidal bridegroom. Playing on various tropes from the horror genre, the show is a real psychological and cinematic experience and an absolutely unmissable watch.
The Mantis (la Mante)
Perhaps not a show to watch if you want to sleep at night, La Mante does what French TV does best: crime. With the emergence of a copy-cat serial killer, the police has no choice but to resort to entering a precarious working relationship with the orginal murderess, imprisoned twenty-five years ago. The catch? She’ll only communicate with her estranged-son-turned police-detective. Tensions are rife as the police find themselves repeatedly agains the clock and struggling to manage a case that is consumed by the personal relationships that permeate it.
Bonus: You Can Learn A Language By Watching TV!
Once you’ve got the building blocks of a langue, watching TV is honestly one of the best ways to top up your skills and learn words and phrases that you perhaps wouldn’t in the classroom.
How To Improve Your French With The Best French TV Shows
Step 1: French audio with English subtitles
This is the perfect starting point to get yourself familiar with the show’s plot. It’s not a very taxing way to begin as you don’t have to worry about understanding anything; instead you can be a somewhat passive learner whilst enjoying a cracking show.
Step 2: French audio with French subtitles
Now you know the plot; it’s time to get to grip with the specifics. You read a new word and aren’t quite sure that you know what it means… But wait! Wasn’t Jean-Paul talking about his car at some point? Oh that’s weird, he’s used ‘bagnole’ instead of ‘voiture,’ why is that? A quick visit to WordReference and voilà, you’ve just learnt yourself some French slang.
Step 3: French audio with *no* subtitles
A scary step at first but one that is definitely very rewarding! At this point you know the show inside and out, so this is just a case of watching one of your favourite shows and getting to notice the different nuances in the way people talk/the registers they use. It may take pausing a couple of times, or reverting back to the French subtitles if you’re really lost, but hopefully this will be a time where your knowledge of written and spoken language all start to join up.
So there we have it, you now have absolutely no excuse not to try out at least one of these shows! Not only can French TV provide you with world-class entertainment, you can also improve your French language skills whilst you watch.
Now the only questions left to ask is: which show will you start with?