Have you already watched every episode of The Witcher and don’t know where to turn next? Are you considering watching the first season of Mad Men for the seventh time out of desperation? There’s a simple solution: stream a French series!
Le Monde recently reported that during the first week of le confinement in France, each day 5 million French people streamed something on Netflix, compared to 2.7 million last year. We realize that now, more than ever, our students need French TV recommendations and we’re here to help! We’ve updated last year’s “French Series to Binge Watch” by adding a whole bunch of new titles to our list. And we’ve also sorted our recommendations by genre so you can easily find the right show for you.
By Sophia Millman
The French equivalent of Homeland, The Bureau has repeatedly been voted “Best TV Series” by the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, and has also been acclaimed by critics abroad. While its pace is much slower than that of your typical espionage thriller, the series is always riveting. The show follows members of the DGSE (the French CIA) and stars actor and director Mathieu Kassovitz. Name sounds familiar? You’ve probably seen him in Amélie. Kassovitz plays Guillaume Debailly, a dashing spy who is forced to return to Paris after six years in Damascus. A Coucou favorite!
Number of seasons/episodes: 4 seasons, 10 episodes per season – Episode length: 52 minutes
Stream it on Amazon Prime
The first French period drama to depict French collaboration during World War II, A French Village was a sensation when it came out in 2009. The series follows the inhabitants of the fictional village of Villeneuve, who must choose between resisting and collaborating with the Germans. The show begins in 1939, and each season covers a year leading up to the liberation in 1945. You’ll become invested in the lives of a doctor, his wife, and the other members of their community who are all grappling with difficult moral decisions. The show’s acute attention to historical detail is what makes it a true masterpiece.
Number of seasons/episodes: 7 seasons, 6 episodes per season – Episode length: 50 minutes
Stream it on Hulu or Amazon Prime
We also recommend:
- The Bonfire of Destiny on Netflix: After a devastating fire in 1897 Paris, three women find their lives upended by betrayal, deception, and romantic turmoil. The series is based on the true events of l’Incendie du Bazar de la Charité.
- Maison Close on Hulu: In 1871 Paris, three women try to navigate the complex world of a luxury brothel, Le Paradis.
Hailed as the French House of Cards, Baron Noir focuses on the political career of Philippe Rickwaert (International Emmy Award nominee Kad Merad). Betrayed by his former mentor, Rickwaert forges a surprising alliance with his enemy’s closest advisor. The New York Times praised the show in a recent article for “the way it sheds light on the unexpected current state of French politics.”
Number of seasons/episodes: 3 seasons, 8 episodes per season – Episode length: 50 minutes
Stream it on Amazon Prime
Fans of Dark, Twin Peaks, or Top of the Lake will love this Franco-Belgian series about the tiny town of Villefranche, where there’s no cell service, it’s always foggy, and the homicide rate is six times higher than the national average. The series is about two inspectors who find themselves caught in a twisting web of secrets as they try to reverse this homicide trend. This series’ first season was enthralling and incredibly spooky, and we’re looking forward to getting caught up on the second season which came out in 2019.
Number of seasons/episodes: 2 seasons, 8 episodes per season – Episode length: 50 minutes
If you liked Casting JonBenet, then you’ll enjoy this documentary about l’affaire du petit Grégory, one of France’s most famous unsolved mysteries. Four-year-old Gregory Villemin was murdered in Eastern France in 1984, and the investigation surrounding his death became famous for the sordid family secrets it unearthed. The series highlights the way in which the media villainized Grégory’s mother. It also raises thought-provoking questions about how sexism might have influenced the outcome of the affair.
Number of seasons/episodes: 1 season, 5 episodes – Episode length: 1 hour
The New York Times describes this show as the French hybrid of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage,” and “The Office.” “Call My Agent” is about a group of Parisian talent agents who try to juggle the careers of their clients as well as their own complicated love lives. Each episode features real-life stars such as Jean Dujardin or Juliette Binoche. The show is touching and funny, and an excellent way to discover who the big names in French cinema are at the moment. This is one of our all-time favorite French shows. We’re super excited for its fourth season, which will premiere in 2020!
Number of seasons/episodes: 3 seasons, 6 episodes per season – Episode length: 52 minutes
You may already be familiar with the popular comedian Jonathan Cohen, who became famous thanks to his starring role in the short series Serge le Mytho, which we recommend you watch on YouTube. In this series, Cohen plays Joseph Haxan, the son of a Parisian kosher butcher who attempts to persuade his father to transform his declining business into a cannabis shop. Reviews of this series have been mixed, but we think its excellent cast makes it worth your while.
Number of seasons/episodes: 1 season, 6 episodes – Episode length: 30 minutes
We also recommend:
- A Very Secret Service on Netflix: A spy show that parodies classic espionage thrillers. The episodes are only twenty minutes long, so you can easily binge both seasons of the show.
This series’ stars have terrific chemistry, and the show gives you a real taste of what life is like for twenty-somethings in Paris. Unfortunately, the second season isn’t as good as the first, but we still highly recommend it! The show is about Elsa (Zita Hanrot) who unwittingly falls in love with a dashing male escort (Marc Ruchmann). Watch this if you were addicted to the first season of Girls or if you need a fix for your romcom craving.
Number of seasons/episodes: 2 seasons, 14 episodes per season – Episode length: 29 minutes
We recommend that you treat this miniseries like a movie and watch its four episodes in one sitting. And, if you’re looking for a romcom, this definitely isn’t what you should watch. The series is, well, a bit French. Expect to see a lot of cigarettes and to feel pretty confused. Vincent (Gaspard Ulliel) can’t get over his break up with Louise (played by the Scottish Freya Mavor, who speaks French impeccably). One day, Vincent finds a box that allows him to time travel. He decides to use it to repair his relationship with Louise. If you saw the 2013 movie About Time, imagine if you crossed it with a David Lynch movie. This is what you would get.
Number of episodes: 4 – Episode length: 52 minutes
Mythomaniac is a great choice for fans of Dead to Me. It’s about an average suburban French family that’s doing ok until Elvira, who’s struggling with stress and depression, tells her husband and children that she has cancer. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t. Elvira’s mytho (that’s French slang for a liar and a lie) at first works to her advantage. Her unfaithful husband decides to leave his mistress, and her difficult teens suddenly start acting sweet. But of course things become more complicated as Elvira has to work harder to keep up the charade. While this show’s trailer might make it look dark, the series is actually quite funny at times. So far there is only one season, but the second is supposed to be released later this year.
Number of seasons/episodes: 1 season, 6 episodes – Episode length: 45 minutes
If you like dark Nordic thrillers, then you’ll really enjoy this Belgian series about an inspector who moves from Brussels back to his hometown only to become embroiled in a murder mystery. The show was such a hit that Netflix ordered a second season, which came out last year. The series continues to follow inspector Yoann Peters, who’s still haunted by his past. He’s moved to another tiny Wallonian village and has to investigate the murder of Astrid du Tilleul, a bourgeoise who was found in her swimming pool with her throat slit.
Number of seasons/episodes: 2 seasons, 10 episodes per season – Episode length: 50 minutes
Other French crime shows we recommend:
- La Mante on Netflix: A vigilante-style serial killer serving a life sentence offers to help the police when someone begins imitating her crimes. She will only aid the investigation, however, if she is allowed to work with her police officer son.
- Witnesses on Netflix: If you like BBC mysteries like Broadchurch, you’ll enjoy this critically-acclaimed miniseries. In the coastal town Le Tréport, someone has been digging up recently buried bodies and posing them in show houses, recreating family scenes.
- Braquo on Hulu and Amazon Prime: Are you a fan of cop dramas like The Shield? If so, you’ll love this violent series about a team of cops who gamble, do drugs, and, in their spare time, manage to catch criminals. Braquo is set in the Parisian banlieue (the suburbs) and was written by an ex-cop, which explains why the show feels so authentic.
The plot of Osmosis could serve as the premise for an episode of Black Mirror. In this show, you give a tech startup access to your brain and they find your soulmate. If avoiding dating apps for the rest of your life sounds great, don’t get your hopes up–the series definitely puts a dystopian spin on the whole idea. Things don’t turn out so well for the test subjects who sacrifice their privacy in order to combat their loneliness.
Number of seasons/episodes: 1 season, 8 episodes – Episode length: 40 minutes
We recommended this terrifying series in October in our French Horror Movies article. Set in Brittany, Marianne is about Emma Larsimon, a renowned horror author who writes in order to keep her nightmares at bay. While she is promoting the final book in her series, she runs into a childhood friend who reveals a secret to her. Emma decides to return to the village where she grew up to get to the bottom of a series of strange events. If you’re a fan of shows like American Horror Story, you’ll love this 8-episode series that’s full of unexpected twists and just the right amount of gore.
Number of seasons/episodes: 1 season, 8 episodes – Episode length: 50 minutes
Other horror series we recommend:
- Vampires on Netflix: Half-human, half-vampire, a sixteen-year-old girl must learn to live with her double nature. Fun fact: The Coucou LA team helped translate the pilot of this show for a student who happens to work at Netflix!
- The Chalet on Netflix: This is a very fun guilty-pleasure watch. A group of friends assemble at an Alpine chalet for a wedding only to become trapped there.
Often compared to The Wire (although we wouldn’t necessarily go there ourselves), Spiral stars Caroline Proust as a tough police captain who must deal with an ever-corrupt criminal justice system. The show is a refreshing character study of corrupt police officers and egotistical lawyers. It also happens to be one of the most critically-acclaimed French series of all time. Watching Spiral is a great way to pick up more French slang and des gros mots (curse words). If you’re already a fan of the show, you should read this Guardian article about its linguistics.
Number of seasons/episodes: 7 seasons, 8 episodes per season – Episode length: 52 minutes
Stream it on Hulu or Amazon Prime
Because the British and American versions of The Circle were so successful, Netflix released a French version in January. The show has the same premise as its international counterparts: contestants are confined in separate apartments and can only communicate using social networks. Their goal: increase their online popularity (perhaps via catfishing) in order to win $100,000. This is the perfect reality TV show to watch during this period of social distancing. And, even if you’re not a fan of reality TV, the show is a great tool for improving your casual French vocabulary. Since the players speak to each other using a speech-to-text software, they talk slowly and what they say is typed on the screen.