I very much enjoyed Ten Percent (Amazon Prime Video), the pleasant English-language remake of the French hit Call My Agent!, but it did seem to be rather pointless. Much of it is a straightforward remake of the French series, so fans will be familiar with storylines about two big-name stars being given the same role, for example, or another finding out she is considered too old for a leading Hollywood movie. It is not so much inspired by the original as it is borrowing its clothes, car and house.
Call My Agent!’s Agence Samuel Kerr talent agency is rebranded as Nightingale Hart, near Goodge Street, an area of London that doesn’t quite have the same visual appeal as the 1st arrondissement. Otherwise, it’s all as expected. There’s a Mathias (Jack Davenport’s Jonathan), an Andrea (Lydia Leonard, as Rebecca), a Gabriel (Prasanna Puwanarajah, now Dan) and an Arlette (an underused Maggie Steed, as Stella). There are the same assistants, the same family members, the same actor types. As well as its conception and several of its plots, it also shares some of the original’s jaunty spirit and bounce.
Ten Percent is written by John Morton, who satirized inane corporate buffoonery in both Twenty Twelve and W1A, though considering his caliber and experience, the satirical side of this show is oddly toothless. Actors sending themselves up should be funny, and on occasion, it manages to get there. Dominic West is fun as a precious West End Hamlet struggling to get to grips with an Ivo van Hove-esque screen-heavy production, and David Harewood thunders in at the end to run away with the finale. But more often than not, it plays it too safe. Actors make fun of the business – it’s ageist! It’s full of massive egos! – but not themselves. It’s nice to see famous faces like Helena Bonham Carter and Himesh Patel, but there’s surprisingly little to no self-deprecation here. For a British version, it seems like an omission, or a missed opportunity.
There are some twists and upgrades that really work. Who will be the next Bond? Why have a tax inspector when she could be a foreign correspondent instead? Americans meddle in the business quickly and completely, and it seems much more at ease when mocking bland Californian business platitudes than when teasing the world its performers inhabit. “You guys are so British,” beams one particularly high-wattage American newcomer. “Thank God someone is,” says Stella, the old hand who has been in the business for ever. This exchange sums up the mood of the series. It seems to say that there’s a stuffy old English way of doing things, and we like it like that. This is why, I think, the agents are all too nice. They occasionally make a phone call behind each other’s backs, but they are not nearly cutthroat enough. They are all too moral, even Rebecca and Jonathan, despite their dastardly provenance.
When it embraces its soapiness, it cajoles you into caring about the characters in the same way the French version did, but underneath the froth and fun, there is a strong undercurrent of melancholy. A washed-up, troubled actor called Simon Gould (Tim McInnerny) haunts proceedings, hanging around like a living prompt for other characters’ biggest fears, as filtered through his own failures. It is a strange choice, and he feels as if it belongs to a different series. If Ten Percent seems, on occasion, too deferential to the showbiz world, this is its luvviest concession. It made me pine for some spiky humor to cut through the fog of these teachable moments, as the Americans might call them.
Yet despite my misgivings, I somehow managed to plow through the entire series with gusto. I suspect that viewers who have not seen the French original may get more out of this, as the agents’ storylines, about secret daughters and reluctant love affairs and buyouts and sell-offs, have a heightened sense of melodrama that is rarely seen on British television. It’s amusing to view Lorraine and The One Show in a dramatic setting, and it is also extremely enjoyable to see which British actors, old and new, can pull off playing themselves. On occasion, this seems like a bigger ask than you might think. Is there any point to this? Not really. But by the end, was I invested in Nightingale Hart? I was, and I hope that if it returns, it does so with more confidence in what it can do when it stands alone, without the Parisian office breathing down its neck.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism