A British version of “Call My Agent!”?!? Mon Dieu! The critically acclaimed French comedy series, set at a Parisian talent agency, now has had a British remake set at an agency in the heart of London’s Soho. Called “Ten Percent” (an English translation of “Call My Agent!’s” original name “Dix Pour Cent”), the original became a hit for the way it explored the often-fractious relationship between agent and talent, a relationship that can have a skyrocketing ego on one side and expectation management and endless anxiety on the other. It also received acclaim for featuring cameos by celebrities from Isabelle Huppert to Sigourney Weaver, who appeared to relish the opportunity to gently mock themselves. It is a tradition that continues in the British version, with cameos by David and Jessica Oyelowo, Emma Corrin, David Harewood and Helena Bonham Carter.
At a first glance, a remake for a British audience doesn’t seem like a bad idea. The British television and celebrity market is known the world over, and is ripe for exploration and satire. John Morton — the genius behind the London 2012 mockumentary “Twenty Twelve” and its sequel “W1A” (following fictional executives at the BBC) — is heavily involved too. Serving as “Ten Percent’s” writer, executive producer and director, Morton has a track record of depicting people in high up positions causing blunders and inadvertently making everything worse trying to fix them, a concept not too dissimilar from some of the plots from “Call My Agent!” His work thrives on mocking the British corporate world, from its confusing PR to inane business jargon (“If you get bandwidth on this, you’ve got maple syrup on your waffle from the get go,” says PR guru Siobhan Sharpe, played by Jessica Hynes in “Twenty Twelve”) His observations about the British media world can be so astute that “W1A” has a life far beyond the show, with “Peak ‘W1A’” being used to describe a surreal situation that only the BBC could itself cause (such as the time BBC News had a reporter talking about BBC salaries on a BBC News bulletin, standing directly outside their own building.) Morton has even become a media Nostradamus, with one plot reimagining the BBC logo somehow predicting a baffling new logo for BBC Sounds.
Morton is particularly talented at writing quips, and the dialogue in “Ten Percent” crackles and pops as a result, especially when all the characters are together. “I can’t lie to her obviously,” says Dan (Puwanarajah) referring to one of his celebrity clients in one of their morning (aka crisis) meetings, resulting in his fellow agents such as Jonathan (Jack Davenport), Stella (Maggie Steed) and Rebecca (Lydia Leonard) agreeing with a universal “no!” Dan follows it up with “…but obviously I can’t tell her the truth,” leading to an “Oh my god, no” from assistant Ollie (Harry Trevaldwyn), one of the show’s standout characters, in his first television role.
Yet any fans of “Call My Agent!” will soon be swept away by a sense of déjà vu (may I say that my French here was unintentional?). Take the first episode of both shows. The first episode of “Call My Agent!” consists of an agent called Gabriel (Grégory Montel) finding it impossible to break the news to the Belgian actress Cécile de France (playing herself) that she has been dropped from an upcoming Tarantino film. The first episode of “Ten Percent” consists of an agent called Dan (Puwanarajah) finding it impossible to break the news to “Line of Duty’s” Kelly MacDonald (also playing herself) that she has been dropped for an upcoming Hollywood film. Gabriel’s floundering and procrastination in “Call My Agent!” is made worse by Cécile hinting of her casting to a reporter. Dan’s procrastination and floundering in “Ten Percent” is made much worse as Kelly MacDonald is cornered about her much-touted casting by the iconic British daytime chat-show host Lorraine Kelly (who is, yes, pretending to be Lorraine) on an episode of her daytime talk show.
As this was intended to be a faithful adaptation of the original, such a crossover was always intended. But with “Call My Agent!” already being so resoundingly popular, it raises questions about who exactly this remake is for in the first place. Is “Ten Percent” for “Call My Agent!” fans who want to have the dynamic between talent and agent explored in another location? If so, they will be satisfied with how British and grounded this version feels, with constant jokes about and references to the U.K.’s A-list, from Phoebe Waller-Bridge to Danny Boyle. There are new characters too, with Tim McInnerny playing an earnest yet struggling actor trying to land the next big role and the often fraught relationship between British and American talent agencies explored. Yet, it is so much of a faithful adaptation that you end up simply comparing and contrasting every plot point and detail with the original, rather than sitting back and getting absorbed by “Ten Percent” itself.
A repetitious adaptation also feels unnecessary right now, especially as non-English shows have become so much more dominant in British television over the past 10 years. BBC Four forged the way by showing Scandi Noir dramas like “The Bridge” and “The Killing,” along with the beloved Danish political drama “Borgen.” Then other British broadcasters followed suit, such as Channel 4’s German Cold War drama “Deutschland 83” in primetime, along with the company’s foreign language streaming service Walter Presents, which resulted in views of Swedish thriller “Before We Die”. Non-English language series exist beyond drama, with Channel 4 reality show “Language of Love” featuring singletons who don’t speak each other’s language and subtitles bridging the gap.
And then there’s the impact of streaming services. The international investment by Netflix and others have resulted in a slate of non-English language originals in many countries, resulting in many shows available over here with subtitles (or dubbing) from launch.
Viewers crave these shows. It resulted in the development of word-of-mouth hits, with “Call My Agent!” being one of them. Viewers are now content to watch with subtitles and putt away their phones for a bit (or look at their phones for one minute and then get confused by the plot and carry on anyway.) If “Squid Game” had been released 10 years ago, there would be an appetite for countless remakes for local markets. Yet the South Korean show with subtitles and (criticized) dubbing was so resoundingly popular worldwide that endeavour is now not necessary. Attitudes have simply changed.
I’m afraid to say that it is the same case for “Ten Percent.” A remake feels pretty needless when the much-loved original is only a couple of buttons away. I’m not saying that remakes are not ever justified. The U.S. version of the popular BBC Horrible Histories sitcom “Ghosts” works on CBS because U.S. viewers either have not seen or would not get the British references. There are moments of “Call My Agent!” that are a lot of fun too, such as Kelly Macdonald throwing a smoothie at her agent, or Emma Corrin casually dropping a mention of her love for Gogglebox. No, the issue with “Ten Percent” is that it just makes you want to watch “Call My Agent.” And for that, may I say “sacré bleu!”
“Ten Percent” is launching in the U.K. on Amazon’s Prime Video on April 28; in the U.S., it’s launching on Sundance Now on April 29.
Scott Bryan is a TV critic and broadcaster, based out of London. Focusing mostly on British TV and the rise of streaming services, he is the co-host of the Must Watch TV review podcast on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds.
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