Other entries fully embrace an actor’s reputation, only to push it into absurd extremes. The ever-busy Huppert is shown juggling several projects at once, a happy workaholic who won’t choose between mainstream fare and intimate Korean films. Béatrice Dalle, known for her risk-taking and frankness, complains that directors expect her to get naked at the drop of a hat.
The excellent Season 4 opener milks Charlotte Gainsbourg’s real-life whisper-soft voice for laughs, and the episode easily ranks among the show’s funniest. (Several of the juicy anecdotes or ill-advised behavior assigned to guests actually did happen in real life, but to other stars.)
The prickly relationship between fame and art runs through the entire series. Two of the Season 4 guests, Franck Dubosc and Mimie Mathy, are hugely popular in France, in the series as in real-life. But their work is ignored by the critical establishment at best, derided at worst. The show offers two possible reactions. Dubosc shoots an art-house movie in hopes of rehabilitating his image. Mathy digs in her heels, flipping a figurative finger at the establishment that snubs her.
Some of the jokes work best when you know the context. In a Season 1 episode, the guests JoeyStarr and Julie Gayet go from mutual animosity to flirtation. When he asks, “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?,” everybody in France knew when the episode first aired that Gayet was the former President François Hollande’s real-life lover. (Hollande, who had a partner at the time, was caught secretly visiting Gayet by motorized scooter, a nutty episode that could have belonged on “Call My Agent!”)
Generally, though, the humor is not referential but character- and situation-based, which explains why it travels so well. The show has always deftly balanced observational wit, calamitous misunderstandings, physical slapstick and satire. This being France, farce is never far as well. Lies escalate. People desperately hide affairs from their partners — who may or may not be cheating as well. Hervé and Noémie are straight out of an 18th-century play by Marivaux, in which resourceful servants outwit their masters, and possibly replace them.
Through it all, “Call My Agent!” eschews an unappealing trait that plagues so many contemporary shows: cynicism.
“I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about dignity and loyalty,” Arlette tells Mathias in the first season. The series keeps that sentiment close to heart until the very end, no matter how unrealistic it might be, as if to say: If you’re going to believe in something, it might as well be the show, not the business.