Thanks in part to a few streaming giants, several French TV shows have gathered success outside of France over the last few years. Other cult series may not have crossed borders as easily, but are still available on video-sharing platforms like YouTube. Either way, they are a great resource to learn French, in particular to improve your listening skills and expand your vocabulary. It’s also a great way to get an insight into French culture and society. You can take your pick according to your taste, between drama, comedy and thrillers, but also according to your level. To help you choose, we have selected six of the best French series:
- Dix pour cent (Call My Agent)
- Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau)
- Engrenages (Spiral)
- Un gars, une fille
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1. Dix pour cent (Call My Agent!)
One of the most successful and best French series on Netflix, Dix pour cent follows the ups and downs of a group of talent agents in Paris (The ten percent of the French title refers to the cut they get from their famous clients). With so much time spent in the talent agency, the show is a great opportunity to learn some business French. While the agents are all fictional characters, the actors they represent are very real: Each episode features the cameo of at least one celebrity, playing a caricatured version of themselves. With the likes of Juliette Binoche, Jean Dujardin and Isabelle Huppert having appeared on the show, this dramedy is a great way to discover some of the most famous French comedians, actors, singers and TV personalities.
2. Le Bureau des légendes (The Bureau)
Le Bureau des légendes (literally, the office of legends) is the nickname given to the Direction générale de la Sécurité extérieure (DGSE), i.e. the French secret services. Based on the true stories of former French spies, this slow-paced espionage thriller focuses on agents who struggle to return to their former lives after having served abroad for many years. The main protagonist, Guillaume Debailly, is played by Mathieu Kassovitz, who is most famous for two cult French films: he directed the 1995 drama La Haine (Hate) before featuring as the love interest in Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie).
3. Engrenages (Spiral)
Set in the Paris Courthouse, Engrenages shows the inner workings of the French justice system through its various characters, including a tough police captain, a criminal lawyer, a young prosecutor and a judge. The thriller has gathered both popular success and critical acclaim as one of the best French crime series. While some French lawyers and prosecutors have questioned its accuracy, Engrenages remains an engrossing show about corruption within the police and the judicial system.
Alongside Dix pour cent, Lupin stands as one of the best and most successful shows in French on Netflix. As shrewd as Sherlock Holmes, as good-looking as James Bond and with a talent for disguise, Arsène Lupin is a fictional gentleman cambrioleur (gentleman thief) featuring in over 50 mystery novels and novellas published in the first half of the 20th century. The beloved character is also a source of inspiration for Assane Diop, the main character of this popular Netflix series. Diop, played by Omar Sy, uses the same tricks as his literary hero to avenge his father, who died 25 years ago after being wrongfully accused of theft.
If you like the zany humor demonstrated by the Monthy Python, you’re bound to love Kaamelott. Aired between 2005 and 2009, the series is a parody of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Far away from the formal language you would normally expect from a historical show, it’s a great way to learn modern vernacular French. Another advantage, especially if you’re a beginner, is the duration of each episode, at least in the first four seasons: While in later seasons the episodes are longer and more dramatic, they initially didn’t exceed four minutes.
6. Un gars, une fille
Another cult comedy made of very short episodes (of seven minutes on average), Un gars, une fille (or A guy, a girl if you were to translate the title) focuses on an average, thirty-something couple: Jean and Alex, better known by their nicknames Loulou and Chouchou, spend their time bickering with one another. Each episode is a series of sketches from everyday life. The format and the common situations are a great way to practice your French and develop your vocabulary.
Watch some of the best French series to learn the language
Who said learning languages can’t be fun? Be it dramas, thrillers or comedies, there are many great French TV shows to choose from in order to practice and improve your French, whatever your level may be. It’s also a great opportunity to get a sense of French society, popular culture and humor.
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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.