Jim Broadbent, Hiftu Quasem and Jack Davenport in Ten Percent. Image: Rob Youngson
This week’s round-up of the best new television features Ten Percent, the impressive UK remake of French Netflix hit Call My Agent; Navalny, a remarkable documentary made by and about one of Vladimir Putin’s greatest foes; Swedish Netflix series Clark charting the rise and fall of the man behind the expression Stockholm Syndrome (and starring the latest superstar Skarsgard); plus Samira Ahmed’s timely new Radio 4 series Generation Change, which brings activists from different eras together to find common ground and talk about the struggle.
Ten Percent, Prime Video
Never mind the déjà vu, Ten Percent – the British remake of French Netflix hit, Call My Agent – is formidable.
Since it launched in 2015, Call My Agent has become a global smash hit – one of those wonderful word-of-mouth success stories that still happen despite the speed of online communication.
The show’s depiction of a talent agency in Paris featured increasingly A-list guest stars as its popularity grew, each playing heightened versions of themselves. And while the series followed the struggles of agents to manage egos and careers, it also showed a more human – and much more shambolic – side to the entertainment industry. Though they were wildly imperfect, these agents cared. A lot.
It didn’t quite take as long as The Wire to find its audience, but whether due to the fragmented nature of broadcasting and streaming, a continued reluctance to watch subtitled shows, or because Netflix algorithms were slightly awry, Call My Agent was a slow burner.
Eventually, however, it found a huge global audience. Begging the question of whether we really need Ten Percent – a remake that sticks close to the original’s winning combination of gags, guests, and a giant heart beneath its cynical exterior.
The (intentional) similarities in W1A writer John Morton’s version are both distracting – familiar storylines reminding us we are watching a remake – and comforting. We know the world so can slide straight into the comedy set pieces, and while the new characters are not quite carbon copies of their French counterparts, they are close enough.
Ironically, it is the differences that really lift Ten Percent. Jack Davenport, as Jonathan Nightingale, is the son rather than long-term colleague / protégé of Richard Nightingale – the agency’s founder, played by Jim Broadbent. Call My Agent fans will suspect that the early episodes do not work out well for Nightingale senior – but having Jonathan (the agency’s Matthias-like ruthless, smooth-talking veteran agent) as part of the founding family adds an extra layer of emotion.
There’s also an affecting and effective addition to the story, with Tim McInnerny and his lockdown hair playing the agency’s down-on-his-luck, longest serving client, Simon Gould – an actor out of favour and out of work, but who Nightingale Hart feel duty bound to retain. This ongoing storyline is a welcome through-thread in the series – and another change up from the original.
In Ten Percent, Mischa (Hiftu Quasem) arrives with enough enthusiasm, gumption and knowledge of Phoebe Waller Bridge to talk herself into a job as Rebecca’s assistant even before she meets her secret father (Nightingale Jr). Quasem brings real heart to the series and could just be the show’s breakout star, though plenty are vying for this title.
Lydia Leonard, channels (Chanels?) Camille Cotton (aka Andréa Martel) as Rebecca – less cool, but no less sharp-witted and sharp-tongued. Prasanna Puwanarajah brings a wonderful hangdog expression and lovable awkwardness to Dan, while Instagram comedy ace Harry Trevaldwyn’s TV debut as Ollie confirms him as one to watch.
Soho also looks sensational. And given the pace of change in that part of London, any show that captures it as it looks now – even as its magic is fading from view under constant and accelerating redevelopment – is to be celebrated. But more than that, British audiences will simply get more of the cultural references.
References to Waller Bridge and Jodie Comer hit the mark. When Kelly MacDonald and Lorraine Kelly (both playing themselves) sit on the breakfast sofa for an interview, this is familiar turf for viewers – when MacDonald appeared as a guest on Lorraine in real life to promote the show, that might have been the most meta moment of the year. When two of the agency’s star names, Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams, are up for the same role, the comedy lands beautifully.
So as remakes go, it is more The American Office than Life On Mars USA. And for that we should be truly thankful. If you’ve seen Call My Agent, it is as reliably good as you may have hoped. And if not? Well, you’ve got an even bigger treat in store.
When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was taken seriously ill on board a plane travelling from Siberia to Moscow in 2020, it was in eerily familiar circumstances. Novichok poisoning was the cause, the nerve agent employed in state sponsored attacks on other anti-Putin activists and politicians.
This extraordinary film shows Navalny recovering from illness and uncovering the plot that nearly killed him. The idea that Navalny had become too famous to be attacked so publicly proved to be a fallacy. But Navalny continues to believe that being open and public is the way to combat the secretive and dangerous Russian regime – so, with the help of investigators and under the gaze of director Daniel Roher’s film crew, Navalny sets about finding out the identities of the agents sent to poison him.
What happens next is scarcely believable. Vital viewing, and a startling and timely reminder of the courage required to stand up to Putin.
Generation Change – BBC Radio 4 / Sounds from May 4
Stories of activism across generations come together in a brilliant, important and timely new series from broadcaster Samira Ahmed and campaigner Katherine Rake, formerly of the Fawcett Society.
Both bring years of personal and professional experience to the table, as they bring activists from different eras – but fighting the same or similar struggles – together to talk tactics, histories, battles (new and old) and solutions. One episode looks at ending violence against women, another on the ongoing battle against poverty.
But it begins with anti-racism. Dr Halima Begum – activist-turned-chief executive of the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust and Leila Hassan Howe – who was inspired by the Black Panthers and led a march of 20,000 people through London following the devastating New Cross fire tragedy in January 1981 (subject of a recent Steve McQueen documentary on the BBC) sit down with Joshua Virisami from Black Lives Matter UK and Whitney Iles – whose Project 507 organisation was set up to push back against the disproportionate incarceration of young black men and boys and also aims to tackle systemic violence.
The discussion is fascinating. From the roots of their individual activism to their successes, failures and the connections between different movements. As Begum observes, the Black Lives Matter movement was “built on the heritage of decades of work on racial justice.” This important series shows how struggles continue and evolve through the ages, why people are drawn to activism, and what today’s activists can learn from their predecessors.
Clark Olofsson is big in Sweden. A bank robber and drug trafficker with a string of convictions. He also fooled most of Sweden into falling in love with him – which directly led to the expression Stockholm Syndrome. Based on his autobiography, which was itself a work of creative fiction, this binge-worthy series is a fictional take on a controversial figure – with Bill Skarsgard (son of Stellan, brother of Alexander) in the title role.