Managing celebrity egos and scandals on ‘Flack’ and ‘Call My Agent’

managing-celebrity-egos-and-scandals-on-‘flack’-and-‘call-my-agent’

In just the last month or so we’ve seen a well-known actor accused of cannibalistic fantasies and disturbing violations of consent, another sued by a former girlfriend for sexual battery and assault, reports that yet another was supposedly dating a pillow purveyor known for his devotion to our now former president, and still yet another actor whose contentious reputation with the tabloid press was recently overshadowed by the revelation that his yoga-inclined wife has apparently been playing fast and loose about her national and cultural origins.

These are all public relations crises to be managed, requiring a team of publicists working behind the scenes to protect their clients’ earning power and egos. That means: Spin the bad into good (or something less bad) and manufacture a media image that may or may not have any basis in reality. Nothing is as it seems. Your fave could be a terrible person — or at least, very different from their public persona.

That’s the premise behind the London-set TV series “Flack” (on Amazon Prime) and, to a lesser extent, the Paris-set TV series “Call My Agent” (on Netflix). Both share a problem-of-the-week template and portray these jobs as incompatible with a personal life. But the players at the center of “Call My Agent” are less repellent and the show is better for it.

Watching them back to back, the two series work in fascinating contrast to one another. They are comedies but “Flack” is a grotesquerie, whereas “Call My Agent” takes a more human-scaled approach to pulling back the curtain on celebrity culture.

“Flack” originally aired on Pop TV in 2019, and a second season was already in the can when the show was dropped by the cable network and picked up by Amazon. Season 1 began streaming last week, with Season 2 to arrive sometime later this year.

“FLACK”

Anna Paquin (of HBO’s “True Blood” and an Oscar-winner for “The Piano”) stars as Robin, an American in London whose job is to put out one fire after the next for her high-profile clients when she’s not doing lines of coke or lying to her live-in boyfriend. She is, in her own words, a mess. But the show struggles to actually convey what’s going on inside her head, and while Paquin makes for fine screen company, she’s playing such an opaque character that it’s hard to become invested in anything she’s doing, professionally or personally.

Primarily “Flack” comes across as a show aiming for shock value; in the hands of creator Oliver Lansley it feels more like a collection of cynical poses. “Isn’t this wild and offensive and therefore naughty fun?” the show seems to ask, but without really questioning the celebrity-industrial complex any further.

The PR firm is run by the impeccable Caroline and as played by Sophie Okonedo (of Netflix’s “Ratched” and HBO Max’s “His Dark Materials”) she is a dispenser of barbed wit and marching orders to the blank-faced young women in her employ.

They brainstorm any number of plans, including one to reignite the career of a teenage pop star recently cut from her record company. Robin’s big idea? Leak a sex tape. A fake sex tape, made specifically for the purpose of generating publicity and interest, but also one that can be discreetly licensed at a later point as a source of revenue. The teen in question is understandably freaked out and I’m not sure what we’re meant to think when Robin tweaks the plan at the last minute — that allowing the girl’s parents to sex traffic their daughter is actually a bridge too far for her? Yay for this moment of moral clarity? (The solution they land on, though twisted and gross and still damaging for the girl, is at least not illegal.)

How do Robin and her colleagues feel about the work they do? Who knows! Why are they even in this sordid line of business? Who knows! Robin says she enjoys it, but all appearances suggest otherwise.

Here’s another thing the show dodges. Caroline is a Black woman who has assembled an army of young white female publicists to do the firm’s dirty work. That dynamic is never commented on and it’s unclear if this is because Lansley as showrunner didn’t take it into account when casting the show, or if he simply didn’t have anything interesting to say. Either way, it’s a missed opportunity. Thin white women in stylish business wear are able to move through certain spaces undetected, all while wreaking havoc and manipulating perceptions and destroying lives. They are able to do this because they are given the benefit of the doubt in ways that Black women and other women of color simply are not.

The show also doesn’t bother to explore, beyond the surface, the ways in which some women in power are just as abusive to their female employees as sexist men. When Caroline throws an apple at the face of a distracted employee, she warns: “Next time it’ll be a glass.”

“CALL MY AGENT”



The French comedy series “Call My Agent” centers around the hijinks at a Parisian talent agency.




Netflix’s “Call My Agent,” on the other hand, takes a more generously screwball (and ultimately smarter) approach to its exploration of egomania as it follows the travails of a group of agents and their assistants, juggling their clients’ needs along with their own personality quirks.

The show is very French; ridiculous but elegant, melodramatic but stylish. It is worlds away from the slick mega-agencies of Hollywood as depicted on “Entourage” and there’s a satisfying thematic undercurrent explaining why these agents jump through so many hoops for their actors. Conflicts abound and they are often the bearers of bad news (and forever looking for ways to put off that unpleasant task), but they really do see their clients as people, not just dollar signs to be exploited. Actors can be eccentric, and their agents are there to smooth over those less personable edges to help them get the best opportunities possible. (The original idea for the series came from two agents, Dominique Besnehard and Michel Feller.)

The fourth and final season of the show premiered last week (the three previous seasons are available on Netflix as well) and the agency is, as always, on the brink of being sold or going under. For one person to succeed, someone else has to fail — that’s the basic premise, which is perhaps too reductive and maybe the show’s one real weakness. But overall there’s something so human in this endeavor: To be an agent is to be a master of hand-holding and soothing one moment, managing personal imbroglios the next.

The show centers around the hijinks of four principal agents — the glass walls between their offices create all kinds of moments of farce — but it is Camille Cottin as Andréa (now agency head in Season 4) who holds the show together. Dressed in skinny jeans and high-heeled ankle boots, she is a woman of sharp angles both in appearance and demeanor. By now, Andréa has abandoned her womanizing ways of earlier seasons in favor of domestication with a wife and baby, and this progression has softened her somewhat (exhausted her, more like) in ways that feel true and honest.

The show features real celebrities playing heightened versions of themselves (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jean Reno and Sigourney Weaver among others) and it’s a witty deconstruction of a glamorous facade, revealing the prosaic reality underneath: Actors have insecurities like the rest of us — maybe more so — and that vulnerability can lead them down outrageous paths.

Not once are the imperatives of blockbuster movies mentioned; the projects in question are always love stories or historical dramas or indie films. This is a show resolutely about the French film industry not Hollywood, as it should be, and it’s portrayed as a business much smaller and less money-obsessed than its L.A. counterpart.

Loyalties are tested and manipulated, but not irreparably so, which is probably the most unrealistic facet of the show. But I found the ending — and the prospect of saying goodbye to this rogue collection of flawed but decent people — unexpectedly moving. We’re left to believe they will live to scramble another day, but in an entirely different configuration. Bonne chance, you charming workaholics.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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