Photo: Julien Panie/Netflix
Right now is a good time to be a Francophile, at least as far as television is concerned. There are a variety of different French shows to binge on: crime thriller Lupinethe dramatic comedy Call my agent! (which notably includes French celebrities playing fictionalized versions of themselves), and the most American show ever made in France, Emily in Paris. But if you’ve finished all those shows and now need a new series to get your fix of French slang and aerial shots of Parisian rooftops, family affair is the show for you.
family affair focuses on the Hazan family, owners of a struggling kosher butcher. Things take a turn for the breaking Bad when they attempt to turn the store into a dispensary after hearing the weed will soon be legal in France. The comedy has a playful tone, but the perils of the drug trade keep the stakes high enough to make the series feel meatier than your average sitcom. The Hazans must run their operation while avoiding law enforcement, keeping the dealers happy, and keeping their secret safe. Naturally, they find themselves in rather delicate situations.
The show’s protagonist is Joseph (Jonathan Cohen), an alumnus of the Kendall Roy School of Eldest-Son Entrepreneurship and thus the catalyst for getting into the weed business. Joseph is charismatic enough that we want to keep watching him – and hopefully see him succeed – but also sure of himself to the point of constantly getting in his own way. He nails exaggerated facial expressions and wild posturing and is particularly good at the comedic art of over-explaining himself when he’s ensnared, such as when he tries to tell the police that “kosher pork” is a new fad. Cohen is clearly a talented comedian (he also recently appeared in a French parody of The single person called The flame) corn family affair also gives him more tender moments. Watch him talk about protecting his children and you’ll almost forget he’s the same character who tried to sell an app that lets you avoid phone calls by pretending you’re going through a tunnel.
There are a lot of great supporting characters in Family affair: Weed specialist grandmother Ludmila (Liliane Rovère, who also starred in Call my agent!), #girlboss Dutch drug lord Jaurès (Tamar Baruch) and real-life musician Enrico Macias playing himself. But one of the show’s greatest creations is Clementine. Portrayed by Louise Coldefy, Clementine is an icon for weird girls everywhere. She sands her feet in good company, casually invites her friends over for a sex party, and proposes to Olivier after dating him for three weeks. Without even a whisper of self-awareness, Coldefy can shift emotional gears in no time and command every scene she finds herself in. She is id personified – entirely unpredictable but immensely entertaining.
Watching comedies from other countries can be extremely rewarding as they are often more personal than dramas. Seeing the things we create to make us laugh can be a unifying experience. No culture is too haughty for a gag or too elitist for a pun. Sitcoms specifically give an inside look at a specific culture and a specific sense of humor. Watching Abbott Elementary School not only will you learn a lot about America; it will tell you a lot about what Americans find funny. The same goes for French humor in family affair. I’ve watched many comedies in my day, but I’ve never seen a character trip over shrooms so hard that he hallucinates his friend’s penis is long enough to hit the ground. Also, I have certainly never seen the aforementioned penis develop an eyeball. But that’s why we watch these shows – for the cultural exchange of it all. Long live France!
But through all the kidnapping plots and cock jokes, the heart of the show is the strength of its relationships. While Joseph’s relationship with his father (Gérard Darmon) or his best friend Olivier (Olivier Rosenberg) may dominate the series, its second season teams up with Clémentine and his romance with his girlfriend Aïda (Lina El Arabi) establishes that the show can play successfully with a variety of character dynamics. Likewise, we get some really nice cross-generational ties between Joseph’s sister, Aure (Julia Piaton) and her grandmother, which even includes a scene in which Aure comes out. Even Aïda and Aure bring together scenes in which they can simply chat between girls as friends. As with most great sitcoms, the heart of the show is the bonds between people who care deeply for each other, even if they don’t always know how to show it.
The Hazans fight, insult each other, and secretly believe that only they knew what was best for the group. But no matter how far they have drifted, they always come back to each other. “My bubbelehs,” Ludmila says in the last episode, “we did a lot of stupid things. But even on this saddest day of my life, I don’t regret anything. family.
family affair is streaming on Netflix.