Q. Thank you for the review of “Call My Agent!” I loved that show and I’m not a Francophile. Loved it! Now I’m looking for more like it. Can you help? MORE PLEASE
A. “Call My Agent!” on Netflix is a lot of fun, and I’m sorry now that I rushed through all four seasons. I love binging, but I hate it, too. Each episode is a little treasure, and the regular cast is aces, particularly Camille Cottin, whose arc as Andrea is perfect from start to finish. (Cottin also starred in the French version of “Fleabag,” called “Mouche,” and she’s forthcoming in American movies with Matt Damon and Lady Gaga.)
Having famous French actors and actresses play comic versions of themselves in each episode is a great kick. Even if you don’t know the star, the satire works beautifully, as the likes of Isabelle Huppert and Juliette Binoche let their prima-donna flags fly. To twist a Paul Simon lyric about cars, stars are stars all over the world.
There are many other TV shows that go behind the scenes to upend the entertainment business. It’s one of my favorite genres, and it includes the biting “30 Rock,” the heartfelt “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the no-nonsense “Murphy Brown,” the romantically comic “Sports Night,” the seminal “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and the truly essential “The Larry Sanders Show.” If you haven’t seen “Larry Sanders,” and you like the genre, you owe it to yourself to give it a try (all six seasons are on HBO Max). Watching David Duchovny crush on Garry Shandling’s Larry, or seeing Carol Burnett tell Larry his privates are visible — it’s all too perfect.
Some dislike Ricky Gervais and his cringe comedy, but I think he is brilliant — not just because he created the original “The Office,” but because he has continued to make good TV after it, notably “Extras.” The two-season series finds him and his best friend doing extras work on movie sets, two nobodies hoping to be noticed. The first season is brutally comic, with unforgettable and self-skewering turns by Kate Winslet, Daniel Radcliffe, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, and Samuel L. Jackson. The second season is sweeter, with some pathos, and with a David Bowie appearance (in episode two) that is one of my most favorite TV moments ever. (Available for rental on Amazon or YouTube.)
“Episodes” is a knowing satire about two British TV writers (played by Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, both sharp) who move to Hollywood to adapt their overseas hit for network TV. Matt LeBlanc plays a version of himself, the star of their show, which becomes a shadow of its former self the more the network goons work to dumb it down. Values are compromised, romantic farce ensues, and it is consistently amusing watching LeBlanc goof on himself. (Available on Netflix, Showtime, Tubi.)
“The Hour” isn’t as funny as “Call My Agent!” as it looks into the neurotic pioneers of a TV newsmagazine. The 1956-set British drama is more of an office romantic comedy, with some political conspiracy drama mixed in. There’s a compelling romantic triangle recalling that of “Broadcast News,” with Ben Whishaw as the scrappy, substantive reporter in love with Romola Garai’s producer, who is distracted by her attraction to the vapid news anchor played by Dominic West (of “The Wire” and “The Affair”). The performers are irresistible, particularly Whishaw, whose reporter is pushy — except when it comes to love. (Available on Acorn TV, Tubi)
I think you have to have a taste for cringe comedy to enjoy “The Comeback,” in which Lisa Kudrow plays a has-been TV actress named Valerie Cherish being filmed for a reality show. Valerie is unbearable and yet endearing, as show business has its ugly way with her. (Available on HBO Max.)
If you like your Hollywood satire dark, loaded up with cynicism and deal-making that takes no prisoners, try out the short-lived “Action” from 1999. The cast of crude and comic characters — played by Jay Mohr, Illeana Douglas, Buddy Hackett — was sharp, and the writing, which follows a narcissistic movie producer, was even sharper. (Available for rent on iTunes and Amazon.)