I do not have to tell you that the French have a thing for cinema. But now, although for a long time frowned upon, they also have a thing for scripted television shows. Next to great crime and police series in the 00’s, a number of hit French tv series have been produced in the 10’s that will blow you away. Most recently the Canal + 2013 French horror series ‘The Returned’ conquered the world, including the US via the Sundance Channel, but more good new series are coming our way in 2014. Here a top list of all the recent best French tv shows you should know.
The French tv shows mentioned are available to be purchased in our DVD section, or to be watched online with English subtitles in our Watch Online section.
Top 5 best French series (2000-2015)
First, let us quickly look at what we can expect from French television in 2014. Since 2013 older shows are also available for streaming in the US via Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, but there are shows that you can watch on television right now. The Returned is returning with its second season in 2014 on the Sundance channel, but other new shows you will have to purchase on DVD/Bluray. Anyway, let’s kick off our top 5. The first two are decent shows, but the last three are must-watch series, definite essential viewing. Disclaimer: I have not included the French comedy tv show Fait pas çi, fait pas ça which is rumored to be used as blueprint for the American hit comedy show Modern Family on ABC.
6. Un Village Francais (2009 -)
Created by Frédéric Krivine, Philippe Triboit and Emmanuel Daucé
Already in its fifth season, this historic drama tv show was a huge hit in France. It can best be described as a French version of Band of Brothers, but in terms of style and content it comes closer to the German Second World War drama Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (2013)(which is also recommended viewing for fans of the war tv genre). It is particularly sensational because it with great subtlety explores the reasons of ordinary citizens under the Vichy Regime to collaborate with the Nazis. While displaying great historical accuracy, it shows that things might get ambiguous, but as the show’s byline proclaims: ‘To Live is to Choose.’ Un Village de Francais does not really charter unknown territory, but is a nice addition to the war drama genre.
5. Maison Close
Created by Jacques Ouaniche
Another period drama from France. This one in set in the nineteenth century and is about a brothel, when prostitution was still legal in France and was controlled by the police. At times it can be rather dreary (for some reason especially when it concerns the scenes and storylines about sex), but it makes up for when it comes down to politics and power. The power of men, but also the power that certain women could wield in the 1800’s. It is an interesting mix of history and erotica, but it never becomes solely superficial or sensational (like the American equivalent Secret Diaries of a Call Girl.)
Watch episode 1 of Maison close with English subtitles on Youtube.
4. Braquo (2009)
Created by Olivier Marchal
Most often described as the French ‘The Wire’ (HBO), Braquo is indeed remarkably dark and violent, but like the other French police show on this list, Engrenages, also goes into the specifics of law-enforcement. It follows a unit of Parisian detectives who without hesitating circumvent the law, and let nobody get in their way to achieve justice. The series starts when one of their colleagues commits suicide because of something to do with a case. They sink their teeth into it and do not let go. It is definitely one of the better European television series out there. A decent new police show from France in this style is Unite 9 (2012).
3. The Returned (2013)
Created by Fabrice Gobert
The sci-fi horror genre is nothing new to Europe when it comes to films, but in television it has only recently been developed properly. Most noteworthy is the scary Swedish sci-fi show Real Humans. This show was already rather popular internationally, but it is nothing compared to Les Revenants, which can be found on the many best series lists of 2013. In 2014 season 2 will be coming your way on the Sundance Channel. It is about a little village in France where people who are deemed death return to pick up their normal lives as if nothing has happened. It is a zombie series like ‘The Walking Dead’, but without the zombie like attributes. They eat normal food for instance.
2. Engrenages (2005)
Created by Alexandra Clert and Guy-Patrick Sainderichin
Perhaps Les Revenants is finally a contender for Engrenages’ number one position, but for the last decade it has been the reigning supreme as the undisputed best French series of all time. It is what The Killing is for Denmark, and although it can not quite compete with the Scandinavians, it is one of Europe’s top television series. It was already released in 2005, but it remains incredibly popular with the US only finding out about it now. It is one of the most watched shows on Netflix, and for good reason. Engrenages (English title: Spiral) is about the judicial and law-enforcement system of France. The viewer follows follows the day-to-day activities of police detectives, lawyers, public prosecutors and judges. In a sense it is like Law & Order, with the exception that it is actually any good.
1. Le P’tit Quinquin (2014)
created by Bruno Dumont
This great French detective mini series starts of as many detective films do; with a murder in an isolated community. And then of course the eccentric investigator arrives. So far so good, but if you’re familiar with the great French film maker Bruno Dumont (Camille Claudel, 2013, Hadewijch, 2009 among others) you know you’re up for something special and different. P’tit Quinquin is best viewed as a parody on the genre, but it’s way more than that with its deadpan humor and overall surrealist vibe. One to watch for sure!
Let us know what you think is the best French tv series of the 2000’s up to 2015!
– Want more from France? Check out our top 10 of New best French films of 2014 and 2013