I started watching Lupin because it seemed like everybody was watching Lupin. The French series on Netflix currently sits at five released and available episodes, with a second part to come later this year. (Be warned: Between part one and part two, the cliff? It hangs.) The gist is that Omar Sy plays a man we meet as he’s planning the heist of a storied necklace worth many millions of dollars. But his story turns out to be complicated, and his motives very personal. The show is tense and twisty, exciting in the way heists are exciting but with plenty of character-driven story as well. (And by the way, we’ll be covering it on PCHH next week, so it’s a perfect time to catch up.)
With all the things that give me pause about the scope and reach of Netflix, it’s nice when all of a sudden, everyone is talking about something very good that doesn’t have absolutely everything working in its favor commercially when it comes to American audiences. For one thing, Lupin is … you know, in French. It’s common to tut-tut at people who don’t want to read subtitles, and I do agree that it’s a terrible mistake to adopt as a hardened position that you Don’t Read Subtitles. But a French-language show for someone like me who speaks no French is indeed a different experience, for a completely different reason: I have to pay more consistent attention. I didn’t realize until I was watching Lupin, in fact, that perhaps more than ever during quarantine, my attention flits from one thing to another — to the dog, to my phone, to a delivery. You can briefly look at your phone and still keep, say, 30 percent of your attention on what’s on television, provided you can absorb what’s being said and hear it out of, say, half an ear. (Metaphorically speaking.)
But when I watch a show in French — particularly a show with a twisty plot — if I look away, I’m doomed to miss things. So, probably to my benefit, I focused more on Lupin in French than I might have on a version of Lupin in English. I’m glad it’s been extremely popular even in the United States, in spite of the fact that it requires this increased attention to be fully satisfying.
Another point in the series’ favor: Lupin stars Omar Sy, who does a lot of comedy in France, but whom American audiences might be most likely to know as one of the stars of The Intouchables, a film that was nominated for a Golden Globe and made a nice-sized ripple in the American market. It made enough of a ripple, in fact, that it was remade as The Upside, with Kevin Hart in Sy’s role. As it turns out, Sy is born to make dramatic thrillers like Lupin with splashes of wit; he’s just wonderful in it. Dashing and sympathetic and mysterious and sexy, but also vulnerable and likable.
This — and I say this tentatively, nervously — seems like one of the moments when the broad and powerful reach of Netflix is good, at least for me. Lupin is very much the kind of series that could be popular on any network that makes «prestige» shows, but every broadening of what you’re exposed to — here, a French show that’s been pretty well promoted to me as an English-speaking viewer — brings a potential increase in quality. The more you’re encouraged to check out people’s good work regardless of limitations like language and country of origin, the more good work you’ll see.
Particularly given everything that’s currently delayed, either in production or in release, there’s never been a better time to put down the phone and give your attention to something really good you might not have considered. Might I suggest Lupin?
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Sohla El-Waylly is one of the chefs I loved when I watched a lot of Bon Appetit stuff, before she and a lot of other people bailed on their now-famously troubled and inequitably compensated video operation. Now, she makes videos elsewhere, including for The New York Times, Food52, and the «Babish Culinary Universe» that a lot of YouTube food people know well. I encourage you to seek her out wherever she is; her recent Food52 video about pound cake is almost definitely going to make you want pound cake.
I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy the YouTube videos from accent expert Erik Singer, many of which are published through WIRED. But very often, the best thing you can do as a person with a platform is reduce the dominance of your own presence on it, and I was delighted to see a recent «accent tour» of the United States where Singer worked with a bunch of linguists who have expertise different from his to make a totally fascinating piece that’s delightfully specific.
And just to make it a video trifecta: I’ve been kind of obsessed with America’s Test Kitchen (look, I’ve been cooking a lot), and their YouTube channel is very cool. Who takes testing kitchen sponges extremely seriously? They do.