Everyone agrees that French TV is crap, maybe not as bad as Spanish TV or Italian TV but still abysmal. Among the mind-numbing dross, however, there are some pretty watchable programmes and they make a break from the ubiquitous antiques, cooking, househunting and sick animal offerings on BBC Prime. Here then, in no particular order, are some of the better things on French télé.
Titeuf is a brilliant cartoon for children with a very cheeky hero who frequently refers to his “zizi sexuel” and that’s recommendation enough for me.
Le Zapping is a very short interlude on Canal + that consists of a sequence of vision-bites from all the French terrestrial (and some cable) channels, consisting only of the highlights from what was broadcast the day before: anything memorably bad, memorably funny, memorably disgusting or anything that went memorably wrong. It’s a sort of distillation of TV without the bother of actually having to watch TV.
Tout le Monde en Parle is a sort of chat show presented by the twitchy man in black Thierry Ardisson very, very late on a Saturday night. The guests sit uncomfortably on high stools around a sort of horseshoe-shaped table and frequently give the impression that they’ve been treated to lashings of white powder in hospitality and sometimes make fools of themselves or get into heated arguments. It’s a good watch if you’ve just come in from a night out and don’t want to go to bed yet.
I used to watch Les Maternelles in the morning while I was on maternity leave, when it was still being presented by lovely Maïtena. I liked the décor and the non-preachy way it talked about the things I was interested in then, mainly baby crying (abundance thereof) and sleeping (lack thereof).
Envoyé Spécial is a French Thursday night institution. It’s basically a documentary programme featuring three back-to-back reports. The angle isn’t usually very original and the message is also somewhat conventional, but it’s usually interesting and the voiceovers don’t have that isn’t-science/nature/dumpling-making-fascinating? breathiness that characterizes, for example, BBC’s Horizons.
Friday night brings another institution, Thalassa, a magazine programme about anything to do with the sea. The reports are usually from some exotic part of the world and sometimes the commentary is incredibly naïve and superficial, but there’s still something reassuring about footage of boats.
Apostrophes & Double Je used to be my favourite programmes on French TV. Apostrophes was nothing more than a bunch of authors sitting around talking about their books, but the discussion was led with great skill by the avuncular Bernard Pivot. He then went on to host another show called Bouillon de Culture which wasn’t nearly as good but he also made a series of programmes about mostly famous, non-native French-speakers in France called Double Je which is consistently fascinating.
Strip Tease is a Belgian programme. Quirky mini documentatry films with no sound over. I don’t think it’s on at the moment.
Taratata is a rock & pop music show which is filmed in some clever way that makes it look almost 3D. It brings together some unexpected duos (Khaled and Charles Aznavour for example) and would really be perfect if it wasn’t for the unbearable Naguy who presents it. His interviews with singers you really want to hear speak always consist of him talking much more than the interviewee, often in less-than-perfect English. There is no translation, he does that himself, and when he doesn’t understand, he just makes it up.
I’m ashamed to say that I also occasionally watch La Nouvelle Star, the French equivalent of Pop Stars, on a Wednesday night until P. gets in and says “You’re not watching that rubbish again, are you?” And although I’m not about to admit this to him, he’s right. It’s really, really bad. I can see that, I can hear that, but I’m hooked because it’s so bad that it’s almost art. I want to know just how bad it can get. Last week one girl managed to sing an entire song out of tune on prime-time and that’s what I call unmissable TV.