I often hear the phrase ‘French TV is rubbish’ bandied about, by many British expats in France, as a way of justifying their purchase of expensive satellite systems and subscriptions to SKY plus. However on balance, I think it’s fair to say that those who say this, don’t actually believe that the dross served up on British screens is any better than that on offer in France, but it’s easier to simplify the argument down to a question of quality, rather than simply admit that you miss your weekly dose of Top Gear and Red Dwarf.
While there may be many differences between British and French television, quality is not one of them. The main difference is format. This is particularly true for sit-coms. In the UK, one would expect a sit-com to be aired weekly and last somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes an episode; in France however it is more likely to be aired every day and last no longer than 7 minutes.
Why this is the case I have no idea, but it certainly makes the French idea of sit-com slightly less contrived/painful than the British. The French simply do away with boring things like plot and through-line, and focus on the gags. (So, in theory, you should get just as many laughs in a 7 minute French sitcom as you would in a 25 minute British one.)
When the French do comedy the British way they like do it feature length and via cinematic release.
This means that when you first start watching French TV, you soon get the impression that there is almost no comedy programming breaking up the endless cop and reality shows, hence the ‘rubbish’ tag. However, you soon get used to it, and if you know where and when to look, you can balance out your dross consumption nicely between comedies, dramas and documentaries. (If you enjoy reality shows you wouldn’t be complaining about ‘quality’)
So can the French do comedy? Absolutely. My favourite sit-com Un Gars et une Fille (A Guy and A Girl) to a Brit it might feel more like a sketch show but it makes for addictive viewing. The beauty of the show is that even if your understanding of the language is limited 9 times out of 10 you will get the joke, and even if you don’t you only have to wait a few seconds until the next sketch.
It ran for 486 episodes over a four year period and had regular viewing figures in excess of 6.5m, making it one of the most popular French comedy shows of all time. These days you can flick through old episodes on You Tube, or if you have TNT catch regular ‘Best of’ emissions on France 4.
So there you have it – it is possible to laugh ‘with’ and not just ‘at’ the French.
Here’s a ‘best of’ episode of Une Gars et Une Fille care of You Tube: