Au Service de la France (A very Secret Service in English) is a 2015 French comedy-drama series created by Jean-Francois Halin and distributed by Arte — eventually it got distributed worldwide by Netflix in 2016.
Set in Paris during the early 1960s, the series focuses on André Merlaux (Hugo Becker), a young recruit hired by the French Secret Services as a trainee officer who undergoes a series of tests and assignment under the watchful eye of operations manager Moïse. Merlaux is also reluctantly supported through his training by the three 'best' agents in the company: Roger Moulinier, who oversees African affairs; Jacky Jacquard, who is in charge of Algeria; and Jean-René Calot, representative for the eastern bloc.
As well as being a parody of spy dramas, much of the show's humour derives from a satirical portrayal of french society and politics, particularly France's relationship with other countries - however, the show is also quite accurate in these portrayals despite the surreal and over-the-top jokes.
In 2018, Au Service de la France was renewed for a second series.
A very Secret Service provides examples of:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Always make sure your forms are stamped.
- Been There, Shaped History:
- Jacquard owns a number of rental properties in Algiers, and in an early episode it turns out that he's renting to members of the Front Liberation Nation of Algeria. At the end of the episode, he gets a call from some new prospective tenants — Four generals, i.e the same four generals that in real life attempted to carry out a coup against the French government because they feared Algeria would become an independent state. In the last episode of series one, it's revealed that Jacquard has become directly involved in the Four Generals' plot against Charles De Gaulle, claiming that independence would destroy the property market in Algiers.
- Thanks to their inexperience behind the Iron Curtain, Jacquard and Moulinier are indirectly responsible for the construction of the Berlin Wall.
- After being discovered to be a former nazi collaborator by a Mossad agent, Mercaillon is implied to have revealed the identity and location of Adolf Eichmann to Mossad in exchange for their silence.
- Beware the Silly Ones: The veteran agents may be an over the top, sometimes silly bunch, but they're all hardened secret agents with little to no qualms about murder, kidnapping and torture.
- The Casanova: Moulinier has fathered quite a number of children during work trips abroad.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Calot, who grows weirder and weirder over time.
- Comically Missing the Point: The CIA tries to explain that they will derail JFK's presidential campaign by revealing his infidelities; the French agents can't understand how that's going to work.CIA Agent 1: He sleeps with a lot of women.
CIA Agent 2: That's not good for a politician.
Moïse: ....Why not?
- Coming-Out Story: Constrasting with the mostly comical storylines of the show, it is played for drama for Moïse, as befitting the series' setting, the conservative circles of 60's France. After his sexual orientation is discovered by Mercaillon, he is blackmailed and humiliated by him. Moïse then tried to come out to his colleagues twice (first under duress, second time on his own volition) but is each time interrupted or overstaged by some more important events. At the end of season 2, it is still unclear if his colleagues are aware of his sexual orientation.
- Cunning Linguist: When the CIA comes calling, Merlaux surprises his mentors by revealing that he speaks English. It's not that he's a linguistic genius; they seem more surprised that anyone would bother learning such an insignificant language.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: All the sexism, racism, homophobia, and national chauvinism of the era is on full display.
- Fish out of Water: Most of the first season revolves around this scenario, as Merlaux struggles to learn the job and earn his colleagues' respect.
- Genre Throwback: See especially the title sequences for the two series.
- Historical In-Joke:
- Basically the whole series. At one point one of the spies has a nightmare about France's waning influence: "I dreamt that the Chinese were in Africa and I was driving a Japanese car..." He and his buddies have a good laugh at such a ludicrous vision.
- Another instance is provided by the CIA agents who decide to not trust the French Secret Service to secure President Kennedy's visit in Paris. Because apparently, he would be safer being driven around into a convertible American car with an escort of American soldiers...
- In the first season, the agents hijack a flight with a very confused kidnapped algerian insurgent leader in tow so they can see a rugby match in Wales. The insurgent is later shown in a prison cell pitching the idea of using hijacked planes as a means for insurrections to his fellow arab insurgents.
- Insane Troll Logic: This seems to be the essence of French bureaucracy, and the essence of life in the Soviet Union.
- The Unintelligible: The Quebecois delegation really wants help with independence, too bad most people can barely understand what they're saying. Even the algerian separationists are aghast at the extent of which they "butcher" the french language.
- Meet Cute: Merlaux and Sophie.
- National Stereotypes: Many.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The whole secret service administration.
- Only Sane Man: Nominally, Merlaux, but Clayborn, Marie-Jo, and Gomez all take turns as well.
- Product Placement: Gitanes, Citroën cars, Air France...
- Red Scare: CIA agents are tasked with organizing the visit of President Kennedy with the French Secret Service. They are completely obsessed about hypothetical communists agents and accused various French governemental bodies of being infiltrated.
- Running Gag: André's old suit getting passed around in Algeria, and still failing to look good on anyone.
- Serious Business: All paperworks must be properly stamped, or else. Early on in the series, Marie-Jo and Merlaux get a full-on interrogation because the latter forgot to have a form stamped.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The French Secret Service goes through accountants at an amazing rate. Fortunately, they're all played by the same actor.
- Title Drop:
- In the English version:Mercaillon: You're entering an elite service, Merlaux.
Merlaux: What service?
Moïse: A very secret service.
- The French title of the series is Au Service de la France, so in the original the Title Drop works this way:Mercaillon: Vous allez entrer dans un service d'élite, Merlaux. ("You're entering an elite service, Merlaux.")
Merlaux: Au service de quoi? ("At the service of what?")
Moïse: Au service de la France. ("At the service of France.")
- In the English version:
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: Calot with the cute East-German Anna and Maria. Or maybe they are just one person, Anna-Maria. It is not clear.