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Series / A Very Secret Service

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C'est la France.
"C'est confidentiel..."

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:

  • Actually, I Am Him: In the Season 2 finale, André and Marie-Jo are tracking down someone known as Yannick, one of the surviving members of the Vulcain network. During they search, they run into André's mother, who informs them that Yannick was her nom de guerre in the Résistance.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The referendum on Algerian self-determination, which is Truth in Televisionnote . Jacquard and Moktar are so confused that they end up leaving the voting line, since they can't agree on whether voting "Yes" would tighten or loosen the French hold on Algeria. As for Calot, after spending the entire day in the booth trying to make sense of the question, he writes back on his ballot:
    Calot: Do you approve the idea of asking a question that establishes a binary choice from the outset, instead of asking a question with two parts, each of which is the exact opposite of the other?
  • Arranged Marriage: Mercaillon arranges one between his son and the neighbours' daughter, over Yvon's objections that she is 31 (he is 19) and has a moustache, because Sophie broke up with André, but the caterer won't cancel an order for a 150-guest banquet — and it seems that neither Maurice nor Irène even consider letting Sophie marry Yamine.
  • 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 de Libération Nationale 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.
    • The Québécois separatists get the idea of naming their organisation the Front de Libération du Québec from Jacquard's mention of the FLN; later, Moktar suggests the name Organisation Armée Secrète to Jacquard's French nationalist tenants.
    • During a field job which involves Jacquard, Moulinier, Merlaux and Calot kidnapping an Algerian separatist snowballs into the group hijacking a plane to see a rugby match in Britain... Only for said Algerian separatist to give his extremist cellmates the idea to start hijacking planes to further their cause, which would be the main MO of several militant organizations in the late 20th century.
  • 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.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: When Moulinier reports to Moïse on his surveillance of Irène Mercaillon, who has just dumped him:
    Moulinier: It was just a fling, nothing of importance. Yet he was... a really good guy.
  • The Casanova: Moulinier has fathered quite a number of children during work trips abroad.
  • Chain of Deals: This is how you shop for groceries in the Soviet Union. As the shop clerk explains to a bewildered Jacquard trying to buy meat:
    You trade two kilos of nuts and bolts for a pound of sugar. Once you have your sugar, you can trade it for school supplies. You keep the erasers: twelve erasers are worth a pound of meat, provided there is some left on the shelves.
  • Chocolate Baby: Yvon is blond, unlike the rest of the Mercaillon family, and is stated to love Wagner. Later, Sophie tells to her mother, who critisized her daughter for dating an Arab, shat she didn't slept with a German soldier.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Calot, who grows weirder and weirder over time.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Practiced liberally by the agents (except in Algeria, then it is merely Enhanced Interrogation Techniques). In fact, when Schmid points out that the state of emergency means they can torture anyone on the French territory with no judicial oversight, Guy asks "How is that different from normal?"
    • However, given the comedic nature of the show, the Electric Torture that was actually practiced at the time is only alluded tonote , and the torture shown on screen only consists in slapping people repeatedly. It's never shown to work either... except on Calot, during the Mole arc, who breaks after one slap from Moulinier.
  • 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.
    Moulinier: Yes...?
    CIA Agent 2: That's not good for a politician.
    Moïse: ....Why not?
    • When Calot, Jacquard and Moulinier protest the suppression of the VG42 bonus (which took the form of monthly Paris-Vichy train tickets):
    Calot: If the Vichy government was in Vichy, that means there must have been a good reason to go to Vichy, which has surely not changed since!
  • 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.
  • Cute as a Bouncing Betty: As in real life, Gerboise Bleue (blue jerboa) refers to the first French nuclear bomb.
  • Cyanide Pill: After being arrested in Moscow for mixing up shoes, Jacquard and Moulinier decide to take cyanide capsules in order to escape being tortured by the KGB. Except they both "forgot" to bring theirs.
  • Death Faked for You: Merlaux, twice! First at the end of the Mole arc, when Moïse pretends to have killed him in Algiers, then in the lead up to JFK's visit, when Marie-Jo, acting on Moïse's orders, makes it look like she killed him in order to throw off the CIA's suspicions.
  • 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.
    • In the last episode, Calot placates two angry Québécois separatists by promising that he'll ensure that Général de Gaulle says "Vive le Québec libre!"
  • I Have This Friend: When trying to find a way out of Mercaillon's blackmail, Moïse asks Marie-Jo for advice by putting it to her as a training exercise.
  • Insane Troll Logic: This seems to be the essence of French bureaucracy, and the essence of life in the Soviet Union.
  • Insurance Fraud: After his tenants leave en masse due to the événements in Algeria, Jacquard blows up one of his properties in order to collect insurance money for "war damages"; but the official terminology comes back to bite him, as the insurance agent retorts that there is no war in Algeria.
  • Landslide Election: Arranged by Moulinier, Jacquard and Calot in one of the newly independent African countries.
    Moulinier: 86.56% is perfect. That gives you a beloved president, legitimately elected, and a small part of the people who chose someone else. A true, beautiful democracy!
  • Lie Detector: When they are looking for the mole, the French agents get one on loan from the Mossad.
    • The KGB has a truth detector... which electrocutes you when you tell the truth.
  • The Unintelligible: The Quebecois delegation really wants help with independence, too bad most people can barely understand what they're saying. Even the Algerian separatists are aghast at the extent of which they "butcher" the french language.
  • Meet Cute: Merlaux and Sophie.
    • Later on, Moulinier and Irène.
  • 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.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Moïse has a very talkative grey parrot, who passes along a few messages throughout the series, most notably Mercaillon's "I'll have your head, Moïse" and "Napoléon is at Saint Helena" ( Moïse's coded way of letting André know of his arrest).
  • Product Placement: Gitanes, Citroën cars, Air France...
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Guy, the new trainee in Season 2.
  • 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.
    • On the flip side, when Marie-Jo is promoted to Rank C, finding a gift for her is equally serious business.
  • The Stinger: Crop up sometimes at the beginning of the credits, more systematically in Season 2. Most of them are humorous asides, such as Calot taking Québécois lessons, or the FLN leader teaching his fellow inmates how to hijack planes.
  • 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.")
  • 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.