Is any French TV actually any good?
August 26, 2009 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Is any French TV actually any good?

I'm trying to learn French, and I live in France, and I think that watching TV will help me get my ears around the spoken language. I've tried watching the box, but everything I seem to come across is either dubbed US telly or just not very good. Can anyone recommend any French TV programmes I might enjoy watching?

TV I like: British & Irish comedy (spaced, black books, father ted, coupling...); clever US serials (west wing, 6 feet under, pushing daisies); some US comedy; detective stuff.

I'm not averse to buying DVDs, if there's any really good French telly that's not on right now but is available in that format. I've got about 150 TV channels (the standard AliceADSL package listed here, although some of them are not actually French). Film recommendations are good, but I'm more after serials and shorter things to get into after a hard day's coding.
posted by handee to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
French TV is basically rubbish. (This complaint dates from 1997, but still relevant.) Original drama is borderline non-existent beyond procedural cop shows. (This blog post recommends Un gars et une fille and makes the point that the traditional Anglo-American half-hour sitcom doesn't really have a French equivalent.) There's Clara Sheller, which I haven't seen, but was considered a genuine break from the bog-standard French output.
posted by holgate at 1:36 PM on August 26, 2009

Spiral ("Engrenages" is the French title) was on TV here a couple of years ago and it was pretty good.
posted by gregjones at 1:37 PM on August 26, 2009

It's not like anything you've mentioned (or all that good, really), but staring at Des chiffres et des lettres (which you may recognize as the inspiration for Countdown) is a pretty good way to just soak up the French language. It's on TV5.

Quebec has been rolling out half-hour comedies for a few years, and some of them aren't half bad. Les Parent is one current one. Of course, Quebecois isn't quite French; it may do you more harm than good. A lot of dubbed US stuff is also Quebecois, so that's something to be aware of.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:45 PM on August 26, 2009

the spiral was top notch.
posted by munchbunch at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2009

TV may be a non-starter but French film is an entirely different proposition . . . with the bonus (with careful checking of the back of DVDs for language info) of being able to watch in French with English subtitles to aid your comprehension . . .

A multi-genre listing of no particular order of merit from the shelf of DVDs behind me:

La Haine
Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources
Le Grand Bleu
La Cité des Enfants Perdus
La Beuze
Entre les Murs
Les 4 cents coups
Jules et Jim
posted by protorp at 1:50 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Des chiffres et des lettres

Seconded, and with gusto. I am French(-Canadian), and that was pretty much the only French TV from France I could really bear. I loved that show, and it honed my mental math skills beyond what I thought possible. If you have the basic words down (numbers, essentially) you could play along some of the games. Being engaged is sure to be a benefit.
posted by splice at 1:58 PM on August 26, 2009

From what I saw during my summer in France: no.

In fact, in the time I was there, I don't think I saw more than one or two shows that appeared to have actually originated in France.

There were news and talk shows, though, that helped with my French. They were terrible, boring tabloid stuff. But they provided a far more natural and conversational listening experience than any of the dubbed TV did.
posted by Netzapper at 2:03 PM on August 26, 2009

I watched a couple episodes of "La Job" (the Quebec version of Ricky Gervais' "The Office") on a plane, and I really liked it. It's a great adaptation- the characters are all very Quebeccy and have a very distinct and unique flavour that's it's own thing, but the series is also very true to the spirit of the original.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:03 PM on August 26, 2009

Closed-captioning, that is French with French subtitles, is also very helpful for language-learning.
posted by Jode at 2:16 PM on August 26, 2009

TV5MONDE's programs are pretty wide-ranging, often have subtitles, and are generally without long interruptions. Thalassa is awesome; not sure if it's still on, but it's a show all about the oceans and the people who live around them. The channel's documentary selection is a great window into subjects you might know about already, as are many of the non-fiction shows (gardening, cooking, etc).
posted by mdonley at 2:22 PM on August 26, 2009

French TV documentaries are generally top notch. I can't remember good drama off the top of my head.
posted by Kattullus at 3:22 PM on August 26, 2009

French TV = execrable rubbish. French films = excellent and original.

It's been five years since I lived in France, but I go back regularly. The bulk of French TV seems to be made up of panel "comedy" talk shows, usually featuring the same guests, which consist of two plus hours of inane babbling.

However, there are occasionally some interesting things on Arte (a free-to-air Franco-German channel). Otherwise, get thee to the cinema, where the real deal happens.
posted by idiomatika at 3:57 PM on August 26, 2009

Yeah 90% of French TV is crap. You won't find anything (good) that is similar to what you listed. Here's what I'd recommend:

Canal+ is a subscription channel, so it's encrypted for most of the day, but it has some good shows that are broadcasted "en clair":
Le Zapping is a great 10min digest of the day's most significant/interesting/wtf moments of French TV, no commentary.
Le Journal du Groland: evening news for the fictional micronation of Groland, a bizarro version of small-town France. Satire mixed up with lots of poop jokes.
Les Guignols de l'Info: daily political satire with latex marionnettes.
Le Grand Journal: France's hip talk show.
Most of these can be watched online too.

Arte is really really good but there's no "entertainment", it's mostly highbrow stuff, lots of documentaries, some art/experimental tv. They also have every show online for a week.

Don't even bother with any of the private channels (i.e. anything but TV5, France 2, France 3 and France 5). The public channels are mostly good for documentaries and non-fiction shows. I have no idea if they still have Strip-Tease on, that was some of the best TV ever made.

So basically there's no such thing as good drama or sitcom on french TV, and the closest thing you'll find to British comedy is Canal+.

For more of that type of humor try La Cité de la Peur, cult French comedy and Astérix contre Cléopatre, its very successful successor. Les Nuls, who made La Cité de la Peur, used to have a show on Canal+ that was sort of like SNL and should be on DVD.

More traditional French humor: Le Père Noël est une ordure, Le dîner de cons.
posted by robinhoudt at 4:17 PM on August 26, 2009

3rding Des Chiffres et Les Lettres on TV5. Even if you don't know French you should be able to do reasonably well with the math, and you'll leave every episode learning something. The format makes it a lot easier to learn too, but I miss sound of the magnets being applied to the board.
posted by furtive at 5:26 PM on August 26, 2009

Why are people recommending Quebec TV?! The OP lives in France, and asked for French TV, so I assume he doesn't want to learn any grotesque accents.

You may want to listen to some news broadcasts, not so much for the broadcasters, but for the various street interviews that happen fairly regularly.
posted by VikingSword at 6:12 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want to learn this way, why not listen to the radio? France Info news, in particular, the news bulletins repeat and it's on 24 hours a day. Or France Culture for.. all sorts of eclectic shows, that one's going to be more advanced if you're still learning the language though. I like the AM show on France Culture.
posted by citron at 10:00 PM on August 26, 2009


When I lived in France, I lived on DVDs. The French love their roundtable talk-panels, dubbed crime shows (esp German ones), and dubbed American shows (I was "watching" 7th Heaven, Friends, ER, etc.). They've also picked up reality/competition shows big-time; when I was there it was Star Academy (aka Star Ac), like American Idol where they all live together in a house and you can watch them 24/7 online.

You should find the France equivalent of TV Guide (or the France equivalent of your modern-day replacement for TV Guide); since there are so few channels for you to be monitoring, just sit yourself down and go through the week, looking for bearable shows.

Also check out the various channels' web sites for upcoming specials; you can watch some stuff online, too (from France). Recently, I read about a series called Chez Maupassant, where each episode was one of his short stories, on France 2.

I'm still waiting for Real Housewives of the 16th Arrondissement.
posted by thebazilist at 10:01 PM on August 26, 2009

There are some fine suggestions here, and I shall definitely be checking out canal+, arte, des chiffres et des lettres, and maybe clara sheller & spirals on dvd. The film suggestions are good too, thanks. Keep them coming.

But... Whilst not wanting to call either side of the "does the OP want quebecois or not?" argument a douche, can we stop assuming the OP is a guy?
posted by handee at 11:35 PM on August 26, 2009

Oh, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Tout le monde en parle which aires on France 2, it's a French talk show (and be forewarned, there is a quebecois equivalent) where important figures appear and are much more frank than they usually are.

It's a great way to find out who is popular in France, and to get the pulse on hot button issues. There's a bullet question period, often with a play of words describing the guest, there is a lot of ribbing, the guests are asked to give a toast (with wine natch) the whole setup is a great way of hearing natural discussion.
posted by furtive at 11:38 AM on August 27, 2009

Les Guignols de l'Info seconded. Very funny when you learn who the characters are. Be sure to read a lot of newspapers too!
posted by KimG at 12:16 PM on August 27, 2009

Sadly, Tout le monde en parle was cancelled in 2006.
Laurent Ruquier and Marc-Olivier Fogiel are trying to do something similar with their own shows, not succeeding IMO.
posted by robinhoudt at 8:26 AM on August 28, 2009

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