Available on Netflix
Cast: large, alcohol units lots. cigarettes not as many as you’d think
As you’ve probably already noticed, Netflix has been quite successful with its worldwide original programming, with its catalogue now bursting with dramas that have been made specifically for Netflix in countries around the world ranging from Mexico to Australia, South Korea to Canada, Germany to South Africa (as of this morning). However, despite being fair packed full of French shows that it’s bought up from the local networks Canal+, M6, TF1, France 2 and the like, there’s so far only been one genuine Netflix French original – Marseille, which didn’t exactly wow the world on the general grounds it was terrible, despite the presence of Gérard Depardieu.
Now we have a second French Netflix original, which Netflix is desperately trying to bill as “not a romcom” – or at least a “romantic comedy as it would happen in real life”. Despite its being an obvious fictional romcom.
Look at how hard they’re trying, both in English…
… and in French:
Isn’t it cute?
At least the English name for the show is a bit more convincing on that score.
Plan cœur (The Hookup Plan)
Plan cœur – which is probably best translated as ‘plan of the heart’ rather than The Hookup Plan, although there is the obvious double reference to the Sacré-Cœur of the show’s Parisian location and a possible pun on ‘plein cœur’ (full heart)* – sees the Bridget Jones-esque Zita Hanrot (Chefs) playing a down-on-her luck civil servant. She still can’t get over her ex, Guillaume Labbé (Hotel de la plage), despite their having broken up two years previously and his being on the verge of getting remarried. She’s also has been forced to move back into her old room at her father’s house, which is somewhat awkward since he’s a doctor and it’s now his waiting room.
In an effort to get Hanrot’s mind off Labbé, one of her BFFs, Sabrina Ouazani (Les Vivants et les Morts) decides to hire a male escort (Le Chalet‘s Marc Ruchmann) for her. Except she doesn’t tell her he’s an escort and instead gives Ruchmann all the inside information he needs to help woo her and make her feel generally lovable again.
What could possibly go wrong, hey, particularly once other BFF Joséphine Draï (L’Art du crime, Nu) finds out what’s going on?
A romantic comedy
Despite all its protestations, The Hookup Plan is firstly, quite definitely a romcom; and secondly, both romantic and comedic. And although it’s not claiming otherwise, the show is also a very deliberate attempt to be a modern, youthful, vibrant slice of Parisian life that defies the usual stereotypes of French TV and movies and that will appeal to the rest of the world.
The first three episodes tell a pretty familiar romcom story, involving mix-ups, deceptions and inadvertent love. Explicitly referencing famous American romcoms, as well as the likes of Pretty Woman, it introduces us to the three female best friends, their boyfriends and their exes (delete as applicable), and then shows us Hanrot and Ruchmann falling in love over a series of manufactured romcom-style encounters and dates.
All of which is does very well. Hanrot is endearingly nerdy and klutzy, and gets to go show off physical as well as conventional comedy. As well as having to face universal miseries of the modern dating age, such as the nightmare labyrinth of texting, sexting and different phone manufacturers depicting emojis differently, here, the show isn’t afraid to be a bit French, while still remaining understandable to the world.
While the fact you might drunk-text “Je te suce” and have it auto-correct to “Suce-toi” is something that can only happen in French, the rest of the world can still understand perfectly well the difference between “I will blow you” and “Blow yourself” if explained through subtitling, which can also correctly translate the sometimes inexplicable Parisian slang the show isn’t afraid to use. Similarly, the works of Boby Lapointe might not be world-renowned, but you can still find Hanrot adorable for standing up and singing his equally dorky lyrics during a date when one of his songs is played on a nearby piano.
Ruchmann’s a little harder to pin down at this stage, being asked merely to be the kind of man all women might find attractive, and of course, at this stage, he’s got nothing but lies to tell, making his character poorer defined than Julia Roberts’ at the same stage in Pretty Woman. Nevertheless, by the end of episode three, when he’s clearly starting to feel something for Hanrot and knows that he’s on the verge of breaking her heart if he keeps accepting payments from Ouazani, he does manage to suggest hidden depths and emotions convincingly and in a way that makes you feel sorry for a man, who (let’s face it) is having sex with a woman through deception.
The most thankless jobs in any romcom, however, are always those of the BFFs, but here, The Hookup Plan does a very nice job of giving Ouazani and Draï their own, quite extensive plots, Ouazani being both sexually and financially dodgy, it turns out, and the pregnant Draï leading a somewhat unexpected double-life as a building site project manager. Their boyfriends and male friends also have a reasonable amount to do, including Ouazani’s beau, who is part of the show’s acknowledgement of the wider truth of modern French life that London is currently France’s sixth largest city.
A four-hour romcom
Running to eight episodes, The Hookup Plan is so far a rather good, four-hour long romcom with a familiar plot, but an unfamiliar setting. It’s romantic, funny and modern, and judging by its first three episodes, thoroughly deserving of your time. Looks like Netflix can finally claim to have made a decent French show, too.
* UPDATE: Or possibly even ‘Plan cul‘, which is slang for hook-up or F*ck buddy. So Hook Up Plan does work, but misses out on the cœur