Available on Netflix
What happens after romance? It’s an important question, not just for relationships in general but for the genre itself, too. The general narrative thrust of a romance is boy/girl/other meets boy/girl/other, will they won’t they, they do! End of story (give or take an additional separation period when they’re apart and then realise they’re incomplete without one another).
So what to do when it’s sequel time? You break them up and then start again. Or add a baby.
The first season of Netflix’s French rom-com Plan cœur (The Hookup Plan) tried to subvert this well know trope, as well as a few others. It saw Zita Hanrot playing a nearly 30-something woman stuck in an uninspiring job and still hung up on her ex-boyfriend two years after their breakup. Her friends, hoping to help her break out of her rut and find some confidence, decide to hire a male escort (Marc Ruchmann) to take her on a few dates. Except, of course, she falls in love with him. And maybe he with her?
It’s Pretty Woman in reverse, of course. The prostitute falls in love with the client and decides to put their former career behind them. But as well as the sex-swap, Plan cœur (The Hookup Plan) also managed to make it a female buddy-buddy dramedy, with the addition of her two friends – the raucous Sabrina Ouazani and the pregnant Joséphine Draï – as well as their boyfriends/fiancés.
And (spoiler alert) the first season didn’t end with everyone getting together. True, there were mini-resolutions, but ultimately, the show decided instead to avoid the usual resolution in favour of a cliffhanger.
Interesting choice, hey?
Yet for some reason, the show squanders that bounty in the second season – and largely can’t even be described as a rom-com or even a romance or a comedy… until its final episode.
If the first season was all about making you fall in love with the protagonists, the second season seems to be all about making you wonder what you ever saw in them.
We start with our hero and heroine having been together for four months since the end of the first season. However, Hanrot’s decided to continue to tell people she’s still in Argentina, as she’d originally promised, as she wants to get herself a good job before she reveals all.
This she does by getting herself a job with an incubator (cue much punnery around the French slang for incubator/nursery that the subtitles can’t really evoke). Coincidentally, the job’s going to involve working with her ex again, who’s still hung up her.
Meanwhile, Ruchmann has decided to give up being an escort… to focus on his music. Trouble is – apart from his music, which is awful – the person he needs most to promote him also happens to be an ex-client, still interested in shagging him.
Simultaneously, Ouazani’s trying to launch her new business with her ex-partner, who’s thinking about moving to Berlin, while Draï’s now given birth and is having a distinct relationship/sex breakdown with the baby’s father.
Most of the season is then fighting, arguing and relationships breaking down. Relationships between men and women, men and men, and women and women. It’s just everyone lying and fighting. Worse still, they’re doing exactly the same things they did last season. They even point out that they’re still doing the same things they did last season.
It’s like the show looked at its plusses, looked at its minuses, threw the first load in a poubelle somewhere and then decided to go with the second load.
And then adds some more minuses. Ouazani is raucous without being exciting; Draï is just moaning and uptight; and Hanrot is distinctly unlikable all of a sudden. Ruchmann? Never has a leading man been reduced so quickly to looking as alluring as damp celery. If he got any wetter, they’d have been unable to tell the difference between him and the Seine.
And the show’s female camaraderie goes almost totally out the window. Really – are they even supposed to be friends any more? Even the show seems to be asking itself that question:
The show does try to do a few novel things around #MeToo and its sex-reversal story. I’m not quite sure having Ruchmann’s actor friend dress up as a woman for most of the show’s six episodes so he can be a nanny really fits in in the way the writers hope, here. But it’s novel, I grant you.
It also tries to carry on the first season’s esprit de modernisme, through Hanrot’s incubator and Instagramming, as well as Ouazani’s efforts to get her business’ app off the ground. Again, given that the show thinks you actually write the code for an app on a mobile phone, you can probably tell it doesn’t 100% succeed here, either.
And, of course, the final episode finally remembers to bring the joie de vivre that the first season was initially packed full of.
But for about three-quarters of the second season, Plan Cœur is actually a pretty miserable affair. Most of the jokes fall flat and you’ll really be pushed to care if Hanrot and Ruchmann’s relationship can endure the vicissitudes thrown at them, largely of their own making.
If you’ve watched the first season, watch only the first and last episodes of this season and you’ll come away with fond memories of a modern French romance. It’s just everything in the middle that might make you fall out of love with Plan Cœur.