Excuse My French: Netflix’s New Political Drama ‘Marseilles’ Is a Stylized Mess

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I’ll be the first to admit that I was actually pretty excited when I heard about “Marseille.” Imagine, for a moment, Netflix budget + France + political intrigue. Sounds great, right? Well, it pains me greatly to tell you that “Marseille” is underwhelming.

“Marseille” feels like a behind-the-scenes political drama of a ‘90s cop movie. The actual politics are barely there and constantly overshadowed by style and absurd plot twists. This notion isn’t helped by the two driving forces of Marseille, the characters Robert Taro and Lucas Berres.

I think that “Marseille” means to portray Taro and Berres as two political warlords clashing for governing power over the crumbling city. Taro, the broken old man, but seasoned mayor, just wants to see the crime-ridden Marseille become the glistening jewel that he always imagined it to be throughout his 20 years of service to it, while the younger up-and-comer Berres wishes to send the city deeper into its own corrupt sludge, and in the process take from Taro the shred of happiness and sanity that the city brings him.

Unfortunately, the show doesn’t live up to anything I just described. “Marseille” has only the most basic of political intrigue going for it and each episode contains a myriad of soap operatic side stories that never get fully realized and have next to nothing to do with the political warscape. These side stories are also the main source for gratuitous fare that’s borderline hilarious, especially with some of the wonky editing in the series (most notably the scare chords that play during every scene transition). There’s a particular quote toward the end of episode one (a quote I can’t relay due to swear-y reasons) that perfectly encapsulates how bizarre and out of place the subplots are.

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Gerard Depardieu

Speaking of quotes, there are quite a few bumps in the road when it comes to the script. Normally I‘d be a bit wary of accusing a foreign-language series of having bad dialogue, but I’ve read some reviews written by actual French speakers and it appears safe to say that the dialogue is questionable on all fronts. It’s a shame, because the actors are really trying to sell those questionable lines—unless you’re watching the really, really stale English dub. If you must watch, stick to the subtitles.

Based on what I’ve just said, I don’t believe many will mind if I spoil the ending to this series, but if you still want to see the series spoiler-free, now is a good time to leave.

So, you got past the awkward dialogue, the Easter grass plot and the scare chord transitions. What’s the payoff for sticking with “Marseille” through thick and thicker? A second season tease with Taro winning the election, just to have a magical heart attack. Whot? They didn’t even try to wrap up the series in a meaningful way! After all the stylized montages about the fall of Berres, the show just ends with a five-minute, see-you-in-the-next-one cliffhanger that may never be resolved?

How rude!

I’d like to reiterate that I was excited for “Marseille” and I did try to like it, but the show clearly does not share my idealism. If you’re looking for a political drama that fits the description I gave earlier, look not here but to Netflix’s other political drama, “House of Cards” (which is basically “Marseille,” except better in every way).

(Images are official publicity material from Netflix.)

TV Talk is a regular television column written by Robert Pulford, Current Staff.

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