I never used to watch French TV. Even in the days of analog cable, we’d skip past Radio-Canada, TVA and TQS to get to CTV, CBC and Global. Wouldn’t even bother seeing what’s on. It was in French, and we didn’t want to watch it.
There were a few reasons for this. One, my French comprehension wasn’t quite good enough at a young age to be able to properly understand the fast-talking faces on screen. The fact that many of these series were primarily dialogue-driven (faute de moyens, as they say) made it worse. But perhaps just as important, I was disconnected from the culture. I didn’t get the popular references, I didn’t know the actors, and I wasn’t familiar with the series.
It changed about 10 years ago. I can’t point to a specific moment, or even say why it happened exactly or what the first show I watched was. But it started not long after I moved into a building where all my neighbours were francophones. Combined with writing this blog and covering media including francophone media, I got exposed to a lot more French than before — reading it, speaking it, understanding it.
Nowadays, French-language TV is a large part of my (rather gluttonous) TV-watching diet. A lot of it is low-budget and has horrible writing. But as American TV has reached its so-called golden age, Canadian TV in both languages has also dramatically improved in writing and production quality, at least at the high end.
Watching French TV has given me a lot more insight into Quebec culture, in addition to providing conversation material for the extended (francophone) family get-togethers on New Year’s Day. It’s something I wanted more people to be exposed to, especially as the idea of “two solitudes” in Quebec seems to persist despite how much of both sides of it understand the other language.
So with that in mind I proposed an idea to the Gazette, which was quickly accepted, to compile a list of suggestions of French TV series for bilingual anglophones to check out. A Top 15 list of French TV series is published in Saturday’s Culture section.
Initially, my plan was to look at series that could serve as gateways for anglos. Series without too much complex, fast-talking dialogue or cultural references. And I didn’t restrict it to fictional series either. But in the end the suggestions were all works of fiction, almost all of them dramas, and heavily weighted to more recent series. And some of these series might not be easiest for people who struggle in French (pro tip: turn on closed captioning. I still have to rely on it sometimes when I can’t make out a key word that was spoken).
As part of the effort to unite the languages, I reached out to some experts for suggestions. Three were kind enough to offer them: Marc-André Lemieux from the Journal de Montréal, Amélie Gaudreau from Le Devoir, and Thérèse Parisien from 98.5 FM and C’est juste de la TV. All three watch TV for a living, so they know what they’re talking about.
I also got plenty of suggestions from Twitter in response to this tweet. As well as several responses from anglos who wanted to take note of those suggestions, which is encouraging.
I intentionally left off Tout le monde en parle, the Sunday night talk show on Radio-Canada, which I think is a special case because it’s big enough to be newsworthy in itself. But I included a bonus mention of C’est juste de la TV, which offers TV suggestions and reviews on a weekly basis.
If I were to suggest other non-fiction series, I would suggest hospital documentary series De Garde 24/7, Radio-Canada’s Enquête, En direct de l’univers, and whatever Véronique Cloutier’s latest variety show is.
Feel free to suggest more series, fiction, non-fiction or other, in the comments. And like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, at least try some before you decide you don’t like it.