Right now is a pretty good time to be a Francophile — at least when it comes to television. There are a variety of French shows to binge: the crime thriller Lupin, the comedy-drama Call My Agent! (which notably includes French celebrities playing fictionalized versions of themselves), and the most American show ever to take place in France, Emily in Paris. But if you’ve finished all of these and need a new series to get your fix of French slang and overhead shots of Parisian rooftops, Family Business is the show for you.
Family Business centers on the Hazans, who own a struggling kosher butcher shop. Things take a turn for the Breaking Bad when they attempt to turn the shop into a dispensary after hearing that weed will soon be legal in France. The comedy has a playful tone, but the perils of the drug business keep the stakes high enough to make the show feel meatier than your average sitcom. The Hazans have to manage their operation while avoiding law enforcement, keeping dealers happy, and keeping their secret safe. Naturally, they find themselves in some pretty sticky situations.
The protagonist of the show is Joseph (Jonathan Cohen), an alumnus of the Kendall Roy School of Eldest-Son Entrepreneurship and therefore the catalyst for getting into the weed business. Joseph is charismatic enough that we want to keep watching him — and, hopefully, watch him succeed — but also self-confident to the point of constantly getting in his own way. He nails overexaggerated facial expressions and wild gesticulations and is particularly adept at the comedic art of overexplaining himself when trapped in a bind, as when he tries to tell police officers that “kosher pork” is a new fad. Cohen is clearly a skilled comedian (he recently appeared in a French parody of The Bachelor called La Flamme), but Family Business also gives him more tender moments. Watch him talk about protecting his children and you’ll almost forget it’s the same character who tried to sell an app that allows you to avoid phone calls by pretending you’re going through a tunnel.
There are a lot of excellent supporting characters in Family Business: expert weed-grower grandma Ludmila (Liliane Rovère, who also starred in Call My Agent!), #girlboss Dutch drug lord Jaurès (Tamar Baruch), and real-life musician Enrico Macias playing himself. But one of the show’s greatest creations is Clémentine. Embodied by Louise Coldefy, Clémentine is an icon for weird girls everywhere. She sands her feet in polite company, casually invites her friends to a sex party, and proposes to Olivier after dating him for three weeks. Without even a whisper of self-consciousness, Coldefy can switch emotional gears on a dime and command every scene she’s in. She is id personified — entirely unpredictable but immensely entertaining.
Watching comedies from other countries can be extremely rewarding because they often feel more personal than dramas. Seeing the things we create to make ourselves laugh can be a unifying experience. No culture is too haughty for a sight gag or too elitist for a pun. Sitcoms especially give an inside look into a specific culture and sense of humor. Watching Abbott Elementary will not only teach you a lot about America; it will teach you a lot about what Americans find funny. The same goes for French humor in Family Business. I have watched many comedies in my time, but never have I seen one character trip on ’shrooms so hard he hallucinates that his friend’s penis is long enough to touch the floor. Furthermore, I have certainly never seen the aforementioned penis then grow an eyeball. But that’s why we watch these shows — for the cultural exchange of it all. Vive la France!
But through all the kidnapping plots and dick jokes, the heart of the show is the strength of its relationships. While Joseph’s relationships with his father (Gérard Darmon) and his best friend, Olivier (Olivier Rosenberg), dominate the series, his season-two team-up with Clémentine and his romance with his on again, off again girlfriend Aïda (Lina El Arabi) establish that the show can successfully play with a variety of character dynamics. Similarly, we get some really nice intergenerational bonding between Joseph’s sister Aure (Julia Piaton) and her grandmother, including a scene in which Aure comes out. Even Aïda and Aure get scenes together in which they can just have some girl talk as friends. As with most great sitcoms, the core of the series is the connections between people who care deeply for one another, even if they don’t always know how to show it.
The Hazans fight and call one another names, and each one secretly believes they alone know what’s best for the group. But no matter how far away they drift, they always come back. “My bubbelehs,” Ludmila says in the final episode, “we did a lot of stupid things. But even on this saddest day of my entire life, I don’t regret a thing. Because we did this all together, as a family.”
Family Business is streaming on Netflix.