The Marseille TV show on Netflix is a big-budget, cinematic, political drama starring Gerard Depardieu as the mayor of Marseille, France. The series is the first French production for Netflix. It’s a show full of scheming and backstabbing – think House of Cards – and though Marseille shows a lot of promise in the early episodes, it gets weighed down in the middle and never quite recovers. It’s still a good series, but not compelling enough to watch over a single weekend.
A power struggle between Mayor Robert Taro (Depardieu) and his deputy, Lucas Barre (Benoit Magimel) is at the heart of the story. The conflict is at a larger scale than found with most local politics. The Marseille city council, which looks the size of some national parliaments, is voting on a proposal for a new casino development that would have a major impact on the economy of this port city. Pro- and anti-casino forces are heating up, the mafia is thought to be involved, behind-the-scenes deal-making is taking place, and local elections will soon begin.
Other main characters include the mayor’s wife, Rachel, a professional cellist, and daughter, Julia, an aspiring, but not yet settled, journalist. As you might expect from a French TV series on Netflix, mistresses and affairs are the norm. These side stories, full of personal conflict and slowly revealed secrets, build to the point where they overtake the main narrative, which may be part of our issue with Marseille. What appears to be a serious political drama on the verge of exploring issues of power, class and culture, instead becomes a soap opera that takes itself too seriously.
Marseille was created by Dan Franck. The eight episodes from season 1 can only be seen on Netflix. So far, European reviews have been lukewarm. It’s an entertaining TV series, but not on the level of the best French thrillers (Witnesses) or its American counterpart, House of Cards.
With its Marseille TV show, Netflix continues significant investment in international productions. They are already a presence in the foreign TV show market; it appears this will only increase. Let’s hope their next big-budget international thriller has less glitz and a little more substance. Like some of its characters, Marseille may be a victim of its own ambition.