Oh boy they make good TV in France. Spiral; Call my Agent; and, of course, Lupin. The latter crashed onto Netflix last year and its first series quickly became one of the streamer’s most popular shows. It’s supremely stylish – and lead actor Omar Sy is a charisma machine. The literary twist on the cops-trying-to-catch-a-criminal genre is similarly well done. Plus it’s French, so all of the dialogue sounds sexy. For the drama’s second outing, the bar was about as high as the Eiffel Tower.
We’re pleased to report that Lupin 2.0 is another triumph. Sy returns as Assane Diop, who seems to make a living conning Paris’ most wealthy, following in the footsteps of Arsene Lupin, the fictional character to whom his father introduced him. His dad’s suicide, after he was framed for stealing a necklace from his employer Hubert Pellegrini, fuels Lupin: Diop breaks the law not for fun or for money but in the hope of righting a terrible wrong and bringing Pellegrini to justice.
You watch Lupin to see the dazzling ways in which Diop fools the police on his tail but also how he pulls off the show’s superb heists with panache. This season’s first episode, in which he is trying to track down his kidnapped son Raoul, is therefore a real change of pace: Diop is on the back foot, and this time there’s no illusion. It is an intense start to the season and there are considerably fewer winks than in our introduction to the first.
After this, however, while the stakes remain perilously high, Diop redresses the balance and begins to see a dozen moves ahead of the police on the board. It is always a thrill to watch him wriggle out of whichever chains he has been shackled in. A Lupin episode will often have events play out in a linear manner and then take us back in time to reveal that Diop had, like a magician, been making us look at one hand while he played an entirely different game with the other. The writing is a joy – (just) avoiding making these tricks so outlandish that they are completely unbelievable but never making them so mundane that their reveal is an anticlimax.
A show set in Paris with a Black lead will always be dealing with race either implicitly or explicitly, and in this season there is an impactful, uncomfortable scene in which Diop and Raoul’s kidnapper (who is also Black) each bring the rural locals of a cafe to silence just by entering. In the flashbacks that have always punctuated the episodes, we also see how racism has shaped Diop’s life since he was a boy. It’s a layer that means both the show and the main character are more fully realised than comparisons that might spring to mind.
As well as avenging the death of his father, Diop can’t ignore that his increasingly dangerous line of work is having terrible repercussions for his son, his ex-wife, and the childhood friend who works as a sort of accomplice. This season, therefore, is even more existential than the first, and sees the ‘gentleman thief’ realise that the longer the game goes on, the harder it will be for him to live in the shadows.
A third season of the show has already been commissioned. And why not? Television this good only comes around once in a while.