With the loss of real cinema - and theatre - over lockdown, most of us have had to find our entertainment via alternative sources. My most recent screen pleasure is the hit French comedy-drama Call My Agent. It's a scream.
Set in a Parisian talent agency, which manages those in the performing arts, it's a back-stabbing, tempestuous, poignant and sophisticated story of four leading agents who have to placate, schmooze, promote and sometimes lie outrageously to their nervy and temperamental clients.
Actors of both genders are presented like highly-strung racehorses who might be upset by the slightest contretemps, might throw a tantrum about not being served the right kind of Himalayan flower tea and are childishly grateful for applause. (Just about describes us all, really).
Sportingly, renowned actors - only one famous name has refused - are willing to send themselves up, and expose their fragilities, too: each episode features a star such as Juliette Binoche, Sigourney Weaver, Julie Gayet (former President Hollande's girlfriend).
The fictional talent agency was founded by one Samuel Kerr, so it's called ASK (Agence Samuel Kerr), but he expires in the first episode, allegedly from swallowing a wasp in Brazil.
This leaves the four partner agents in charge: Mathias (Thibault de Montalembert), a father-figure with a complicated private life; Andrea (Camille Cottin), the most predatory and stylish lesbian since Vita Sackville-West; Gabriel (Gregory Montel), a bit of a well-meaning loser; and Arlette (Liliane Rovere), an old-stager always accompanied by her yappy little dog, inappropriately named Jean Gabin - the star who was once a massive presence in old French black-and-white movies.
There's a sweet little ingenue, Camille (Fanny Sidney), who develops into a winning character over the 24 episodes, and a gay assistant Herve (Nicolas Maury), who does an engagingly hilarious, camp act.
The storylines are predicated, of course, on something always going wrong. There's a constant threat that the agency could go out of business (thank heaven it was filmed before Covid, when the threat is a lot less funny), or could be the subject of a takeover.
At one point, a Berlin agency is bidding for it. "The Krauts? It'll be like 1940," one of the characters quips grimly. Forget sentimental ideas of Franco-German solidarity.
Problems with taxation irregularities arise: Andrea, who will stoop to any strategem, seduces the (female) tax auditor, turning on the full blast of her flirtatious charm, although, inevitably, this will not end well.
Andrea, an unusual-looking beauty, is not above flirting with, or even seducing, men if it helps her get what she wants - or double-crossing them if she doesn't.
The ethics are rock-bottom, or even non-existent, but it's all done with such a soft touch and in such a spirit of, literally, playfulness, that the show carries it off.
It can be saucy at times, without being porny (a complaint made against a Netflix stablemate, Bridgerton). And then, behind the cynicism, there are the moments touching philosophically on life's vicissitudes.
If a character says "I'm so happy!", you can bet there's a thunderclap coming their way. If an aspiring actress is elated with joy at finally getting a small part in a movie, you know that the scene in which she has invested so much will be cut.
Hopes will be shattered and illusions will be dispelled by brutal reality. Secrets carefully concealed will emerge. And yet, people are essentially resilient and they overcome setbacks.
The main characters backbite, slag each other off, even brawl sometimes - the viewer becomes familiar with French derogatory epithets "salopard!" "connard!", as well as the French version of the F-word, "putain!"
But there is also solidarity between the group and even a family feeling. Andrea's best mate is the nice guy, Gabriel, who is always having to cover up some catastrophe and she runs to him for comfort when things go wrong.
Call My Agent - originally titled Dix Pour Cent ("Ten Percent") when screened in France - has been such a frothy, even necessary, escape from the daily diet of dreary bad news during the most recent phase of lockdown. And, by the way, added to its attractions are some stunning panoramic views over Paris, as well as glimpses of fabulous French interiors. Bravo to Netflix for transmitting it, moving outside the more usual Anglo-American fare.
The one famous performer who refused to appear is Catherine Deneuve, who has been a leading star - maybe the leading star - of French cinema over the past 60 years. She said she didn't want to play the role of herself, especially in a send-up approach.
Perhaps, like royalty, Deneuve doesn't wish to unveil the mystique of acting, which, at its most serious, involves a magic, the alchemy of embodying the soul of a fictional character.
But that art is indestructible, because it's so essential to the human imagination and the light mockeries of Call My Agent just reminds us how much we treasure the performer's art.