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  • William Malaterre

Parlement: The Must-See Comedy About The European Union

As an enthusiastic fan already awaiting the next round of episodes, second-year EPS student William Malaterre aims to convince all in this article to download a good enough VPN and binge-watch Parlement! 

William Malaterre

On 29th September 2023, the third season of the French TV Series Parlement was released on the national free and accessible streaming platform FRANCE.TV. After two critically acclaimed seasons, the long-awaited show successfully managed to reinvent itself, delving this time into unpacking the institutional relation (or clashes) between the European Parliament and the Commission. It also retained the formula which caught viewers’ attention in the first place: the right dose of humour and caricature for a pedagogical yet thought-provoking reflection on the European Union and its institutions.

What is Parlement really about? 

Parlement’s main plot follows the adventures and rise to the top of freshly-arrived, new and inexperienced parliamentary assistant Samy Kantor. In this fictitious European Parliament, viewers can expect to get to know Brexit MEP Sharon, who realises she self-destructed her job in Brussels, or lobbyist Guido, who appears out of nowhere, in elevators and cafés, to amend legislation in favour of big-paying corporations like the ‘Plastic is our Friend’ holding. On arrival, Samy ends up in charge of an amendment on the fictitious European Blue Deal attempting to ban shark thinning in EU waters. Unable to count on his Camembert-loving, good-for-nothing French MEP Michel Specklin, Samy is forced to quickly learn the ins and outs of the functioning of the European Parliament. Thankfully, he can rely on the wise character of Eamon, who appears as a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to European institutions and their operations. Throughout Parlement, viewers are faced with the bureaucracy, complexity and contradictions which can plague the EU. Yet, it also deals with discovering the excitement of an international and diverse workplace, where romance occurs, different cultures clash, political calculations are instigated, political defeats befall and ultimately, sharks in the EU may be saved entirely. 

What is so great about this show? 

Generally, Parlement is a must-see for all, as it is an entertaining and amusing show throughout. As episodes last around 30 minutes, it is a brilliant comedic show to kill time or take a break. Against the backdrop of complex negotiations and time-constraint decision-making, the show remains forcibly relaxed, steady-paced and witty. Its humour is well-achieved by exploiting the various caricatures which have come to exist on the different nationalities, political parties or job positions which fill the European Parliament. While humour is not particularly known for travelling well, these universal caricatures reflect the diversity of Europe and also the light-heartedness of these provocations. Without going into too much depth, Parlement laughably reduces MEPs as either psychopaths or imbeciles. The Commission’s ‘fonctionnaires’, on their part, are sly tacticians who believe to be more than rule-makers. In terms of nationalities, Germans are depicted as accounting maniacs who seek stability, punctuality and efficiency, all while only eating ‘wurst und sauerkraut’. Furthermore, as one character states: “Don’t get me started on the Dutch now. They make the Germans look nice”. 

Going further, another reason for watching this programme is that, despite being French-produced, Parlement does not feel solely French-centric. On the contrary, the show portrays the French as capricious, ego-centric and hardly working. It raises intriguing questions for French (and other) viewers about our country’s believed superiority over EU institutions and its neglect of coalition-building. Parlement’s respect for the three official working languages of the EU — French, English and German are spoken in the programme — testifies to the producers’ desire to open up the programme to the European public. 

"Willkommen in eine Demokratie, Bitch” 

Now, what these humoristic stereotypes form together is a pretty satirical image of the European Parliament, opening up EU institutions to major criticisms. At first glance, the show seems to validate many of our real-world populists’ views on the EU: opaque, bureaucratic, slow and expensive to run, out-of-touch because elitist. Additionally, Parlement’s use of real events and of collective opinions evidently heightens critiques and adds complexity. Nevertheless, the series remains a fictitious satire. As a fiction mocking the EU institutions, it can highlight the worst of Europe, as well as underscoring its achievements, which also take place. Also, the complexity of the already-multifaceted puzzle which is the EU, may simply be answered through a thought-provoking statement in the show: “Life is complicated. Europe too. Grow the F**K up”.  Altogether, while its satirical stance opens up debate and sparks important reflections, Parlement succeeds in being funny without losing depth over the role played by the EU. Whether stereotypes are true or not in real life, the show is not fatalistic about Europe’s problems. It simply enables us to at least shed light upon institutions which do remain of difficult access to most. 

Any last words? 

For students in European Affairs, this series is a must-see since it illustrates in a humorous way the professional environment many aspire to join. Moreover, before the next European parliamentary elections in 2024, Parlement can be considered a highly educative programme opening up the doors (for the first time) of an institution to EU citizens. Indeed, it is the first TV comedy to be allowed to be filmed in the actual seats of EU institutions in Strasbourg and Brussels. Thinking of all the various American TV series which take place in Washington DC (House of Cards, Veep or Designated Survivor), it is astonishing actually to think there is no other equivalent to Parlement. In turn, while great to finally have a show at the European level, it is impossible to look at this programme comparatively. A critique which still can be made is the lack of representation of Eastern Europe within the EU. While Greece, Portugal or Sweden make their appearances, the only Eastern European country which appears (for a brief moment) is Poland. This is also without mentioning Samy’s infamous quote: “Romania is in the EU? Really?”. If it could rectify that and give more airtime to Eastern European counterparts, Parlement is a near-perfect comedy. 

*Copyrights: the featured image is from FilmAffinity



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