Sunday, April 4, 2021

REVIEW: Lupin, Part 1 (live action TV series)

Lupin is a contemporary-set French thriller series. It's streaming on Netflix, and Part 1 is 5 episodes long.

This review includes slight spoilers.


In the series' present, Assane Diop is a clever and cool-headed thief and master of disguise who takes his inspiration from Maurice Leblanc's Arsene Lupin. Flashbacks gradually reveal his motives. When he was a teen, his father was arrested for the theft of an expensive necklace from his employer, Hubert Pellegrini. While in prison, Assane's father committed suicide...or was it murder? In the present, Assane seeks to find out what really happened to his father and who was responsible.

When I first heard about this series, I thought it was going to be a contemporary-set adaptation of the Arsene Lupin stories. I liked what I read of that series and was interested in seeing that, but discovering that it was actually about a man who was inspired by those stories was fine too.

Part 1 didn't bother to show much of the period between "Assane the orphaned teen" and "Assane the slick and charming thief," which I didn't mind too much. I liked the series best when Assane was in his element, smoothly pulling off thefts right in front of people and tricking his way into and out of tight spaces.

However, Assane was not an infallible master thief. His obsession with Lupin was a weakness that those hunting him could exploit. Also, he had loved ones who didn't know the truth about what he was doing. Claire, his ex-girlfriend (ex-wife??), knew he was involved in shady stuff and broke up with him because all the secrecy and broken promises were too much for her. However, she still maintained a friendly relationship with him, which was good considering that she was also the mother of his child. Raoul, Assane's son, had no clue about any of the stuff Assane was up to, although he learned to love Arsene Lupin just like his father.

Race came up a few times in the series, although not so much directly as in the assumptions of characters and even viewers. In the first episode, for example, Assane was introduced as part of the cleaning staff at the Louvre, apparently barely scraping by. He and Claire were friendly, but there were indications that he'd previously been late giving her money for child support and that he couldn't really afford to give her the money he was giving her now. He needed extra cash and had big plans to get it, but could he pull it off? By the end of the episode, however, viewers got to learn how much of what they'd just seen was true, how much was false, and how much they'd filled in themselves based on how Assane had been presented to them. 

Most (all?) of the episodes had at least one moment in which Assane met someone who said something to the effect of "I didn't expect someone like you [to spend millions on a necklace, uncover dirt on one of the most powerful men in the country, etc.]." His response was always a pointed "Someone like me?" At which time the speaker hastily came up with an explanation that wasn't "a Black guy," even though it was clear that's what they'd actually meant.

So far this seems to be a fairly tightly focused series - other than a scene or two during the flashbacks, no side trips to pull off thefts unrelated to Assane's father's death. I admit, that's been a little disappointing, since watching Assane convince people to happily hand over their stuff is entertaining, but hopefully that means the series as a whole has a coherent plan and will come to a satisfying conclusion. I'm looking forward to seeing what Part 2 will be like (I kind of wish I'd waited until that was out before watching Part 1), and I'm crossing my fingers that Assane and his friends and family all make it through okay.

Note: There is an adorable dog named J'accuse (who has been trained to bark whenever Pellegrini's name is mentioned - "J'accuse" indeed). At one point, the dog appears to potentially be in peril. If you're like me and fret about animals, allow me to reassure you that the dog makes it through just fine.

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