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Wednesday, May 25th, 2022  

Ten Percent

Sundance Now/AMC+/BBC America, April 29, 2022

Apr 27, 2022 Photography by Rob Youngson/Sundance Now Web Exclusive
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Ten Percent would love be to Entourage meets Extras. Sadly, it’s not nearly cutthroat enough for the former and not even remotely funny enough to be the latter. The comedy—using that term very loosely—about London-headquartered boutique entertainment talent agency, Nightingale/Hart, is based on the French sitcom, Call My Agent. Restrained is the one-word summary for the eight-episode first season of the series.

Nightingale/Hart is not a rambling operation that takes up a Beverly Hills city block. Instead, it’s an intimate shop with five agents, including two of the titular founders, three assistants and a receptionist who is trying to be an actor. The set-up sounds promising except the overwhelming apologetic tone that blankets every single exchange stops Ten Percent from developing any kind of edge.

These aren’t inappropriate, potty-mouthed, fiercely ambitious Ari Gold types. Rather, they’re overly polite, constantly agreeing with clients, strangers, and each other, their ever-present apologies underscoring all their conversations. The assistants are more balls-y than their bosses, bullying them and making decisions for them, even quitting on them due to extreme dissatisfaction—something unheard of in Hollywood.

While the agents continuously let down their clients, somewhat fix their screw-ups, and then lose the client, the assistants actually get work done and give viewers something to watch. Julia (Rebecca Humphries. Trigonometry), assistant to Jonathan (Jack Davenport, The Morning Show), is pitifully in love with him and manages his life with razor-sharp and protective accuracy. Misha (Hiftu Quasem) who is hired on the spot in the pilot, is hugely ineffective Rebecca’s (Lydia Leonard, Gentleman Jack) hyper-efficient, keen and bright assistant. Watching Misha is almost relaxing as her fast work, need-prediction and super-smarts makes the viewer wish she was their assistant, helping get their life together. Perhaps the most watchable of the assistants is David Tennant-obsessed Ollie (Harry Trevaldwyn), assistant to Dan (Prasanna Puwanarajah, Patrick Melrose) who is better suited to the bike messenger job it looked like he had in the first few minutes of the pilot than the puppy dog, desperate-to-please agent he actually is. Dan’s infatuation with the talented Zoe (Fola Evans-Akingbola, Siren) receptionist-turned-credible-actor takes up more of his time than his clients’ needs.

The clients, who are mainly real-life actors like Helena Bonham-Carter, Phoebe Dynevor, Dominic West, David Harewood and Kelly Macdonald, are not used to their full potential. It would have been hilarious to have these accomplished actors play up to the extreme, à la Extras. But they have never been more boring and their capabilities have never been so under-used. Having Macdonald pour a drink over Dan’s head is such an ‘80s screwball comedy move, and far beneath her nuanced skills.

Quite literally nothing happens in these never-ending hour-long episodes. The cliffhangers and reveals, as it were, are so underwhelming and “who cares,” the reactions of the characters so mild, that it’s impossible to buy into the manufactured drama. Plus, it’s all so obvious and predictable. Misha is Jonathan’s lovechild, obviously, as soon as someone asks her about her dad, she looks right at him. No one, except, apparently, the people in the office, is fooled by their emergency exit stairway meetings.

Halfway through the season, there is an infusion of Hollywood energy in the form of tightly-wound, green tea-drinking, type A+, super-agent Kirsten (Chelsea Crisp, Young Rock) and her equally smooth and over-scheduled, gym-going assistant, Kevin (Jack Holden). The clash of styles, particularly between Kirsten and veteran partner agent Stella Hart (the legendary Maggie Stead, Chewing Gum) provides a glimmer of promise for Ten Percent. But, the Nightingale Hart team polite themselves out of all of her commandments, which are thinly veiled as suggestions, leaving the viewer with nothing once again.

Call My Agent ran for five seasons. Having the emotionless wimps of Ten Percent around for that long sounds like pure torture and the antidote to channel change apathy. (www.sundancenow.com)

Author rating: 5/10

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