Appearing in dozens of short stories and novels by Maurice Leblanc, Arsène Lupin is the French equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Using theatrical schemes to outwit his opponents, he’s an old-school gentleman thief. He’s inspired numerous film adaptations (plus a long-running anime spinoff in Japan), so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to launch a modern reboot. Cue Netflix’s Lupin, which reimagines the Lupin stories with a French-Senegalese hero in contemporary Paris. Omar Sy (The Intouchables) stars as Assane Diop, a charming criminal mastermind who takes inspiration from the Arsène Lupin books.
CREATORS: George Kay and François Uzan
Inspired by the Arsène Lupin novels about a suave gentleman thief, this modern reboot is a contemporary French twist on heist capers like 'Ocean's Eleven.'
Lupin combines heist-thriller hijinks with some obvious cues from Sherlock. The music is similar, as is Lupin's glitzy, fast-paced urban setting. It is, however, a lot more conventional and narratively coherent than Sherlock. Not a bad thing. Lupin feels more like a high-quality network series than the sprawling tone of many Netflix dramas, with fun standalone adventures tying into a season-wide arc about corruption and injustice.
By rebooting the franchise with a Black protagonist, Lupin puts a new spin on the cat-and-mouse chase between our hero and the police. Assane Diop's childhood was ruined by the machinations of a corrupt French businessman, kickstarting his drive to become a masterful con artist. This gives us a more compelling emotional backdrop for Diop's Lupin-style escapades, in the same way that Leverage's ridiculous heists were often deceptively political. He's determined to destroy his lifelong nemesis, but this grim backstory is balanced out by an entertaining series of elaborate crime capers. (One episode is a reverse prison-break; another involves scamming his way into the Louvre. It's that kind of vibe.)
The show's easygoing tone allows us to suspend our disbelief as Assane Diop smoothly evades the authorities in a city riddled with CCTV. If we can accept Peter Parker retaining his secret identity in Spider-Man, then why not this? Omar Sy makes it work, because while Lupin features a fair amount of high-tech gadgetry (the one failure being an episode that doesn't seem to understand how Twitter works), it mostly relies on Diop's social skills. Omar Sy's body language changes with each new persona, and we can easily understand why people are fooled by simple costume changes. There's also a recurring theme of Diop rendering himself invisible to white bystanders, who will thoughtlessly ignore (for example) the presence of Black janitors at a secure location.
In recent months, I've come to value this classic style of straightforward, episodic TV storytelling. Streaming services are stuffed with overpriced, over-long dramas whose plot unfolds "like an eight-hour movie" without fully hitting the mark. Lupin is more sophisticated than a basic procedural drama, but it's not overly ambitious. The hero is thoroughly watchable. The heists are intricate and pleasingly unpredictable, kicking off with three episodes directed by blockbuster filmmaker Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me). Basically, it exists at the precise midpoint between prestige TV and trashy nonsense. My only serious qualm is the lack of depth for supporting characters, especially women.
In the introductory episodes, there's one genuinely interesting female character (a middle-aged journalist), plus two recurring figures who just aren't very compelling: an antagonist (Clotilde Hesme), and Diop's ex-wife (The Young Pope's Ludivine Sagnier). And while Omar Sy can definitely carry the show himself, this kind of story usually works better when the hero has someone to riff off, whether that's a sidekick, a love interest, or a frenemy on the opposing side. Lupin includes a few potential contenders for that role, but I'm still waiting for them to get some truly meaningful screentime.
Lupin arrives on Netflix on Jan. 8, including options for English dubbing or subtitles.