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Review
Viewer’s Discretion

What to watch now: Two French streaming series explore family dynamics

'Mythomaniac,' 'He Even Has Your Eyes' offer fresh, energetic takes of overdone topics

Mythomaniac

In "Mythomaniac," a working mom suspects her partner is cheating, so to win back his attentions, she feigns a medical diagnosis. 

‘Mythomaniac’ (Netflix)

Asking the eternal question, “What does a woman have to do exactly to get some appreciation from her family?,” this French series comes up with a grim answer: Have cancer. Well, not necessarily “have” cancer, it turns out — just have her family think she does.

That’s what Elvira (Marina Hands) ends up doing in her attempt to not be taken for granted. Her husband (Mathieu Demy) is disinterested in their marriage and carrying on with the local pharmacist, and the kids are busy with their own lives and troubles, and take it for granted that Elvira lurks behind the scenes making sure their laundry, their meals, their everything gets taken care of.

It starts out as a lark that gives Elvira what she wants out of her personal life, but when she begins to get signals that the family’s newfound indulgence of her might wane, she ups the ante and begins willfully using information from her job at an insurance company to create a record of fraudulent cancer treatments and hospitalizations to cover her tracks and perpetuate her lie. But it becomes too much to expect the family members to keep their private fears to themselves and Elvira must soon face the wider consequences of her actions.

French television drama isn’t exactly known for its ebullience, but “Mythomaniac” has tons of it despite its dark center, and it’s hard not to have sympathy for Elvira anyhow. As a woman who is just working with the tools she has, her worst sin is taking the threat “You’ll miss me when I’m gone!” and putting it into action to prove a point. “Mythomaniac” is energetic and entertaining in allowing the answer to snowball its way through its characters’ lives — which continue with a second season having just debuted on Netflix.

‘He Even Has Your Eyes’ (Topic)

This sequel series to the 2016 French film of the same name offers a scenario that seems contrived but is also a counterpoint to a situation that occasionally pops up in tone deaf realizations — the old chestnut about a white family adopting a Black child and what follows. In this version, a Black couple ends up adopting a white child and the series visits the family in the boy’s teenage years and delivers a nuanced, friendly depiction that focuses not on the racial and cultural differences, but on the way society expects them automatically from one situation and doesn’t look deeply enough to see a clearer picture that reveals difference in even those who to white eyes are the same.

Paul, played by series creator Lucien Jean-Baptiste, is a florist whose own parentage is fraught with trauma, having been abandoned by his father as a child and then turned away in an attempt as a young adult to connect with him. He and his wife Sali (Aïssa Maïga) have not only raised their adopted white son Benjamin (Louis Durant) but now also have a younger biological son, Noe (Joakhim Sigue).

But Paul is about to get a surprise — a visit from his father, the charming Lazare (Michel Bohiri), who Paul immediately rejects. At the same time Benjamin begins to consider meeting his biological parents as a way to complete his understanding of himself.

“He Even Has Your Eyes” offers some good family drama with trappings that are alien enough to American viewers that it becomes fascinating on a whole other level. The adoption concept becomes a mechanism through which the drama is framed through the Black family’s experience, taking time to portray the wider story of their roots in Africa as immigrant families, wrapping in many aspects of the culture and the way these affect their lives. By widening the scope in this way, “He Even Has Your Eyes” becomes something very unique on television, and very necessary. In some ways, this reframing of the family drama form is radical, but it merges the creative radicalism with a friendly warmth that should inspire viewers desiring something familiar but fresh to seek this series out.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me

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