Ten Percent (2022)

In 2015, Netflix released Call My Agent!—a parody drama exploring the professional faux-pas and livelihoods of acting agents—to near immediate widespread acclaim. Retaining its star-powered success 7 years later, there has never seemed like a viable need to reproduce its format, with a host of  international guest stars, effortless representation and a narrative language that transcends every corner of the globe. Yet the English remake Ten Percent has hit the Prime Video roster, under the watchful creative eye of writer John Morton. Though audiences will be quick to liken it to the original (and rightly so), it’s Morton’s 2014 hit W1A that best showcases the peaks and pits of Ten Percent’s potential.

 

W1A (2014)
The cast of W1A (2014)

 

After the success of Olympic committee parody Twenty Twelve, W1A hit the small screens like an absurd, runaway freight train. Bridging the gap between farce and realism in a way never seen before, its behind-the-scenes parody of senior BBC staff was an instant marvel—largely due to the fact the channel aired it itself. Distinctly British in tone, stone-faced comedy was delivered deadpan, peppered with monosyllabic phrases that transferred through characters and next to no emotional background outside of its corporate setting. It’s arguably something that shouldn’t work, yet each episode can be held aloft as a comedic masterpiece. It’s this level of dissociated hysteria that Ten Percent chooses to play with, yet doesn’t commit to the cause for full effect.

As for Ten Percent, its tonal voice is often difficult to describe. Taking the abrupt language of “right” and “the fact is” from W1A and pairing it with unexpected emotional brevity, the two sides of the acting agent coin often miss cohesive ties to pull it all together. Character personas from 2014 feel copied and pasted, yet authentically work in the setting and narrative it needs to. There’s a new layer of slapstick humour, with characters frequently tripping up, falling off bikes and running into trees. In quite an obvious case of old way meets new school thinking, the ‘try-hard’ narrative element is ever-present, with action often feeling forced across a plethora of British comedic genres.

 

Ten Percent (2022)
The Cast of Ten Percent

 

That being said, there is a lot that Ten Percent gets right—largely when it’s free from the shackles of Morton’s past creations and the Call My Agent! Blueprint. Taking the foundations of Camille Cottin’s French agent Andréa and running full steam ahead into sexually confident dominance, Lydia Leonard’s portrayal of Rebecca is easily the star of the show. Moving away from the confines of comedic expectations, she channels a woman who’s struggling with direction and motivation, and hesitant to let her guard down. While the emotional context of other characters is at best spotty (namely Jack Davenport’s Johnathan Nightingale), the women are collectively the stronger figureheads, landing the balance of humour and heart in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Kudos must also go in favour of new addition Simon Gould (Tim McInnerny), a role created especially for Ten Percent. In the face of repeated ridicule, Gould remains the only character who can break into the cast’s backstories behind the facade of a few well-timed laughs.

For Ten Percent to fully usurp its ancestor W1A (or even match it), it needed to out-absurd the absurd. Its commitment to emotional backstory is arguably what holds it back, potentially faring hugely from full-out, deadpan weirdness. There’s a constant, back-of-the-mind questioning as to whether things work, the series a roller coaster in terms of episodic success. If John Morton was aiming for his latest series to be “gentler”, he’s arguably achieved it—with Ten Percent being a light giggle in the shadow of W1A’s uproarious belly laughs.