Lupin on Netflix is one of those shows where I really don’t want to reveal anything about the characters or the plot to anyone who hasn’t already seen it, even if only for just how much more you will enjoy the first episode. So, let’s take a little history lesson instead, as Lupin does quite often. Our “gentleman thief” protagonist, Omar Sy’s Assane, decides to take on the identity of Arséne Lupin— a famous French character, first published in 1905, who has previously been adapted and used in films, television, theatre, comics, and even video games. In Assane’s conscious decision to take on the persona of this cunning, criminal do-gooder, the show begins a dialogue with all of these adapted works, as well as other characters of similar ilk.
The story is relatively simple: Assane, a first generation immigrant from Senegal, is fuelled by childhood trauma into solving a very personal mystery. His journey is laden with espionage-like elements: slick planning, slicker executions, and, as is obligatory, the slickest of plot-twists.
However, unlike popular media about gentleman robbers, and cops, of the past, Lupin doesn’t shy away from diving into the personal. Whereas the others prefer the mysterious allure of a James Bond, a Sherlock Holmes, or a Danny Ocean, making them seem like emotionally disconnected men, with childhoods that they can’t even make themselves think about, Assane thinks of almost nothing but his childhood. The show, too, spends a great amount of time showing us the past— a decision which elevates the show by bringing something new to the genre.
But let’s not forget all the fun. The other reason why this show works well, and has gained the almost sleeper-hit, global stardom that it has – going No. 1 on Netflix in several European countries, being the first French series to hit the Netflix U.S.’s top 10, as well as finding a place for itself in Netflix India’s top 10 – is that it does those cool, espionage moments and sequences really well. Each caper is packed with movement and purpose. It also helps that although Omar Sy is as cool as an ice cube, he, and the show, are willing to show that charismatic, mysterious men don’t need to be assholes.
Oh, and the music! When the first episode bursts out into Labi Siffre’s “I Got The…”, it picks its moment well enough to cement a new cultural reference point for the classic song which has been relegated to the status of an Eminem sample for far too long. I applauded the show in my head, with no expectations of more inspired musical choices, but in the next episode I was confronted with a brilliant, inventive cover of the already much-covered “Sway” at just the right moment.
Our roster of supporting characters goes a little up and down, with some not feeling particularly fresh (I’m looking at you, Waston Benjamin). The series does, also, suffer from a little bit of what I’m calling the ‘Netflix-curse’, which is when there are too many shows on Netflix which look the same, and despite doing a competent job, are clearly not pushing their artistic capabilities.
The choice of Omar Sy as our modern-day Lupin plays on the original character’s traditional mastery of disguise to make a point about the visibility of blackness, and immigrants, in the Western world. Hrithik Roshan’s Mr. A (yes, it is time for a Dhoom 2 reference) may have had to transform into different shapes, sizes, and colours, but Assane/Lupin, played by the over six-foot-two, muscular Omar Sy, only has to make the slightest of changes to disappear into the background. This ends up feeling slightly comical as well as deeply unnerving. It is a perfect, implicit, piece of argument that complements Assane’s narrative well.
My only advice, for those thinking of watching the show, would be to just let the first episode play out, without any judgements. One of my initial worries was that the show would just be generic Netflix-thriller fare. It is only after this initial misdirection that the characters start taking up emotional space, and the series begins to show you its true self— slowly but surely building itself up, much like a young Assane.