In real life, Bernard Tapei opened a number of businesses, was the president of the cycling team that included three Tour de France winners, including Greg LeMond, presided over a soccer team that won the UFEA Champions Cup, and was in the national assembly. He also had a sizeable stake in Adidas. However, he was also accused of fixing soccer games and served a two-year prison term on corruption charges; he seemed to be involved in one investigation or another all the way up to his death in 2021. A new French series tries to encapsulate Tapei’s colorful life.
CLASS ACT: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “1997.” As Bernard Tapie (Laurent Lafitte) is ushered into a prison cell, the other inmates stamp their feet and chant his name.
The Gist: We go back over 30 years, to 1966. Tapie and his family are gathered to listen to his single, “Passport to the Son” judged on a popular TV series. The judges give it good reviews, making his investor relieved that he gave Bernard 30,000 francs to record it. Bernard is ready to break big as a singer.
Cut to four years later, 1970, as Bernard lugs his television to the store his investor owns, hoping to sell it to offset some of what he owes the guy. It seems like his relationship with the investor has soured, given the fact that he never really broke big in the music industry. But Bernard has other ideas rattling around in his brain. His wife Michelle (Sarah Suco) gets him a meeting with a bank loan officer, whose kids she watches. Bernard’s new idea: A subscription appliance store. He thinks it’s a winner, and he insults the loan officer who disagrees with him as he leaves.
Michelle is tired of scraping by; she wants him to get a job with his father, at least to get them on their feet. But he feels like he has to take big swings if they’re going to live the lifestyle he envisions for him and his family.
As he’s talking to his friend, Farid Ben Tarek (Hakim Jemili), a developer named Marcel Loiseau (Fabrice Luchini) comes by to once again harass Farid to sell his garage in order for Loiseau to build the mall he wants to build. Farid warns Bernard to steer clear of Loiseau, but of course Bernard can’t let an opportunity pass him by.
He barges into Loiseau’s office, toting his TV to use as an illustration of his idea. He meets Loiseau’s assistant, Dominique (Joséphine Japy), whom Loiseau thinks is pretty special. Surprisingly, Loiseau likes Bernard’s idea, and gives him the money under one condition: He gets the majority share of the business.
A few years later, the appliance business is doing surprisingly well, and when Dominique comes to the store to get her boss’ share of the profits, he asks if they could go to lunch and discuss more ideas. There, they hit it off, but things of course remain platonic. Still, as Bernard tells Farid at a dinner party later that day, some feelings he hasn’t had in awhile have been stirred up.
Loiseau wants to expand the store to other towns in France, but he has no interest in having Bernard do anything but manage the original Paris store. Frustrated, he gets another idea when he rushes to his parents’ house after his father collapses: If he had needed defibrillating, a unit that could have done that life-saving procedure might have never made it in time.
Bernard’s new idea: A subscription paramedic service. He pitches the idea to Dominique, despite the fact that Loiseau has warned both of them not to see each other in private. The thought: The two of them go into business together and cut out Loiseau. Their discussion leads to some kissing, and Loiseau finds out about most of it just in time to disrupt Bernard’s life.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Class Act (Original title: Tapie) is a classic biographical series along the lines of Mike and other shows based on a single controversial figure.
Our Take: To encapsulate such an ambitious, accomplished and controversial life, Class Act creators Olivier Demangel and Tristan Séguéla certainly needed a dynamic actor to play Tapei, and they got that in Lafitte, who exudes all the charm and smarm that Tapei required to have people trust him when he spewed his sometimes outlandish ideas.
But a long disclaimer at the start of the first episode pretty much says that the bare facts presented are true, but everything surrounding the character of Bernard Tapie is fictional. Before he died Tapei expressed dismay that the producers didn’t gain approval from him before working on the series, and his widow Dominique along with both his children have publicly decried the series.
So how you take the series might depend on how much you care about it being true to Tapei’s life. People on this side of the Atlantic probably had little to no idea who he was, so they’re approaching the series as if they’re viewing a colorful fictional character’s story, how he managed to go from a working-class background and work his way up in French society, and how he met and fell for his second wife, Dominique.
All of that is well-represented in the series, although much of the first episode involves a lot of talk about making it big but not a lot of examples. The first episode makes Tapei out to be more less businessman and more con man, but that’s not the complete picture of the man. He had success on many levels, even if some of that success was tainted by scandal, and we hope the series communicates more of those sides of his life as it goes forward.
If you do know a lot about Tapei and his life, this fictionalized version might be frustrating. We’re sure there will be plenty of “fact vs. fiction” articles published on French and other European websites that pick the fictionalization apart. But that won’t take away from our interest in the series.
Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.
Parting Shot: Loiseau crashes a birthday party thrown by Bernard and mentions to Michelle how Bernard and Dominique spent a lot of time together recently.
Sleeper Star: Joséphine Japy is exceedingly charming as Dominique. Yes, she’s a major part of this series, but we wanted to give her some praise for her performance here.
Most Pilot-y Line: “I’ll buy it in six months,” Bernard confidently says to Farid about the Ferrari Farid is working on but won’t let him borrow.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Class Act is a well-written show about a figure who was famous and infamous in France but not many people know about on this side of the Atlantic. Just realize going in that not everything you see on the show may be completely true.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.