TV Series Review: “The Bureau”

A smart, stylish French spy series on iTunes.

“The Bureau” is a French spy TV series (“Le Bureau des Legendes”) on Canal+. The series concerns the daily life and missions of spies within the French Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure or DGSE. The DGSE is the French equivalent of the CIA. Its head office is in the 20th arrondissement of Paris.

Variety reports that the creators of the series had the cooperation of the DGSE and that the DGSE liked the series. The series won Best TV Series from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

The series begins with the return to Paris of French intelligence officer Guillaume “Malotru” Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz) after six years as an undercover agent in Syria. Guillaume struggles to reconnect with his former life. But after learning that his lover in Syria (Nadia, played by Zineb Triki), is in Paris, Guillaume breaks agency rules and approaches her as the man he was in Damascus: Paul Lefebvre. As Guillaume begins living a double life, he opens himself up (and DGSE) to serious dangers.

I’m about half way through the first season and am enjoying every minute. Henri Duflot (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) portrays the head of the French clandestine service. He’s never himself been an undercover agent and this bothers him because he fears he lacks the respect of his operatives. At the same time, he’s very likable and down-to-earth. He wears garish neckties, which makes him seem more normal. The beautiful Léa Drucker plays a DGSE psychiatrist with a top secret clearance. Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau) portrays a naïve but determined young undercover operative. The acting is first-rate and the spying seems realistic.

It’s available on iTunes. The first episode is free. Two more seasons are on the way. The series is in French with English subtitles.

Podcast Review: “Travel with Rick Steves”

Steves’s curiosity and enthusiasm for travel are infectious.

Travel with Rick Steves is a weekly one hour podcast with guest experts and callers about travel, cultures and people. This, in my opinion, is the best travel podcast.

Steves is well-traveled, bright, articulate, positive and most of all curious to learn about the world and the people who inhabit it. Although Steves’s guidebooks and organized tours focus on Europe, the podcast covers the world. Guests include authors and professional guides Steves uses for his tours and guidebooks. The information he provides is timely and accurate. For example, Steves has interviewed great authors such as Paul Theroux and David McCullough.

After listening to the interview of David McCullough, I was really charged up to get out and explore the world, in part because McCullough started his life and explorations in my hometown — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. McCullough has written extensively about the United States starting near home with the The Johnstown Flood. He’s also a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. That’s the caliber of guest Steves can corral. And he does it once a week.

Podcast Review: “Tips for Travellers”

Useful travel tips based on first-hand experience.

Gary Bembridge was born in Zimbabwe but has been based in London since 1987. He has travelled extensively for a quarter of a century. He used to be an executive for multi-national corporations, but since 2012 has been creating the Tips for Travellers podcast. Bembridge travels first-class, often on high-end cruise ships. But you don’t have to travel as he does to benefit from his podcasts. He provides very practical tips on what to see and do in destinations all over the world. Bembridge is candid and as best I can tell is not influenced by sponsors or free travel. Bembridge also has a helpful YouTube channel.