Anyone who claims to have foreseen the great worldwide success of the Netflix series “Lupine” is probably engaging in a bit of revisionist history.
When the five-episode first episode was released on January 8, the show crew were hopeful that “Lupine” would do well enough in his home country, France, where the title – a reference to a popular hero from the early twentieth-century novels – would ring at least one bell, and where its star, Omar Sy, regularly tops the most popular celebrity polls.
“At first, we just focused on finding a story that would resonate with our subscribers in France,” Damien Couvreur, head of original series for Netflix France, said in a video chat. (Most of the interviews for this article have been translated from their original French.)
But “Lupine” exploded out of the gate, instantly becoming a global phenomenon and ultimately Netflix’s most-streamed non-English original. Now, a new five-episode bundle – Part 2, as Netflix calls it – has arrived and is available worldwide on Friday. For a show with modest expectations, the release of its latest installment could be the TV event of the summer.
“As a British man you just think, ‘I might believe that when I see it’ – you don’t want to be turned on,” creator and showrunner George Kay said of the success of Part 1. “We have a very good balance across the world in terms of response, which I understand is quite unusual for Netflix shows,” he added, noting the regional targeting of much of his programming.
Equally surprised was 16-year-old Mamadou Haidara, who made his screen debut playing the teenage version of Sy’s character Assane Diop in flashbacks.
“I didn’t see anything coming,” he said in a video conversation from outside his house in Vitry-sur-Seine, in the Paris suburbs. “I saw Twitter and Instagram go up and up – I loved it. I thought the show would do like any other show. But to go crazy like this? I never imagined it. (It’s a safe bet that he also never imagined that Netflix would start selling “Lupine” branded cushions.)
That “Lupine” infiltrated and took off with the screen time of the planet is entirely appropriate: after all, Assane learned from his literary hero, the dashing “gentleman thief” Arsène Lupine, that to operate at plain sight may be the best way to avoid attention. Sy illustrated this idea in a publicity stunt in January, in which he placed a poster of the series in a Paris metro station – wearing a mask for Covid-19, but still.
A major asset to the show is that it is unabashedly family-friendly, which mattered a lot in a time when many countries were stranded and people were stuck at home.
“I was very moved to see my son and my father watching something together,” said Clotilde Hesme, who plays Juliette Pellegrini, a coldly elegant mermaid inclined to flirt with Assane. “I loved seeing this kind of family entertainment done well.”
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Couvreur, of Netflix France, said that another of the show’s strengths is that it doesn’t seek to sand down its Gallic specifics. “That’s how you create stories that travel the world: they’re authentic,” he said, quoting the Mexican series “Who Killed Sara?” and the German series “Barbarians” as other examples of Netflix shows that are steeped in local cultures and operate in many countries.
Just as “The Queen’s Gambit” boosted sales of chess sets, “Lupine” rekindled interest in the original books by Maurice Leblanc, which have been in the public domain since 2012.
Hachette, the main Leblanc publisher in France, contacted Netflix several years ago after seeing a news item on the series in preparation. Cécile Térouanne, CEO of Hachette Romans, recalls that the streamer kept a veil on the show, sharing only screenshots of Lupin’s book that Assane inherits from his father, Babakar (Fargass Assandé), then transmits to his own son, Raoul (Etan Simon).
“In January, we released an edition of ‘Arsène Lupine, Gentleman Thief’ with the same cover, like something people would have in their library,” Térouanne said in a video interview. “We didn’t know what to expect, so we printed 10,000 copies. To date, she said, around 100,000 copies have been sold and 170,000 printed. “He shows no sign of stopping,” she added.
To coincide with the new episodes, Hachette is reissuing Leblanc’s novel “The Hollow Needle” – again, with the same basic cover design as Babakar’s book in the series, but in blue. “We said to ourselves: ‘This is great, we’re going to do them all!’ ”Térouanne said with a laugh. “But we can only use the Netflix brand for the first two. For now at least. She said sales had also increased internationally, with a Korean publisher showing interest in replicating the cover seen in the series, followed by houses in Italy, Spain, Poland and Portugal.
(A Netflix success does not automatically translate into book sales: the “Unorthodox” series did well in France but Térouanne said Hachette sold around 6,000 copies of Deborah Feldman’s memoirs that inspired her, and approximately 4000 electronic copies.)
It wouldn’t be surprising if the lupine craze has also spurred tourism, now that travel is picking up. Some exhibition venues, such as the Louvre and Orsay museums, hardly need additional crowds. But the Normandy coastal town of Etretat has already seen an additional influx of people intrigued by the chalk cliffs and sharp rock formations that play a central role in Lupine’s myth and the bite that ends part 1 of the show, according to Eric Baudet from the local tourist office. Visitors can also visit Leblanc’s former home in Étretat, where he composed many Lupine stories; it is now a museum.
As for Kay, he does not have time to stroll in the French countryside. The writer is busy working on a real crime miniseries about Peter Sutcliffe, the 1970s serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper. “It turns the other half of my brain around and keeps me from getting too turned on by big, big things,” he said.
But yes, Kay is also developing the next album “Lupine”. “It was announced in a subtle way,” he said. “There are Easter eggs and clues buried there. Part 3 will be a start in a new series of adventures, and I’m looking to bring back even more fun from those early episodes.