Arsène Lupin is a character with a great deal of currency to the French; created by author Maurice Leblanc in 1905, this master thief-turned-detective, a master detective has anchored many short stories and films. None of this character’s history may be known to an American audience as they contemplate hitting play on Netflix’s new series “Lupin,” starring Omar Sy (“The Intouchables”) as a contemporary spin on the character; it shouldn’t stop anyone from checking out a propulsive and cleverly made piece of work about one great heist and its ongoing aftermath.
Sy, here, plays Assane Diop, a Senegalese immigrant whose father died as a result of a false accusation; working as a chauffeur for a wealthy Parisian family, this unlucky fellow was accused of stealing a necklace in their care, one that had belonged to Marie Antoinette. That this name suggests overtones of indolence and selfishness seems no mistake. Assane, who as a young man was given a Lupin book by his father, sets out to use craft and wit to claim the necklace and to do damage to the greedy and thuggish family (led by a patriarch played by Hervé Pierre).
Perception lies at the center of this story; Assane has trained himself to be a master of disguise, but he’s also unnoticed by a society that looks right past him. It’s a sharp way to ensure that the changes in the character are more than cosmetic. Further, treating the Lupin myth as inspirational to Assane rather than literally true grounds the story in a sort of reality, as do flashbacks to Assane’s friendship with the wealthy family’s daughter (Clotilde Hesme) and the present-day strained relationship with his ex-wife (Ludivine Sagnier). With this emotional heft serving as ballast, the extraordinary feats of Lupin, including the jewel heist depicted in the show’s first episode, sing all the more. (That first episode, along with the next two, was directed by Louis Leterrier, while Marcela Said handles the final two.) By the time the series gets to its cliffhanger fifth and final (for now) episode, the show’s all-out twistiness, as well as the grit of its leading man, recall “Bodyguard”; that cliffhanger will leave any viewer who’s taken the ride eager for more.