Philharmonia, love it or hate it? Marie-Sophie Ferdane, playing Hélène Barizet with Tomer Sisley playing tech billionaire Rafaël Crozes

There’s a new argument dividing our household? Forget Brexit, Trump or whether social distancing is a hoax, this is the big question of the day:

Philharmonia, love it or hate it?

OK, let’s be honest from the start. Philharmonia is not Shakespeare. It calls itself a drama series, even a thriller, but it contains more soap than a packet of Daz.

Created by Marine Gacem, whose previous work was on the eccentric French policier Captain Sharif, this seven-part French TV series centres on the fictional Parisian classical orchestra of the title, which faces disaster when their conductor dies in mid-concert.

(There’s a lot of falling off podiums, be warned).

Cue Hélène, brilliant but wayward, pouting, Hermès-wearing conductor (conductress?) hired against the wishes of both the sly chauvinistic orchestra director and the musicians themselves.

To adapt a quote from Tootsie – this is one mad orchestra.

Hélène herself carries a hand-gun (why not? I’m sure Karajan would have loved to). She also has a 50% risk of a dastardly hereditary disease that send her mother loony (of course).

And a genius of a composer for a husband who’s nevertheless playing away with the French horn player.

Meanwhile the (gay) orchestra director is having an affair with the oboist, who is also dealing uppers and downers to the musicians, while he foments discord in the ranks and trying to steal the best players for an international tour of his own… do try to keep up at the back there!

Call it Belgravia with batons, Desperate Housewives with demi-semi-quavers.

Philharmonia, hate it

Yes, as I have been told, it’s not plausible. But then soaps are not plausible. That’s part of the point.

(And I speak as one who once directed episodes of a soap which included a fireman who got tangled up with a gangster, a body under the patio and a scene which got written and screened four different times in four different ways, because the script editors never noticed. Nor, I suspect did the viewers. I certainly never heard of any complaints).

Yes, in this one steamy orchestra, we meet an ensemble of soap clichés from surprise pregnancy and suspected murder to suspiciously handsome billionaires and unpredictable geniuses thwarted by small-minded bosses.

But tell me a soap that hasn’t!

Yes, when we actually get to hear the genius husband’s supposedly groundbreaking music it turns out to be rather pedestrian. But to be fair, that applies to just about every Hollywood movie where the eccentric genius composer finally gets to play his so-called masterpiece on screen.

(I imagine the phone call to the poor person composing the background music for the series: “Oh, when you have a moment, can you bang off a piece of amazingly groundbreaking music for episode two? Thursday will do.”)

Philharmonia, love it

Well, first of all, it sports some great music too – from Beethoven to Richard Strauss.

Then it provides a series of outrageously colourful subordinate characters.

I haven’t mentioned Hélène’s larger-than-life violin-maker father or hospital-bed-chewing diseased mother.

Or the impossibly chic bearded percussionist.

Then there’s the sultry ingenue violinist who looks to be in her teens yet is promoted to leader of the orchestra and can’t wait to get her kit off for the potential sponsor (the aforementioned handsome tech billionaire).

But what seals the deal is that the whole thing is made with – only the French word will do – panache.

If, like me, you twitch nervously at TV listings that use words like “gritty” (meaning depressing) or “realistic” (meaning very depressing), then your heart will sing at the sight and sound of Philharmonia.

And if not, well there’s always something gritty and realistic on the other channels.

Watch more

Catch Philharmonia on All-4

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