When Paulo Duarte is found dead from a gunshot wound in the Spanish port of Vigo, nobody is convinced by his apparent suicide.
As his sister Teresa (Victoria Guerra) begins to investigate his death, she decides to move from Lisbon and accept a job in the company her brother was working for in an attempt to get to the truth, leading to the uncovering of an arms-trafficking network between Europe and Africa that is somehow linked to Mauro Galdón (Monti Castiñeiras), Teresa’s godfather.
In this DQTV interview, Portguese actor Guerra talks about the story at the heart of Spanish-Portuguese coproduction Agua Seca (Dry Land) and why she was keen to play Teresa, who she describes as a strong woman with a free spirit.
She also discusses the intensity of the filming schedule on the series, which is presented in Galician and Portuguese, and her experience working with director Toño Lopez.
Dry Water is produced by Portocabo and SP-i for TVG and RTP, and distributed by DCD Rights.
Portuguese crime drama Sul (South) places viewers in the sunlit heart of Lisbon through its stunning visuals and atmospheric soundtrack. DQ meets the cast and creative team behind the show.
A melancholic, broody soundtrack and sun-drenched, sepia-tinged lighting gives Sul (South) an instantly intriguing appearance that goes a long way towards characterising this nine-part series, one of the most ambitious ever to come out of Portugal.
Premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year ahead of its domestic debut on RTP, South tells the story of a moody detective investigating the discovery of a series of corpses against the backdrop of the economic recession that hit Portugal and many other European countries so hard a decade ago. On top of that is a Lisbon setting far removed from the picture-postcard landscapes viewers might more readily associate with the city, which only adds to the appeal and charm of the show.
“South comes from the desire to bring a film noir narrative to the city we live in and we love, Lisbon,” explains showrunner, co-writer and executive producer Edgar Medina. “It’s a very special and cinematic place, but the series also presents the opportunity to discuss the effects of the recent financial crisis in the country and tell a story about a police inspector who is disappointed with life until he becomes interested in an apparent suicide case. It starts unravelling a story of crimes motivated by financial and economical reasons.
“It is also like a trip into the darker side of Lisbon. South is an attempt to bridge the world of cinema and TV and create a high-quality international drama that belongs to a specific place, a Mediterranean country, and a topic that is very recent.”
The show’s music is provided by Portuguese band Dead Combo, adding a folksy, western-inspired layer to the series and reflecting Lisbon’s mellow nature. It’s here that Humberto, a seasoned detective, must fight corruption and track down a serial killer over a long, hot, paralysing summer.
Set in July 2013, the show opens with the discovery of a female body on a dock beside the River Tagus. Nihilistic and socially awkward inspector Humberto begins the inquiry into her death.
As the country faces meltdown, both economically and meteorologically, and the government teeters on the brink of collapse, more young women are discovered murdered with increasing brutality. Humberto’s search for the truth leads him to uncover an economic and political conspiracy, all while facing up to his disenchantment with his job and his failure to maintain a family.
Produced by Arquipélago Filmes for broadcaster RTP and distributed by Latido Filmes, the crime drama is directed by Ivo Ferreira, who previously teamed up with Medina on 2016 feature Cartas da Guerra (Letters from War), which was screened in competition at Berlinale the same year. This is his first TV series.
“I’m from Lisbon and this is a visit to a world and to a sombre country that is not seen by tourists. I was enthusiastic about the idea because we could actually work together to get an amazing cast and crew to do this,” Ferreira says. “It’s a portrait of the country on a personal level. We’re almost trying to understand who we are. It’s a detective story and it’s very Portuguese in the sense that it’s melancholic. So it was funny to touch on this in a TV series.
“It’s been very challenging. I joined the project later on but I knew Edgar and knew he trusted me. It was tough and intense but I brought some freshness to it that I wouldn’t have had if I had been working on it for two years.”
Medina, who co-wrote the series with Guilherme Mendonça, says a key reference for the series was life in Portugal during the economic crisis. “We really wanted to capture and portray some of the things we lived through – the disappointment, the way social services treated people, people getting evicted from their homes – and to meet all these new characters that live out of the crisis.”
Adriano Luz, an experienced star known for roles in Raiva (Rage) and Mistérios de Lisboa (Mysteries of Lisbon) plays Humberto alongside a supporting cast that includes Jani Zhao (Alice), Ivo Canelas (Pastor Santoro), Afonso Pimentel (Matilha), Margarida Vila Nova (Mafalda) and Nuno Lopes (Inspector Rebelo).
Luz describes the inspector as an “anti-hero” with a wistful nature. “He’s not a very physical guy, he’s like a philosopher. The mood of the series brings us to a feeling of sadness that was very strong in the times of the economic crisis.”
As Matilha, Pimentel is a con artist and thief who commits crimes just to survive and goes on to provide some unexpected help to Humberto. “He steals Humberto’s car,” the actor reveals. “He’s got a very strong relationship with his car – it’s like an extra character – and at some point, Humberto and my character meet up and he uses this small-time crook to break the law to solve a crime. That’s how they start this relationship.”
Another figure in Humberto’s life – his “right arm” – is his police partner Alice. “Their relationship is something that attracted me right away because we have a big difference in age,” Zhao says of the role. “It seems weird, and it was interesting for me to explore that. I help Humberto all the time, because I work by the book and I’m young, so I want to do the best I can. I’m pragmatic and firm and strict. Humberto is an old guy – he has experience, he knows what he’s doing and he’s been doing it for a long time. He’s not a patient guy at all. So we find each other in that difference.”
With 80 locations around Lisbon featuring in South, the creative team were clear in their approach to shooting the Portuguese capital. “People will recognise the city but there’s something different,” the director notes.
Actor Pimentel adds: “Nowadays you see this public Lisbon that is very touristy, but this isn’t what you see in the series. It’s more the Lisbon that we know. For the people who live there, it’s nostalgic. It’s really organic, it’s really cool.”
But while the location might seem eerily alien to outsiders, the genre and the screen trope of the disillusioned cop are familiar around the world. South, says Medina, is a universal story that becomes unique through its sense of place and time.
“Portugal is a small Mediterranean country so the series brings out our culture, music and other small parts of life. At the same time, the show also has a very crude sense of humour. It is a serious crime drama but it doesn’t take the characters too seriously. They make lots of errors, they do silly stuff.”
That the series was screened in Berlin is proof South stands alongside the top-quality TV dramas now being produced around the world. All eyes will now be on Portugal to see whether the country can follow Spain’s footsteps in establishing itself as a storytelling force on the international stage.
“We come from a very small country that doesn’t have the institutions that are able to support these kinds of projects,” Medina says. “So it’s very hard. We’ve started bringing TV series to the international stage, but we’re not trying to make a series like [US crime procedural] CSI. The only way you can be successful in the international market is if you bring something that is genuine and unique. This is a starting point.”
US premium pay TV channel Showtime is one of the most loyal commissioning networks in the world, revealing a willingness over the past few years to let its scripted series run and run.
Looking back at Showtime’s classic titles, for example, serial killer drama Dexter ran for eight seasons before it finished in 2014. And even then it might have continued had lead actor Michael C Hall not wanted to pursue other acting opportunities.
Nurse Jackie and Californication also lasted seven seasons on Showtime – an impressive performance in our short-attention-span society.
Looking at current shows, top performer Shameless was granted a seventh season earlier this year. And this week Showtime announced that it had greenlit seventh and eighth seasons of Homeland, the espionage series derived from Israel’s Prisoners of War (Hatufim). That news comes despite the fact that the sixth season of Homeland doesn’t premiere until January 2017.
Homeland, starring Claire Danes, looked as though it might be running out of steam at the end of season four and heading into season five. But a strong recovery in the back half of season five reaffirmed its versatility and its importance to Showtime’s schedule. The show will now run until at least 2019.
In parallel with the Homeland announcement, Showtime also announced that there will be a fifth season of Ray Donovan, which stars Liev Schreiber as a fixer for LA’s rich and famous. The show, which runs in batches of 12 episodes, is currently in the middle of season four and rating pretty consistently. With an average audience of around 1.2 million (same-day figure), it is currently the third best-performing drama in Showtime’s line-up.
Showtime’s other dramas aren’t as far advanced as these titles, but they all seem to be benefiting from similar support from the channel.
Billions, The Affair and Masters of Sex have all been renewed, while Penny Dreadful probably would have been if creator John Logan hadn’t decided to call it a day. Even House of Lies managed five seasons before cancellation, despite the fact its ratings were looking pretty limp by the end of season four.
Showtime’s willingness to back its dramas for extended runs will probably become an industry norm over the next few years. While it’s important to refresh schedules with new productions, the TV drama market is now so cluttered that established series with consistent audiences are worth their weight in gold.
The extent of the competitive challenge has been well documented by FX Networks president John Landgraf, who has used the last couple of Television Critics Association Summer Tours to unveil research into key trends in scripted TV. Last year, for example, he said the US industry was poised to have more than 400 original shows a year on air. This year, he revised that figure up to 500 originals a year.
In Landgraf’s view, this is too many to make economic sense, so he is expecting a crunch to come at some point. He backed up this view by saying that while the top 20% of scripted series average 10.5 million viewers, the bottom tier attracts a mere 380,000.
This brings us back around to Showtime and longevity. If you have a show that rates moderately well then it makes sense to keep it going as long as possible. Why cancel it and replace it with a new show that might end up in the uneconomic end of the spectrum? That would be like a supermarket deciding to eject Heinz and Persil from its shelves in favour of completely new brands.
The attraction of sustaining shows over several seasons is reinforced by the amount of money that SVoD players are now pumping into new content. With Netflix spending around US$6bn a year on content and Amazon aiming to triple the number of new shows it has on its platform, long-running scripted franchises become even more important –which is why we’re seeing more of a trend towards multi-season commissioning.
Of course, this doesn’t mean networks should stick with every series regardless of ratings. Some series simply aren’t very good and need to be killed off so others can bloom. But as far as possible, networks need to be launching series that can last. This is why we are seeing such a strong trend towards IP that is already known (film and TV reboots, books, comics) and the use of talent packages that audiences are likely to respond well to. Anthologies and series spin-offs reinforce this overall trend.
Showtime’s key rivals are not quite as advanced in the longevity stakes but they are moving a similar way. FX, for example, reached seven seasons with Sons of Anarchy and looks like it will hit a similar mark with American Horror Story. There is now also talk of a Sons of Anarchy prequel.
Starz, meanwhile, is putting its shoulder behind Power and Outlander. At AMC, The Walking Dead has hit the magic seven and Fear The Walking Dead may eventually go the same way. Mad Men reached seven seasons and so did Breaking Bad if you count in its spin-off Better Call Saul.
Netflix has commissioned as far as seven seasons of Orange is the New Black and USA Networks has taken its hit show Suits to seven seasons. HBO’s Game of Thrones will go at least as far as eight seasons and it would be a major surprise if the network gives up there (some kind of spin-off must surely be in the works).
Elsewhere in a quiet week for scripted series, BBC2 in the UK has acquired the second season of French period drama Versailles, which will air on the channel next year. The first series rated well on BBC2 and has sold extensively around the world. In the US, it is soon to air on Ovation while distributor Zodiak Rights has also licensed it into around 130 countries. In addition, SVoD platform Netflix picked up second-window streaming rights in the US.
Also in the news this month, Portuguese public broadcaster RTP is working with producer BeActive on a drama set in the world of electronic sports. Called The Players, the series follows a group of friends as they journey to the European championship finals of League of Legends, a popular online video game. BeActive claims it is the first scripted series to focus on the world of e-sports. That’s interesting given our column last week on the role of sport in scripted TV.