Leading the pack

Leading the pack

By Michael Pickard
May 23, 2024

In production

Matilha (Dogpack) creator Edgar Medina and executive producer Sigurjon Sighvatsson discuss the nature of spin-offs through this seven-part series, which follows the events of Portuguese drama Sul (South) but takes the story – and characters – in a new direction.

Whether they’re writing a book, a screenplay or a 10-part series, writers will often talk about the moment when their characters come alive on the page, taking on a life of their own and pushing the story in a new direction.

But when it comes to Portuguese series Matilha, the idea for the show came during production on 2019 drama Sul (South). It was then that supporting characters Matilha and Mafalda were lifted off the page by actors Afonso Pimentel and Margarida Vila-Nova – and creator Edgar Medina knew they deserved a show of their own.

Edgar Medina

Five years after Sul debuted, seven-part Matilha then launched on Portugal’s RTP in January this year before it also screened – under English title Dogpack – as one of the Berlinale Series Market Selects in February.

It follows the titular character, a good-hearted Lisbon criminal who is striving to build an honest life with his girlfriend Mafalda. But when the world of crime comes calling once again, the couple find themselves embroiled in the fallout from a robbery as the police begin investigating the discovery of a body.

“This is a spin-off from South, picking up with two of the secondary characters in a new show that happens after the events of South,” series creator and producer Edgar Medina tells DQ. “While we were making South, they were more or less demanding we continued to give life to them, so we made it happen.”

In fact, it was during the editing process that the idea for a spin-off first struck Medina. “I’m also a scriptwriter, and usually scriptwriters, when they see rushes, they get very mad because you are destroying their shows,” he continues. “On the contrary, I was enjoying a lot of what I was seeing, understanding the actors were appropriating the characters and the text was being respected. I was enjoying it a lot. During a night of bad sleep, they came to life.”

Where Sul told the story of a moody detective investigating the discovery of a series of corpses against the backdrop of Portugal’s economic recession, Matilha shines a light on the other side of the law as Matilha and Mafalda find they cannot escape their past.

“There was one bad night of sleep and I had more or less the entire thing,” Medina says of developing the story, which he wrote with Rui Cardoso Martins and Guilherme Mendonça. “The characters were already there. You have a struggling, hard-working woman with lots of bad luck. She was born into the less fortunate side of life and she wants a quiet life, kids and family, and then you have a guy of the same age whose biggest quality was loving her. He’s a guy all about shortcuts in life. Those were the characters from South, and I just thought about extreme situations to put them in.

Matilha focuses on two characters from Sul (South), including Afonso Pimentel as the good-hearted criminal of the title

“He promises to go straight and he fails, and he needs to run away. It was a very straightforward dramatic principle; it was very fast finding that, and then the events happened one after the other.”

“It’s the DNA of spin-offs that you have characters you spent a lot of time creating and then you can take them in different directions because you know the backstory,” says executive producer Sigurjon Sighvatsson (Candyman, Arlington Road). “That’s where I think Dogpack benefits, in that Edgar knew the characters but also knew where he wanted to take them. You can say what you like about spin-offs, but that is the advantage, like the advantage of soaps. You know the characters.”

Produced and distributed by Medina’s Arquipélago Filmes, Matilha doesn’t just follow on from the events of Sul. The series also stands apart stylistically, with a faster narrative that is full of action-packed sequences.

“There was a concern with the storytelling [link] between South and Dogpack, because Dogpack is faster and tighter than South was. So the biggest difference I notice is in that narrative way, and that was intentional. They come from completely different styles,” Medina says.

“South was a melancholic film noir. It was also a love letter to my city, which I felt was changing very fast. The IMF [International Monetary Fund] had just entered the country to make financial cuts. People felt their lives and their jobs were in jeopardy. Things were closing. At the same time, tourism started to appear in Lisbon. We had this desire to make the show as it was, about a city.”

Opposite Pimentel is Margarida Vila-Nova as Matilha’s girlfriend Mafalda

“What I liked about South was it was a love letter to Lisbon. Dogpack is more about the characters. That’s why the show is more focused in that sense,” Sighvatsson adds.

Yet the show still defies definition – and that is what the producers believe makes the series stand apart from its predecessor and other crime series. “It’s not really a cop show, it’s not really a whodunnit, it’s not really a heist and not really a relationship drama, but it’s all of those,” the exec notes. “That’s why it’s a bit of a genre-bender, and that’s what I think makes the show very interesting.

“Everybody’s looking for the next noir. Is Nordic noir dead? Do you want a procedural, which are coming back? I don’t know they went away, they just made some bad ones and people turned off. What is great about this show is it’s really a character show. In the end, people are tuning in to see people, but it has all these other elements, which is what makes the show great.”

tagged in: , , , , , , ,