‘Shadows’ Spotlights HBO’s Growing Slate in Central, Eastern Europe

CLUJ, Romania–HBO Europe’s Romanian crime drama “Shadows” (Umbre) is returning for Season 3, with the first episode world premiering June 6 at the Transilvania Intl. Film Festival.

A hit adaptation of the Australian drama “Small Time Gangster,” from writer-director Bogdan Mirica, “Shadows” is the story of a rough-edged taxi driver and family man who leads a double life in Bucharest as a debt collector for the mob.

Antony Root, HBO Europe’s executive VP of programming and production, describes it as “a mature, fascinating piece of filmmaking, and distinctive in exactly the way that I think HBO shows need to be distinctive, wherever they are.”

“Shadows” is the latest series to launch from the cabler’s growing slate of central and eastern European premium dramas. The six-episode season will be released across all 21 HBO Europe territories this fall.

Season3 picks up with the taxi driver Relu (Serban Pavlu) struggling to balance his obligations to the family and the mob, as his two lives become increasingly intertwined. After a tense showdown with Relu in Season 2, meanwhile, the unpredictable police investigator Emilian (Laurentiu Bănescu) is determined to put crime boss “The Captain” and all his associates – including Relu – behind bars. Mirica describes Season 3 of “Shadows” as “the craziest, and the boldest, and the ballsiest” yet.

While Mirica grew up with “profoundly violent” series like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” he says he drew on his own experiences while crafting the dark underworld of “Shadows.” “My childhood was pretty tough,” he admits, recalling an upbringing where street fights and worse forms of violence were the norm.

It wasn’t until adulthood that the complex moral universe of his formative years began to cohere, something Mirica has spent his career exploring on screen. “There is an innate violence that most people, civilized people, try to contain, but some others…have no problem in expressing it. It’s a language,” he says. “I have the feeling that anytime, any human being can take a really nasty turn and become someone else, and leave their moral values at the door. If they had any in the first place.”

Foreign audiences might be unfamiliar with the criminal underbelly of Bucharest, a grayscale city that stills wears the scars of the Soviet era on its sleeve. Yet Mirica thinks they’ve found a character they can relate to in Relu. “He knows the difference between right and wrong, but he’s always cornered, so he can’t make the proper choices all the time,” he says. “He’s trying to stay on the good side of things, but he’s just there on the edge. He’s walking this very, very thin line. I think this is something that you can really empathize with.”

In adapting the series from the Australian original, Root says Mirica “saw how he could make it into something Romanian and demotic, in its language and its cinematic language as well.” The director, whose feature debut “Dogs” screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in 2016, has been an HBO collaborator since the series’ 2014 premiere. “He represents everything that I’ve tried to get us to aspire to,” says Root.


Those aspirations are reflected in the company’s growing investment in central and eastern Europe, where the cabler this year is releasing Season 3 of its hit Polish drama “The Pack” and debuting the Czech spy series “The Sleepers.” Two other HBO Europe productions from the region, “Blinded By the Lights” (Poland) and “Success” (Croatia), rolled out this spring in the U.S., across the HBO Now, HBO Go, and HBO On Demand VOD platforms.

“I think the region is poised for the next step,” says Root. “The extraordinary thing about that part of the world is the depth of acting talent, and the depth of behind-the-camera talent.” Because of the large quantity of service work in Hungary and the Czech Republic in particular, he notes, “the level of expertise in the various departments is quite extraordinary. We benefit from that when we make a local show.”

Root credits HBO Europe with putting premium drama from the region on the map, alongside more established players like Scandinavia and Spain. “The buyers in the international market are already on the lookout for shows from those territories,” he says. “We with our distribution partners have to create the interest [in central and eastern Europe] in the buyer, and I think by and large we’ve done that.”

As for when viewers can look forward to a Czech or Polish “Casa del Papel,” Root says, “I’m quite certain there will be a show that pops internationally.”

He adds: “I hope it’s one of ours.”

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