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Mediapro Studio, Directv’s ‘Side Games’ Season 2: Darker, More Ironic and Complex

MADRID — The beautiful game has just got dirtier. Produced by The Mediapro Studio and Directv Latin America, Season 1 of soccer crime thriller “Side Games” (“Todo por el juego”) proved a big swing for the Latin American pay TV/SVOD player, the most watched show on its bow on its premium pay TV service OnDirectv and SVOD offer Directtv Play.

Announcing this August its carriage of new OTT service Directv Go, the only DirecTV Latin American Original mentioned by Southern American pay TV service Roku was “Side Games.”

Released in Latin America on Oct. 21 and in Spain on Movistar+ from Sunday Nov. 3,  Season 2’s trawl through the sewers of the soccer business looks to raise the stakes, broadens the canvas and proves even darker.

Calparsoro has said that he always imagined “Side Games” as a four season series, though each season can be seen on its own. After sale to parts of Latin America, and a U.S. pick-up by Spectrum Originals, prospects for a third part look good.

Based on a novel by Javier Tebas, the high media-profile president of Spain’s LaLiga, and Pedro Torrens, and set at a bedraggled soccer club somewhere in Northern Spain which is battling to avoid relegation from Spain’s second division, “Side Games” stars Spain’s Roberto Enríquez as a principled real estate businessman who dreams of glory for his beloved Deportivo Leonés, which can come by ousting its president, shady businessman Fernando Saldaña.

That proves a Quixotic quest. Created by Argentine novelist Eduardo Sachieri, author of “the novel The Secret in their Eyes” and co-writer of the Oscar winning movie adaptation by Juan José Campanella, and Daniel Calparsoro, a muscular movie director of social issue action thrillers (“Salto al vacío”, “Guerreros,“ “Invasor”), “Side Games” also delivered an acid take on how to get ahead in soccer: Match-fixing, practiced in “Side Games” by a Latin gang and the Russian mob; blackmail, a speciality of Nuria Ballesteros, the local mayoress; framing; backhanders – Saldaña takes a cut of transfer fees; bribery, such as payment’s to Leonés’ manager to secure team selection; and, yes, even murder.

“The novel served to communicate the dark side of soccer which some people denied, and against which  a lot of advances have been made,” Tebas said at the Madrid press conference.

By the end of Season 1, when Hidalgo, now president, realizes he’s been set up to take the rap as the mafia moves into to buy up the club, the body count is six, his daughter a cocaine addict, and his lover in hospital in coma after an attack.

But now things get even darker. The big question of Season 1 was whether Hidalgo could save his club without losing his soul. In Season 2, that battle seemingly lost, he’s fighting for his skin, as an investigation closes in on the whereabouts of one Leonés players.

“The series never suggests all soccer is irreparably awful. Big soccer clubs develop algorithms to detect fraud. But it is based on facts, if fictionalized,” Calparsoro said at a press conference on Tuesday in Madrid, which screened Ep. 1 of Season 2.

“The characters have given up having qualms about what they’re doing, so the series has a larger sense of irony,” he added.

In Season 2, Ep. 1, the new stadium Hidalgo dreamed is still under construction. He is richer. But he’s also sold out.

“El Leonés is a clean and transparent club,” Hidalgo maintains. That’s even further from the truth. The corruption of Season 2 now broadens to take in money-laundering as the Russian mob reinvests ill-gotten gains in construction of a new stadium, then pulls it support to pressure Hidalgo into announcing the privatization of the club and its purchase by Russian-backed interests.

There’s also extortion. Their lives threatened, Hidalgo and his wife Mari Carmen have taken to hoarding club revenues in cash in a safe-room at their chalet so as to pay most of the income to the mob.

“Side Games” also suggests how to get ahead in premium TV as companies are asking how to profit from a huge demand for Spanish-speaking scripted in a still very competitive sector.

Todo por el juego

As Latin American viewers have come to accept accents from Spain, broadly from Ramon Campos’ “Gran Hotel,” in 2011, Spanish series are increasingly scaleable, made not just for Spain but the whole of the Spanish-speaking world.

“Whenever it’s organic, not unnatural to the plot, we’ll try to incorporate talent from Latin America, and in soccer there are thousands pf Latin American players in Spain,” The Mediapro Studio’s chief content officer Javier Méndez said at the press conference.

Season 2 adds more new characters from Latin America, such as a star striker played by Mexico’s Roberto Roman,  and Argentinians Agustín Pardella, Juan Martín Gravina and Noelia Castaño.

On Europe-Latin American productions, one key to series, as most The Mediapro Studio titles suggest, is the writers.

“Side Games” Season 2 is penned by Spain’s Abraham Sastre (“Victim Number 8,”), based out of The Mediapro Studio-owned Globomedia in Madrid, Calparsoro, German Aparicio (Atresmedia Studios/Onza’s “Pequeñas Coincidencias”) and Tom Fernández (¿Para Que Sirve un Oso?”). But Spain-based Argentine Alejo Flah is also on board as the number of  Latin American characters increases.

Since the lift-off of Spanish scripted drama in the mid-90s, Spanish scribes has been schooled in grabbing and keeping audience attention over 70-minute episodes. Aparicio, for example, co-wrote on “The Serranos,” co-showrun by “La Casa de Papel’s” Alex Pina. It has proved invaluable training.

“Side Games” Season 2 will also scale up, exchanging its original stadium setting of the Atletico de Madrid’s Vicente Calderón, now defunct, for the same club’s plusher but far more soulless Wanda Stadium.

In Season 2, every episode has an action action, though action is general is selective, said Calparsoro. Season 2 beginning with a frenetic bank robbery and motorbike escape  in Buenos Aires.. Shot via establishing and medium shots, the soccer match scenes moves look faster, the Wanda Stadium looks spectacular. “The second season will be more entertaining,” Calparsoro promised.

Above all, however, Season 2 drills down on character. In Madrid, Calparsoro said he generally liked establishing shots relating characters to environment but in Season 2 he used medium shots to focus on characters.

Hidalgo’s and Mayor Nuria Ballesteros’ – both fore-fronted in the credit roll,  as the development of complex, contradictory figures becomes one of the hallmarks of new premium scripted entertainment.

Nuria “has lost the love of her life, her father, is alone. She lives just for work, but has a huge number of problems and has lost the support of her political party and lives in fear” of the mafia, says actress Patricia Vico, who plays Ballesteros.

It’s a highly unstable mixture.

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