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What This Year’s Canneseries Says About Current High-End Series

CANNES — The 2nd Canneseries festival ended Wednesday. Variety asks what this year’s second edition says about the current state of high-end drama series production.


The 2nd Canneseries had no competition title with the profile of “Killing Eve,” its standout last year. A world premiere screened out of competition as the last series in the whole festival, where it met with some thunderous applause, “Years & Years,” a BBC-Canal Plus-HBO production showrun by U.K. industry heavyweight Russell T. Davies, does have that stature, and the potential to be one of the major drama series of 2019.

The Canneseries Competition ran a wide gamut –  from genre (“Outbreak”) to drama (“Bauhaus”), drama-thrillers (“The Twelve”), near future low-fi (“The Feed”), dramedies and comedies, Canneseries artistic director Albin Levi pointed out.

As far as its competition goes, the festival’s major achievement this year was its bet on a growing brand of comedic realism. “Nehama,” “Studio Tarara” and “Perfect Life” were among the best received, if not the best received of competition contenders. All brought a bracing sense of reality – whether women’s sexuality, a father’s inadequacies, or toxic masculinity – to their narratives – opening them up to  a dazzling range of genres and tones: Drama, tragedy, pathos and bathos.

Best series winner “Perfect Life” deals in “a very modern, not on the nose way, with gender issues but also has entertainment, is very interesting, funny and has emotional characters,” said Official Competition jury president Baran bo Odar, co-showrunner of Netflix hit “Dark.”

From just two episodes viewed at Cannes, it is hard to predict where these series will go next, which of course is a virtue. The Canneseries comedy focus ties in with larger market trends. In Last year, five comedies, up from just one in 2016, bowed No.1 in their respective ratings charts around the world in 2018, according to a Eurodata TV and Tape Consultancy presentation at MipTV, “Cracking Audience Trends.: These include “Roseanne” in the U.S. and Canada, Spain’s “Welcome to the Family” and Australia’s “Young Sheldon.”


What’s the major drama series trend this early 2019? “Women on the verge” The Wit’s Virginie Mousseler proclaimed to a packed Palais des Festivals Grand Auditorium at Wednesday’s Fresh TV Fiction. “Women on the verge, of nervous breakdowns of course, and on the verge of rage and on the verge of taking power,” she added, citing a dozen or so examples, including ITV’s “Manhunt,” Nine Network’s “Bad Mothers,” Mediaset España’s MipDrama Buyers’ Summit winner “Dangerous Mothers,” Viaplay’s “Honor” in Scandinavia and Globoplay’s “Aruanas” in Brazil. The same could be said about 2019 Canneseries. Of its winners, Movistar +’s “Perfect Life” has three close women friends – the actresses’ chemistry won them a special performance award – battling gender stereotypes; HOT’s “Nehama,” confronts its male protagonist – hilariously, sadly-  in a classic female predicament, juggling career as a standup with raising children; “Bauhaus – a New Era” comes in at the origins of the art school not from the POV of famed founder Walter Gropius but a female student, Dörte Helm, whom Gropius cast aside. There’s even a suggestion in courtroom thriller “The Twelve” that the accused guilt, or not, and the jury’s decision will be linked in some way to gender issues.


Gurinder Chadha’s “Beecham House,” or at least Ep. 1. showcased out of competition at Canneseries, begins with extraordinary shots of 1795 Delhi, every one totally composed, using a different color palette.“Vernon Subutex,” the Cannes series opener, and one of the biggest plays this year by France’s Canal Plus and Studiocanal, enrolls one of France’s biggest stars, Romain Duris, show runner Cathy Verney using his image as France’s on-screen Peter Pan, a man who refuses to give up on a glorious youth, to put through a re-reading of Virginie Despentes’ celebrated novel. Russell T. Davies’ anticipated “Years & Years,” the festivals closer, starts in a near future Britain, and then pushes forward down the years, tracing an extended family’s attempts to survive in a dauntingly disorienting new U.K.


A Cannes world premiere, Canneseries competition player “The Feed” is set in near future, which looks pretty much like the present, save for a major new technology, In Netflix’s third French original “Osmosis,” at Series Mania last month, it was the perfect dating app, locating soul mates; “Feed’s” is a memory bank, and imagination resource, accessible at the blink of an eye. But someone’s hacked into the system, inducing users to attack members of the Feed’s creators family or associates. Why the rage for near future thrillers? High-standard VFX is now accessibly economical. Sci-fi with substance attracts YAs and upwards.


Channeseries went out with a bang. Ep. 1 of “Years & Years” climaxed with a U.S. president, Donald Trump, not the heinous Russians, launching a nuclear bomb on China. “It’s as if the world is being reconquered by ignorance,” one character laments slightly earlier in “Years & Years,” after his boyfriend explains to him that the world might be flat. The family in the drama watch on befounded as a TV celebrity, played with gusto by Emma Thompson, launches her own political party, called 4 Stars after an F-word she uttered in an apparently celebrated incident on TV. We’re four stars but we want ti be five stars,” Thompson’s politician announces with unctuous self-satisfaction, as Yellow Jacket style demonstrations sweep Britain. Key series at Series Mania “Eden,” “Baghdad Central,” “Asylum City” – captured a zeitgeist of migration, dystopias, uncertainty, dislocation and pessimism. At Canneseries, multiple protagonists have to start out again, facing new eras in personal times, whether from the loss of a wife (“Nehama”), a girlfriend (“How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)”), or their life dreams (“Perfect Life”). Renewal can be beneficial. But old verities are slipping away.


The U.S., U.K. and France traditionally supply the most delegates to MipTV. But they didn’t supply most of Canneseries. The two countries with most competition entries were Germany (“Bauhaus – a New Era”; “How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)”) and Belgium (“”The Twelve,” “Studio Tarara”). Portaging the hard-drinking, hard-drugging cast and crew of a 1990s comedy sketch show, the latter was “brilliantly executed and very unseen dealing with a world that is not usually up there on the screen,” said Bo Odar, co-showrunner of Netflix hit “Dark.” Best screenplay winner “The Twelve” has “great actors and writers,” he added. Belgium burst onto the scene winning 2016’s MipDrama Screenings (“Public Enemy”) and Series Mania (“Hotel Beau Séjour”). Then came “13 Commandments,” now these hits. It seems unlikely to be going away any time soon.


This year’s short form series competition demonstrated the medium as yet another format for major talent to explore. Series featured A-listers in front of and behind the camera such as Jude Law, Monica Bellucci and Ralp Ineson, Australian comedy couple Adele Vuko and Christiaan Van Vuuren and Argentine film and TV Pilar Mirta Busnelli. “The main allure of short series making is simply the fact that it’s yet another way to tell stories,” said jury president Greg Garcia. He added that this years line-up was “as good as any long form show you might see, only shorter.”

Jamie Lang contributed to this article.  

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