As most industry folk are unable or unwilling to travel for the present, Variety asked its team of international correspondents to highlight a selection of key scripted shows from around the world. The picks — all set to drop this summer or fall — are designed to appeal to those of an adventurous disposition.
From the U.K. come three shows: a paranormal comedy-drama from Nick Frost and Simon Pegg; a comedy about “a bad person who’s a good mother” from Canadian-born Katherine Ryan; and a submarine-set murder mystery, written by BAFTA-nominated screenwriter Tom Edge.
Another series about a murder that took place on a submarine, this time based on a grisly real crime, looks at the investigation in Denmark into the murder of journalist Kim Wall.
From France comes a playful show about a cross-dressing detective, set in Paris during the Jazz Age, from the producers of “Call My Agent!”; while a French-Israeli fantasy-infused psychological thriller is influenced by “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Spanish-language drama is represented by a series about a gender-crime police unit in Chile, from the team that made “A Fantastic Woman”; and a drama about the Basque conflict in Spain, nurturing hopes for reconciliation in a story described as a “journey toward an embrace.”
Other shows on offer include the latest work from Japanese horror-meister Koji Suzuki, creator of “Ringu”; a psychological thriller set in a remote coastal town in New Zealand; and a thriller about an Israeli secret agent in Tehran from the writer of Netflix’s “Fauda.”
“Parasite” actor Park So-dam appears in a tale about young people grappling with South Korea’s rigid class system; and China delivers an American-style, fast-paced drama. Leo Barraclough
Born ChildIntl. distribution: Fuji Television Network
It’s been two decades since “Ringu,” Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror film about a cursed videotape that brings death to anyone who watches it, shocked audiences around the world. Based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, “Ringu” launched the J-horror boom of scary movies from Japan, many inspired by the prolific Suzuki’s fiction, including “Ringu 2,” “Dark Water” and last year’s “Sadako,” whose title ghost also featured in “Ringu.”
Now Suzuki is back with the original story for “Born Child,” a horror series that Fuji TV On Demand, the streaming service of the Fuji Television Network, will drop on July 18.
The 10-episode drama stars Misato Morita, who made her international breakthrough in the Netflix hit “The Naked Director.” She plays Nao Imaizumi, an obstetrics nurse who works in a declining and troubled suburban hospital. One day a pregnant woman is brought into the ER with cuts on her wrists. Recovering, she refuses to speak and looks at everyone with a strange, unsettling smile. What, Nao wonders, is her secret?
“There are many fans of Japanese horror, including those who watch J-horror content on streaming services,” says Kazuyuki Shimizu, the show’s producer. “So we had Koji Suzuki, who authored the source material for such J-horror hits as ‘Spiral’ and ‘Ringu,’ to write the original story of ‘Born Child.’ The now-completed series opens up new possibilities for the horror genre.” — Mark Schilling
Intl. distribution: Netflix
Canadian-born comedian Katherine Ryan has been a mainstay on U.K. panel shows such as “8 Out of 10 Cats” and “Have I Got News for You” for years, often livening up dry British sensibilities with a refreshing brand of confessional comedy. But after years on the panel show and standup circuit, Ryan realized her message had outgrown the studios and comedy clubs.
“You can’t always get your whole story across with punchlines in a club setting,” says the London-based comic. “I’ve always really admired people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig — people who make an audience laugh across all different mediums. It was a new challenge for me.”
Ryan began penning scripts in 2018 for “The Duchess,” a six-part comedy about a “fashionably disruptive” single mother living in London who is weighing a second child with her ex. Netflix, which had worked with Ryan on two standup specials already, commissioned the project with producer Clerkenwell Films on board — in many ways, a perfect fit for a platform trying to cultivate a strong U.K. viewership with global-facing talent.
The series, which launches on Netflix in September, is based on a “staged version” of Ryan, who took inspiration from her own experiences, particularly as a single mother.
“‘The Duchess’ is a story of a woman who rejects all the societal pressures that are put on her,” Ryan says. “She’s made mistakes before, and doubles down and makes them again in her quest to grow her unique shape of a family.”
The comedian describes her protagonist as a “bad person who’s a good mother” — a character that adds to a growing array of layered, complicated female leads on TV.
“I don’t think we see enough of them. We’re told [female leads] have to be likable. But how likable was Tony Soprano?” asks Ryan. “He was out there doing mobster things and murdering people. I just wanted this woman to be very fashionable and kind of a narcissist.” Manori Ravindran
Game ChangerIntl. distribution: HiShow Entertainment
HiShow Entertainment’s “Game Changer” could be just that. While most Chinese TV exports fall into the costume drama or factual categories, “Game Changer” has a chance of being one of the few contemporary mainland Chinese drama shows that find an audience with oveseas viewers.
That is partly the result of a calculated change of direction taken by HiShow, which is better known as a theatrical distributor and an importer of international festival movies. The company spotted a growing appetite for quality long-form series on the part of China’s streaming platforms.
But that trend, toward what Chinese distributors define as “American-style series,” was accelerated by the coronavirus lockdown. Where 80 episodes would be more typical of a major Chinese show, 10-13 episodes might be typical of a season of a U.S. show. “Game Changer,” which is set in the crisis management arm of a public relations firm, weighs in at 40 episodes. That allows the writers to dabble in some of the emotional intrigues that Chinese audiences expect, while still keeping the story moving along at a decent clip.
“We want this to be an American-style, fast-paced drama, where problems get resolved, typically, within three episodes,” says Wang Haiyi, HiShow’s head of international business.
The company has given itself a good shot at achieving that, employing an A-list director and cast. The show is the first contemporary series to be made by Hui Kaidong, who previously made “Story of Yanxi Palace,” the biggest TV hit of 2018 and one of China’s all-time top series.
The cast is headed by Huang Xiaoming (“American Dreams in China,” “The Bravest”), who stars as a journalist-turned-publicist, alongside Tan Zhuo (“Dying to Survive,” “Story of Yanxi Palace”), Cai Wenjing and Zhang Bo.
“Game Changer” is being lined up as one of the end-of-year flagship shows for Alibaba-owned streamer Youku, and HiShow is fielding offers from China’s terrestrial networks for a fall premiere. Patrick Frater
Intl. distribution: eOne
Set in Paris during the 1920s, “La Garconne” (pictured) follows Louise Kerlac (played by Laura Smet), who assumes the identity of her twin brother, Antoine, in order to become a detective, as women cops were not permitted. In the evenings, she transforms into Gisele, a glamorous flapper, who infiltrates the bohemian nightlife. As both personas, she sets out to solve a murder mystery. The show is produced by Aurélien Larger and Harold Valentin at Mother Production, the producers of Netflix series “Call My Agent!”
One of the reasons the ’20s was chosen was because it was a “magical period,” Larger says, when all types of creative and diverse people converged in Paris. The main thread running through the show is the story of the sister and brother, who both want to break free from their assigned roles, Valentin says.
Larger says they adopted a “playful” approach to the crime genre, as well as introduced unusual characters celebrating the “neurotic pleasures” of life.
“The 1920s were a very playful time when everyone was a bit wild. There was a joy that we wanted to keep at the core of the show.”
In one scene Louise is at a Dadaist party with everyone dressed in bizarre costumes, but at the same time she is in the jaws of danger. “For the viewer it is nice to be in a very playful place, but also in a very dangerous one,” Valentin says. Leo Barraclough
The InvestigationIntl. distribution: Fremantle
When “The Investigation” writer-director Tobias Lindholm (“Borgen,” “Mindhunter”) heard of the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall in 2017, his immediate reaction was “to look away” due to the “extreme cruelty” of the crime. “I did not look back until I met the chief investigator, Jens Møller, and became aware of how methodically and persistently he and his team had worked on this case, until only the clear truth remained,” says Lindholm. He was driven to meticulously portray the work of all the detectives, divers, first responders, scientists and prosecutors.
Dubbed “The Submarine Case,” the complex investigation into Wall’s murder was initially perceived as an impossible case due to the lack of a body, motive and murder weapon. The young journalist disappeared in 2017 after visiting a submarine in Copenhagen to interview its owner, the entrepreneur Peter Madsen, and her body was later found dismembered in different locations around the area.
Lindholm made the series in close cooperation with Møller, as well as Wall’s parents.
Although it is a crime series, the show focuses on the investigation rather than the murder or its perpetrator. “’The Investigation’ is not drawn by the darkness. It is not about death. It is about the will to survive. It is not about the perpetrator. It is about the people who solved the case, found each other in the darkness and fought their way back to the light.”
“The Investigation” was produced by Fremantle’s Miso Film, in co-production with Outline Film for TV 2 Danmark, SVT and Viaplay. Fremantle has completed deals with both BBC in the U.K. and Mediengruppe RTL in Germany. Elsa Keslassy
The PackIntl. distribution: Fremantle
An Amazon Original in Latin America and Spain, few series mark so many firsts as crime thriller “The Pack” — or show how recent much of the explosion in premium international drama series really is.
Headlining “A Fantastic Woman’s” Daniela Vega and Antonia Zegers as members of a gender-crime police unit, “The Pack” reps Amazon’s first locally produced Amazon Original in Chile, plus the first fruit of a first-look alliance between distributor Fremantle and Chilean producer Fabula, headed by Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín (“A Fantastic Woman”), and Fabula’s first international drama series.
Tracking the unit as it races to find a schoolgirl whose gang rape has gone viral online, “The Pack” is also a move by showrunner Lucía Puenzo (“The German Doctor”) to channel feminist issues via edge-of-the-seat mainstream entertainment.
“ ‘The Pack’ [is] an explosive thriller where many things happen at once. There’s a missing woman, mystery, and the series meets the requirements of the crime genre, but at the same time it has depth,” says Ángela Poblete, Fabula’s head of TV and “The Pack’s” producer.
That depth, she adds, “is linked to the fact that the series deals with gender violence in its multiple expressions. The culture of rape is central, but so are sexism, workplace discrimination and abuse. These are highly relevant issues in Latin America and the world.” John Hopewell
PatriaIntl. distribution: HBO Europe
HBO Europe’s signature Spanish series, “Patria,” adapts Fernando Aramburu’s 646-page best-selling novel that asks if, after a six-decade-long Spain-ETA conflict that has killed more than 1,000 people, can there be any forgiveness. The question, of course, resonates in any polarized country around the world.
“Patria” turns on 60-something Bittori, who has cancer. She returns to her native village in verdant Gipuzkoa, part of the Basque Country, and seeks reconciliation with her best friend, Miren, after they were torn apart by the Basque conflict.
Screen time is crucially given to a swathe of characters on both sides of the political divide, including Miren’s son Jose Mari, an ETA member seen suffering police torture, but who may have killed Bittori’s husband, a local businessman.
“Jose Mari is unbearably human,” says “Patria” creator and writer Aitor Gabilondo. “That’s the problem. Thinking that terrorists lack sentiments allow us to digest their acts. Seeing that they do disturbs and discomforts us.”
“Patria” marks “the journey toward an embrace,” Gabilondo says. Its obstacles are “so many and so painful for both women, inevitably prompting questions: Is it better to remember or forget? What should you do? I’m very moved by what they do at the series’ end.”
HBO Europe originally intended to debut “Patria” on May 17 day-and-date in the U.S. and 61 countries in Europe and Latin America, in a first for the company, reflecting the scale and ambition of the show. However, coronavirus halted post-production and a new air date, later in the year, is going to be announced. John Hopewell
Intl. distribution: Studiocanal
Bringing together Israeli and French creatives, “Possessions” is a fantasy-infused psychological thriller “looking at how traditions and family rituals influence us and control our lives,” says Shachar Magen (“Sirens”), who created and co-wrote the series in collaboration with Valérie Zenatti (“A Bottle in the Gaza Sea”).
Directed by Thomas Vincent (“Bodyguard”), “Possessions” follows a young French expatriate in Israel who is charged with the murder of her husband on their wedding night. Karim, a French diplomat in charge of helping immigrants in difficulty, slowly falls for Natalie and dives into her and her family’s mysterious past. “Possessions” was filmed in Israel and shot in French, Hebrew and English.
“It’s not a regular detective story, it’s a combination of lots of genres,” Magen says. “The series explores the story of this family of French expats with Tunisian origins in Israel.”
The backdrop of the show also plays an important role in the story, which unfolds in the south of Israel. “It’s a rough place near the border where Jewish and Arab communities live,” says Magen.
The series’ “strongest influence is ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ in the way that it weaves fantasy and realism, leaving you wondering if what you’re seeing is true or not.”
The series is headlined by a prestigious cast including Reda Kateb (“Close Enemies”), Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Ariane Ascaride, Judith Chemla and Tchéky Karyo. It is produced by Haut et Court TV, co-produced by Quiddity for Canal Plus and Yes TV Israel. Elsa Keslassy
Record of Youth
Intl. distribution: Netflix
In today’s South Korea the “spoon-class theory” is widely gaining currency. Originating from the English idiom “to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth,” the theory maintains that your position in society is determined by how rich your parents are, and that you cannot cross the class divide no matter how hard you work.
“In a society where social and economic backgrounds matter more than individuals’ effort in achieving success, ‘Record of Youth’ will tell the story of young people from different backgrounds growing up together,” says director An Gil-ho (“Stranger,” “Memories of Alhambra,” “Watcher”).
“This story, which revolves around people in their youth as they fall into conflicts while also comforting each other in the process of growing pains, will bring joy to the audience,” says An.
An says the love story between two lead characters, played by “Parasite” actor Park So-dam and Park Bo-gum, is the most interesting aspect of the series. Park So-dam plays a makeup artist who falls in love with an ambitious model-turned-actor. “They first meet as a fan and a star but it develops into a love relationship, which later collides with the real world they each belong to,” An says.
“Record of Youth” will debut on CJ ENM’s tvN channel in South Korea in the second half of 2020, while Netflix will stream the series in other territories. Sonia Kil
Intl. distribution: All3Media Intl.
Sarah-Kate Lynch, a novelist and scriptwriter, came up with the idea for fast-paced psychological thriller “The Sounds” when she was on holiday on a boat off the coast of Turkey, and woke to find her husband had disappeared.
She spun that incident into a missing-person mystery, set in a beautiful yet-down-at-its-heels harbor town in her native New Zealand. Tom and Maggie, a Canadian couple, seemingly in love, move to this sleepy corner of the world. After almost 20 years of marriage they have decided to escape Tom’s bullying wealthy father, and move to New Zealand to set up a salmon fishery, and achieve independence. The townsfolk are suspicious of outsiders, but Tom’s charm wins them over. But then he vanishes, and Maggie starts to question whether she knew him as well as she thought she did.
Lynch says she may have been influenced by “Big Little Lies,” which was airing its first season when Lynch was writing her show. She also compares it with Scandinavian thrillers set in stunning locations where “everything is simmering beneath the surface.”
She previously adapted another novelist’s thriller, “The Bad Seed.” Writing thrillers can be complicated, she says. “One thing I didn’t understand before I started working on thrillers is you need to be really clever to beat the police. You need to keep the audience on the ride, and not guessing everything. It is hard to stay one step ahead.”
Acorn TV has secured all rights in the U.S., Ireland, and U.K.; secondary rights in Australia; and home entertainment and non-exclusive SVOD rights in New Zealand. CBC has the Canadian broadcast rights, while Acorn TV has the home entertainment rights. Leo Barraclough
TehranIntl. distribution: Apple TV Plus/Cineflix Rights
Espionage thriller “Tehran” centers on a young Mossad agent, Tamar, who infiltrates Tehran to hack into Iran’s anti-aircraft system so Israeli warplanes can destroy a nuclear plant. When her mission fails, with an Iranian spy catcher on her trail, she hides among the young opponents of the regime and falls in love with one of them. “Tamar is a damsel in distress, but this damsel is a really tough cookie,” says director Daniel Syrkin.
“Tehran,” created by Moshe Zonder, who wrote the hit Netflix Original series “Fauda,” shows the underground scene in Tehran. “The heart of the show and the one thing I was most curious about is the life of the young people in Tehran, who are opposed to the ayatollah regime,” Zonder says.
The drama operates within “the realm of the senses,” Syrkin says. “Tehran, this amazing, beautiful city, is a trap for this Israeli, but also it’s a passionate place … full of vivid colors.
“We wanted to show both sides. There are no good guys and bad guys. The reality in the show is complex, as in life,” Zonder says.
“It always interests me to write about the other, including whoever is defined as your enemy, who wants to kill you. … Learn about your enemy and then try to cross the lines and meet him. Doing it will always make him human and may break apart prejudice.” Leo Barraclough
Truth SeekersIntl. distribution: Amazon Prime Video
Duos don’t get more iconic than Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. The best friends and creative partners have starred together in the famous Cornetto trilogy of “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), “Hot Fuzz” (2007) and “The World’s End” (2013), and launched production shingle Stolen Picture two years ago with Miles Ketley.
Paranormal comedy drama “Truth Seekers” is the first major project to emerge from the Sony-backed production company, with Amazon Prime Video quickly snapping up international rights last year. The platform will launch the show as an original this fall.
Years in the making, “Truth Seekers” finds Frost playing Gus, one half of a ghost-hunting duo that teams up to expose and document paranormal activities around the U.K. Pegg also stars in the show.
“Gus works for a Sky-style mega-tech company and he’s lost his wife and turned to searching the paranormal for a chance to potentially find her again,” Frost explains. “He’s a very lonely man. And then he finds a guy named Elton, who comes to work with him.”
Together, the pair stake out haunted churches, underground bunkers and abandoned hospitals using homemade ghost detectors, all while documenting their escapades online.
However, the further they dig into the paranormal, the scarier their experiences become as they inch closer to uncovering a conspiracy that could threaten the entire human race.
If it sounds surprisingly hair-raising for a comedy, that’s the idea. The show is styled as a more complex, contemporary comedy offering that Frost describes as sometimes “bleak” in nature.
“’Truth Seekers’ is a lot more than a comedy,” Pegg says. “It defies the definition by having more nuance.”
“It’s like ‘Sanford and Son’ meets ‘The X-Files,’” quips Frost.
But then again, the streamers allow for such experimentation. “The delineation is becoming very blurred,” Pegg says. “You can have something that is moving and affecting and funny all at once.” Manori Ravindran
Intl. distribution: ITV Studios
In this thriller, police detective Amy Silva, played by Suranne Jones, investigates the mysterious disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler and a death on a nuclear-armed submarine. This brings her into conflict with the British navy and security services.
BAFTA-nominated writer Tom Edge (“The Crown”), who wrote and created the series, says of the unusual setting: “These submarines have two fundamental tasks: be ready to unleash astonishing violence and, until such an order is received, to remain hidden — undetectable.
I thought that might neatly echo the task of a murderer, eluding detection amongst the crew, and poised to kill strategically if required.”
When Silva comes on board the submarine to investigate the death “the rules and rhythms that make patrols bearable are torn to pieces,” Edge says.
She is “the embodiment of the disruption, as well as being the person charged with restoring order.” On the craft, Silva is “shorn of the usual supports — colleagues, kit, ready access to information and records — and is placed into the most psychologically demanding environment.” Her thoughts drift to all the things that have gone unsaid before she came aboard — between her and an ex-lover, and to the child she loves but has no legal right to. “As pressure mounts, and Amy comes to suspect that the lives of everyone on the boat are in jeopardy, she struggles to sustain a division of the personal and the professional,” Edge says. Leo Barraclough