Starring “House of Flowers’” Paco Leon, produced by “Patria” showrunner Aitor Gabilondo for network Mediaset España, and written by “Elite” creator Darío Madrona, Disney Plus’ first Spanish original bows Friday in Spain on Star.
Billed as “a kind of ‘Love Actually’ in times of pandemic,” “Besos al Aire” weighs in as a two-part miniseries, crisscrossing eight stories of lockdown love sparked by Spain’s first – and worst – March 14-May 2 confinement. Though a romantic comedy, “Besos al Aire” looks likely to stand as the first big, scripted record of how Spaniards reacted to COVID-19. Though a pickup, not an original production, it may also say something about what Disney Plus and Star will produce or buy in Spain, and the state of Spanish drama series production in general. Five takes on the new series:
Broadcast Networks’ Role in the New TV Landscape
Since 2017, when Netflix and Movistar Plus released their first originals, the weight of scripted series production in Spain has shifted ever more toward pay TV and SVOD platforms. But free-to-air broadcast networks can still bring two things to the table. One is a mass audience sensibility, seen in “Besos al Aire,” which is straight-arrow family entertainment, a series which wears its heart on its sleeve, has clearly delineated sentiment, pointed up by score, mixes characters from aged 18 to 70 and advances story in every scene.
A second is mass audience reach. Pay TV and OTT household penetration runs at 35% and 33%, according to Omdia. Reaching all Spanish households, Mediaset España will also market “Besos al Aire” to the hilt. Catching it on Mediaset España, many viewers will be reminded it first screened on Disney Plus’ Star.
The Future of TV Is Glocal but Most Series Will be Local
Of non-English language series, Spain’s “Money Heist” has run up the second best first-month household figures for Netflix in history, after “Lupin.” Distributed by Méditerraneo Mediaset España Group, “Besos al Aire” will be aired on Disney Plus Star in most of Europe, plus Africa and Latin America. But platforms do not expect, or need, every series they produce to break out to huge figures abroad. Platforms, pay TV and networks’ first concern is that a series functions in its country of origin. “Besos al Aire” is a case in point. Set at a hospital, supermarket and apartment block, it is spangled by local detail: News footage of Health Minister Salvador Illa announcing lockdown; shots of iconic Madrid streets eerily empty a la “28 Days Later”; people taking to their balconies every day at 8 p.m. to applaud Spain’s hospital staff, which incurred the highest rate of infection of any health service country in Western Europe.
Paco León: Spain’s Biggest TV Talent?
Certainly, he’s up there, an all-rounder with Latin American profile – starring in Mexico’s “House of Flowers” and Colombia’s “Capital Noise” – and co-creating, writing and directing Rose d’Or winner “Arde Madrid,” still one of Movistar Plus’ best reviewed shows. Here he proves the beating heart of “Besos al Aire,” playing a humble nursing assistant who carries a candle for Doctor Cabanas. A modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac,” said Gabilondo, he spends much of his time embellishing phone messages from families to ER patients, plucking lines out of Meg Ryan comedies to give them more of a Nora Ephron style heartfelt warmth. “Paco doesn’t interpret, he invents,” said Mediaset España Paulo Vasile at a “Besos” press conference. His character also pays tribute to the best thing about Spanish health care: People enter as patients but soon become family, never clients.
More Series Are Getting Shorter
Which is one way to eventize a show. These days, in a market with ever more series, producers cannot afford to churn out fillers. Audience attention and show fidelity is increasingly limited. So “Besos al Aire,” is an TV event about The Event, the biggest real-world drama to hit Spain since its 1936-39 Civil War.
Genre-Mash Ups & Melodrama
Each part of “Besos al Aire” runs 80 minutes, the traditional length of a Spanish series episode until these last few years. Writers have traditionally met the challenge of sustaining audience attention over such an abnormal length by genre blends. “We had to ring our options on different genres, because episode length was so abnormal.” Daniel Ecija, one of Spain’s most important showrunners, has commented. So, in an ultimately “optimist, positive package,” Gabilondo – one burgeoning hallmark of pandemic era TV these days – “Besos al Aire” laces romantic comedy with drama, even tragedy (one central character dies) and, above all melodrama. In U.S. and U.K. drama, events have a rationale. In “Besos al Aire” many may seem improbable, and sentiments surge constantly.
That may, however, just reflect Latin realities. Most countries in Latin American lack social welfare states. Societies are far less designed. The social safety net remains affective bonds with families and friends. Economic security means always having to say, “I love you.”