Series Mania: 10 Buzz Titles, From David Simon’s ‘We Own This City’ to Michael Hirst’s ‘Billy the Kid’

The Baby
Courtesy of Series Mania

Even from the most casual of glances, this year’s Series Mania boasts a plethora of riches, including, just for starters, the latest series from “The Wire’s” David Simon, and “Vikings’” Michael Hirst and “The Responder,” starring Martin Freeman, which is already being talked up as the European series of the year.

The selection below may well not represent the best 10 titles at this year’s Series Mania. (Some of those will only be revealed in a final jury verdict, if then.) But the following drama series are certainly sparking large buzz or at least curiosity ahead of this year’s March 18-25 edition of one of Europe’s foremost TV Festivals. 

We Own This City

(International Competition, U.S.)

“15 Years Later, 2017 Needs Its Own ‘The Wire,” Variety announced five years ago. Now it may finally have got one, and through the simplest means possible. “The Wire” creator David Simon and writer George Pelacanos return with a six-hour account of the rise and fall of Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. “The style of any work we do bears a basic similarity,” Simon has said in another context. “We are interested in realism. And we don’t sell much in the way of redemption or happy endings.” Expect “The Wire’s” mix of mesmerising micro-detail and big ideas, and unsparing take on American institutions. HBO produces with France’s OCS. JH

Standing Up

(Opening Series, France)

France has a large presence in Lille this year, bookending the festival and packing two titles in main competition. No title, however, is more anticipated than fest opener “Standing Up,” from Fanny Herrero who set the bar high creating “Call My Agent!”  Following the coming of age of four comedians from different backgrounds who want to make it in stand-up, “Standing Up” reportedly has many of the same qualities: an often hilarious ensemble show highlighting new talents and boasting Paris as its backdrop. “The Leftovers” Season 2 and “Succession” both world premiered opening Series Mania. This is Herrero’s chance for consecration as one of France’s great TV auteurs. A Netflix original. EK/JH

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“Standing Up” Courtesy of Netflix / Mika Cotellon

Billy the Kid

(International Competition, U.S.)

Created by Michael Hirst, also behind “The Tudors” and “Vikings,” this ambitious series looks for the man (or rather, the boy) behind the legend. Taking a closer look at the future outlaw’s harsh childhood – as his Irish family embarks on a long journey desperate for a better future – and then a young gunslinger doing his best to survive, the English screenwriter looks set to gift Tom Blyth, recently seen in “The Gilded Age,” with a beast of a role. An EPIX Studios and MGM International Television production, made in association with Viaplay. MB

The Baby

(International Competition, U.K.)

Having made “Chernobyl,” then “Landscapers,” with Olivia Colman and David Thewlis on extraordinary form, and “This Is Going to Hurt,” hailed as a BBC “Scrubs,” any new series these days from Sister will spark large expectations. “The Baby” is no exception. Anticipation here is primed by a Series Mania main International Competition berth, co-creators  Sian Robins Grace and Lucy Gaymer, chosen among Variety’s 10 Europeans to Watch, Nicole Kassell (“Watchmen”) as lead director, and a taboo-busting take on motherhood, seen through a genre and surreally comedic lens. An HBO/Sky series. JH

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“The Responder” Courtesy of Series Mania

The Responder

(International Panorama, U.K.)

For some countries, the buzz is now over, replaced by rave reviews. For others, where “The Responder” has yet to bow, expectation runs high. Airing from Jan. 24 on BBC One to superb ratings, the crime drama casts Freeman as an urgent response police officer on the edge working night shifts in Liverpool. Overwhelmed, depressed, his job is a futile round of confrontations with jeering hoodies, hopeless homeless and feckless “baghead” junkies. Sessions with his psychologist, when he talks of his fear of inner violence, also strike home. Buzz now is that Freeman and first time writer Tony Schumacher will clean up at year-end awards time. Fremantle has sold the series fulsomely. JH

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“Last Summer of Raspberries” Courtesy of Series Mania

Last Summer of Raspberries

(International Panorama, Canada)

Few writers seem so ineradicably cooky as Canadian actor-turned-screenwriter Florence Longpré who finds large comedy in deep tragedy as a still young woman tries to digest the premature death of her husband, while beginning to run his ranch. She finds the largest support – and humanity – in her Latino farm workers who, just a few months before she couldn’t make out from one other. Enjoyed at Berlinale Series, the second series from Longpré who’s on fire with a third, “Audrey’s Back” which she co-wrote recently announced for Canneseries competition. JH 

The King

(International Competition, Italy)

An Italian pedigree package, written by Stefano Bises, whose credits include “Gomorrah,” “ZeroZeroZero” and “The New Pope,” starring “Inspector Montalbano’s” Luca Zingaretti and a Sky Original produced by Fremantle’s The Apartment and Wildside (“The New Pope,” “My Brilliant Friend”). Presented in Rome on Wednesday, the series’ trailer suggests it may also bring a new harder edge to Italian TV in its violence and merciless power.play. A Fremantle sales title. JH

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“Fire Dance” Courtesy of Series Mania

Fire Dance

(International Competition, Israel)

The series sees director Rama Burshtein-Shai follow her award-winning features “Fill the Void” and “The Wedding Plan” with a predictably complex take on a young woman developing strong feelings for a married son of the leader of their ultra-orthodox community. “I don’t think it’s a story about impossible love. It’s a story about how you deal with passion,” Burshtein-Shai told Variety ahead of the Series Mania premiere. “You can get burnt or you can shut it all down – so what will you do with it?” International sales are handled by Yes Studios. MB


(International Competition, Finland)

For a good half decade, Scandinavian writers have battled to breathe fresh life into Nordic Noir. One answer, says “Transport” creator Auli Mantila, is “Ordinoir,” here, the story of three women – a bank loans manager, a dogged journalist and a persistent insurance claims clerk – embroiled in a singular and very nasty case of international horse trading and food fraud ranging from Finland to Belgium. Mantila is a qualified farrier. In the singular “Transport,” her love of horses shines through. REinvent handles sales. JH 

Chair Tendre

(French Competition, France)

Launching in 2018, France Télévisions’ France.tv Slash has carved out a reputation for gender/social issue drama for older teens which sometimes breaks out to larger acclaim. Think 2020’s “Stalk.” So there’s large curiosity to see what it makes of this French Competition entry, from “Le Brio” co-writer Yaël Langmann, about a high-school’s newest student, Sasha, who is intersex, and has a year to decide whether to have an operation. The series looks promising, though on issue-driven fare, however noble, execution is all. JH