25 May 2020

Walter Luzzolino on the best TV shows from around the world

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:10 pm on 25 May 2020

Walter Presents is a popular streaming service that curates the best TV shows from around the world.

It’s part of the UK's Channel 4 and some of its content is available now on TVNZ on demand.

Host Walter Luzzolino had a successful TV production career himself before he decided to bring the best French, German, Dutch, Belgian and Czech drama to the world.

A still from the Belgian crime drama Rough Justice still from Walter Presents and screening on TVNZ on Demand

A still from the Belgian crime drama Rough Justice still from Walter Presents and screening on TVNZ on Demand Photo: TVNZ on Demand/Walter Presents

Foreign TV is no longer seen as elitist, he says.

“When we launched Walter Presents in the UK in 2016 there was still a sense that it was almost a snobbish elitist pastime. That’s not true anymore.

“Netflix and Amazon and global drama has changed that perception because even shows like Narcos, which is partially subtitled, have broken into the mainstream in a massive way.”

Ultimately a great story will always out, he told Jesse Mulligan, and his aim is to bring foreign blockbuster TV to audiences who might not know about these programmes.

“We have shows where it’s fun, it’s tight and there’s plot there’s no snobbery or elitism about our principles, our shows are incredibly beautiful and very sophisticated, but they are mainstream commercial blockbusters.”

The advent of the streamers and on-demand has revolutionised television, he says.

“Only a few years ago, not very many, TV was entirely shaped by linear scheduling which meant that programmes needed to be, for example, in the UK needed to be 47 minutes long on commercial TV 59 minutes long on the BBC.

“And there were so many constraints and you could only watch a series on a Wednesday night at 9pm and if you couldn’t you couldn’t even catch up.”

He believes these changes have made TV the new cinema.

“When we started there was still a kind of snobbery, particularly in the US, where certain actors and directors would never direct television - because that’s a small screen.

“That’s changed so much, and the opposite has happened. Cinema has become a returnable, super hero franchise, CGI box-set schlock. Which is good fun, but it is designed to flog games to be honest and it doesn’t have much subtlety.”

Great writing, directing and acting have now moved to the small screen, he says.

“We now have on HBO on Big Little Lies a show where you have Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon as co-actresses in a small mini-series.”

Each country has its own national TV peculiarities, he says.

"The French, for example, are wonderful at French police drama. Everything is elegant and delicious in a kind of patisserie way.

“The worst murders and the worst things may be happening, but it’s always pleasurable, it’s always elegant and fashionable, the locations are beautiful.”

Vanished by the Lake is a good recent example of top French television, he says. He is also a fan of the Belgian sense of humour.

“The Belgians are quirky and very dark, they have a very dark and quite morbid sense of humour, it’s as dark as Scandi but it’s always a bit funny and quirky.”

Germany is producing television that takes an unflinching look at its history, Luzzolino says.

“It talks about it in ways that are very, very inspiring and not particularly nationalistic or tied into a mythological idea of themselves.

“They constantly interrogate their story whether it’s the war or the Cold War, which is truly incredibly appealing”

Then of course there’s the Scandi dramas that have found so much success worldwide, he says.

“We all know the taste and flavour of Scandi; which is incredible murders but beautiful designs and homes and kitchens!”

Luzzolino’s top pick for Kiwi audience is Dutch thriller, The Adulterer.

It’s stronger and better than The Affair because it conjugates two things I love, one is that notion of the affair, the attraction, dangerous liaisons …. the relationship that’s going to cause a lot of trouble is forever a fun thing.

“But it conjugates that with the notion of family crime and crime saga in an almost a Soprano kind of way. Because it’s about an affair that should never have happened. And this affair triggers an incredible retaliation in a criminal sense.

“It’s the best of both worlds, it’s a fantastic crime thriller but also it’s a very indulgent affair story.”