The Alcántaras return to the small screen with their twenty-first season. But it is not just any return. ‘Tell me how it happened’ continues taking risks and renewing itself with an outstanding bet: show the coronavirus crisis through the eyes of this iconic family. Throughout season 21, the fiction of Televisión Española and Grupo Ganga will continue to narrate the events of 1992 but will also jump to 2020 and 2021.
FormulaTV has spoken with Joaquín Oristrell, the series’ script coordinator, to find out how this idea was born and their main fears when facing this complicated challenge. The scriptwriter and director of the first chapter, as well as the timeline of the present, advances some plots of season 21: Mercedes (Ana Duato) will be vaccinated and the temporary Filomena will arrive in San Genaro. Further, thinks about the future of ‘Cuéntame’ and the possibility of continuing to narrate the present in the following series of episodes.
Joaquín Oristrell, script coordinator for ‘Cuéntame’
How did the idea of making a time jump in season 21 of ‘Cuéntame’ come about?
The proposal caught me when I was with ‘HIT’, just when we had to stop filming the series due to the pandemic. In principle, I was not in the new season of ‘Cuéntame’, but having that break they suggested that I raise the idea. That was in late March, early April, when we were at the raging moment of the pandemic. At that time, we spent the whole day watching TV, watching the news. I even felt unable to write when I was in front of the computer. I felt that anything that said other than the pandemic made no sense and I thought that a series like ‘Cuéntame’ that plays with time, that always speaks in the present because there is that voice-over that speaks to us from the present, because perhaps it could narrate that reality.
Was the idea debated for a long time?
I wrote a pilot and I passed it on to Miguel Ángel Bernardeu, who is the producer, I passed it on to the actors … We were talking about it and then we discussed it with Spanish Television. Everyone said « OMG », but everyone dared. My theory is that in fiction there always has to be some risk, because if there is no risk, there is no interest.
Antonio Alcántara (Imanol Arias) in 2020 of ‘Tell me how it happened’
Our biggest fear with the jump is that 2020 will not eat 1992
What was your biggest fear when dealing with this break in the story?
Our greatest fear was that one thing would not eat the other. ‘Cuéntame’ narrates the year 1992 right now and we wanted the present to have its due attention. 2020 and 2021 are appearing throughout all the chapters, because we are observing the changes that occur. In some chapters it is more testimonial and only a scene from 2020 appears and in others there is much more room for the present. Somehow we wanted the two to complement each other. In these multiverses there are certain things that work very well, such as understanding how Toni and her son’s relationship has been over time, things that better tell the characters of the past from this present that we tell. Another fear was the characterization to reach those ages in the characters. I think there has been a very good makeup and digitization job. There has been a huge effort from the makeup team, also from the actors, as they have managed to enter those bodies with different postures and working the voices. And also from the digitization team to make it as credible as possible. We do not have big budgets, but we have will and enthusiasm.
This idea of narrating the present from ‘Cuéntame’ has already been raised previously, but was discarded. Why is it now a good option?
I wasn’t there when that characterization took place, but I think it was more of a TV show style, so it all sounded a bit like a lie. And here we have tried to play with the truth to the fullest. The most complicated characterizations were those of the characters of Pablo Rivero and Irene Visedo, because they are in their 70s and that is a more complicated age than the 90s. Because in the 70s there are people who are not particularly old, for example Susan Sarandon is great. We were clear that we did not want to make a fool of ourselves with the characterizations and we have worked on it.
We were clear that we did not want to make a fool of ourselves with the characterizations and we have worked on it
Do you think this time jump can subtract narrative possibilities from the original timeline of the series? In Antonio’s case, you suggest that he could die in the 1992 accident, but then we see that he is still alive in 2020.
Yes, but what happens is that we do not see how Antonio is in 2020. The result of what that outrage may be we will see in the nineties. So gravity or non-gravity or whatever happens to him will be one of the intrigues of the season. The viewer will be able to discover what is behind that run over: Who ran over Antonio? Why? What effects will that have? That kind of thriller will be resolved throughout the season. There is always a game with the idea that the viewer gets hooked on that plot.
Inés Alcántara is out of Spain in 2020, is it a way of leaving open the way for Irene Visedo to leave the series?
It has nothing to do with it. In principle, with Televisión Española, the commitment to continue. The seasons are usually signed in pairs. One of the greatest achievements that ‘Cuéntame’ has is that it has continued with the same cast over the years, especially the central issue of marriage and grandmother. That long-term commitment exists, but ‘Cuéntame’ depends, like everything else, that people are still interested. It all depends on what happens now with the premiere of the new season, to see if the audience finds it as interesting as we do.
The time jump does not break the essence because we have always known Carlos’s present
Do you think this twist breaks with the essence of the series, for better or for worse?
No, because ‘Cuéntame’ is always told from the present. We have always known, from the beginning, the present of Carlitos. He was always speaking from today. For many people, ‘Cuéntame’ is different from the one that started. There are many older people that the events of the 90s are more alien to them and remember the 60s or 70s more. ‘Cuéntame’ is renewing its audience with younger people because the memories that now appear, more linked to music or television, they are closer to them. ‘Cuéntame’ is transformed according to the time that is being narrated.
Carlos (Carlos Hipólito) in the 2020 of ‘Cuéntame’
When dealing with this time jump, have you taken into account what is told in the novel « Toda una vida » (2015)? There are things in the book that do not coincide with what is narrated in the present of the series.
Yes, the death of Antonio that appears in the book does not occur in the series. That book was written many years ago, when it was not thought that the series would continue. « Toda una vida » is a wonderful novel written by two companions, Carlos Molinero and Jacobo Delgado, but then life goes on. Jacobo is one of the scriptwriters we have now and he is aware of what he narrated in that book, which is a story, but it does not influence the series. The novel was not a commitment to the series up to that point, because it was not known how the series was going to follow.
Do you drink from any of the plots that are narrated in the book?
There is some little thing that arises, such as that Karina and Carlos are separated, that this is in the novel. But we have not gone to drink from the source of the novel, rather we have gone to narrate what we wanted to tell, which is the present of the family, how each one is. It was interesting to see what happens with Oriol, with Santi, what kind of doctor is María going to be, what her husband will be like in the present … Go on other lines.
Will we see a reunion between Carlos and Karina in 2020?
Oops, I don’t know that [risas]. Not now, maybe in the future … We have a Carlos in 2020, but we don’t have a Karina yet. You have given me an idea because we still have the last chapter to write. But, in principle, no.
How are the Alcántara going to live confinement because it seems they are going to Sagrillas?
Yes, there is a journey, there are some movements. In principle Antonio is admitted and the mother is cared for by her son Carlos and her granddaughter Alba. We take a tour of the entire pandemic. In one chapter we see how they begin to use the mask, in the next how they can go out for a walk or sport, in another it is from the point of view of Santi, who is a journalist like his father … In the penultimate one they vaccinate Mercedes and you will see even a storm called Filomena.
There is a character that we will know who died a few years ago
Antonio not vaccinated? Are you a denier?
No, he is not vaccinated but he is not a denier. What happens is that he has already passed the covid. I don’t know very well what the vaccination protocol is, but I suppose that those of us who have passed the Covid-19 do not have priority when it comes to receiving the vaccine.
Ana Allen is one of the surprises of the season, who returns after all her controversies. How has it been working with her?
I was with her in only one sequence, because she was replacing Manuel Gómez Pereira. I had the pleasure of working with her and everyone has been delighted with Ana, because she defends her role very well, she knows him very well, she is a very perfectionist woman and the character has strength.
Herminia (María Galiana) in season 21 of ‘Cuéntame’
Herminia has always been immortal and, although it would be surreal if she was still alive in the present, did it take you a long time to take the step of dispensing with your grandmother?
No, because Herminia’s gap is covered by Mercedes with her age, she would have the age Herminia has in the past. Herminia in 92-93 plays her usual role: a witness to what happens with her own plot. He is a very loved character. Every phrase of hers is then retweeted, because he nails it. Herminia is a safe value in the series. She is not in the present, but there are no other characters, like Karina. There is some character that we will know has died, some character of the fixed, one that is important we will know that he died a few years ago.
The voice-over is no longer used as a reminder of what happened, but to make reflections
Are you going to change Carlos’s voice-over? In the first chapter, for example, it’s Merche.
Yes, we are going to play with the voice-over. It is no longer used as a memory of what happened, but the voice-over enters to make other types of reflections. That in recent seasons has already happened, that the voice-over is no longer so narrative, but more emotional. We use it to make a connection between text and subtext, so that the viewer knows the journey that we are taking. And the voiceover will always be done from 2020 on this season.
The set of ‘Tell me how it happened’ totally snowed
You mentioned that the squall Filomena will appear in the season by way of mention. Is it also possible to see snowy San Genaro in the last chapter? In fact, you now have the entire set covered in snow.
No. For the last chapter, in everything that affects 2020, we will have the patience to see how today evolves. We will be shooting until Easter, more or less. Until production tells us that they can’t wait any longer, the scriptwriters are going to wait and be attentive to everything that happens in 2020. I thought it would be very nice to end the season by announcing that there is already a vaccine and notice that there are already three .
I think the timeskip is only for this season, but it will depend on how the audience takes it
You have anticipated that you are already working on ideas for season 22, have you thought about extending the time jump?
I think that’s something of this season. I think that the need to tell the pandemic from ‘Cuéntame’ arises now because of this special moment that we are living. But if you put a gun on me now, I wouldn’t even know how to tell you what season 22 is going to be like. I don’t know where we’re going or what we’re going to think of. Always when we sit down to prepare for the next season it is like there is an abyss. It can happen of everything, that there is a jump forward or backward. It’s going to depend a bit on how people take this timeskip. As people take this risk, we will make other decisions. I think the series takes this kind of thing very well, it accepts it very well. It is a space that allows you to investigate, search and think about it.
The Alcántara family in season 21 of ‘Tell me how it happened’
Imanol Arias has recently commented that the end is getting closer and closer.
I can not say anything. I think everything we do on television depends a lot on how it is received. We now have to sit down and listen to what the public is saying. We have written with all the enthusiasm of the public and now the people have to speak, which I am not referring to the audience, but the emotional impact, which for me is what counts. The same thing happened to me with ‘HIT’, that I was not aware of large audiences because this already belongs to the past, but I was interested in knowing if what we raised had an echo. With ‘Cuéntame’ the same thing happens. You have to see if what you propose is useful for people, from the deep sense and that of entertainment. Regardless of that, you also have to see what the actors want, because they are very long seasons, with many changes, ups, downs …
Will you be in season 22 as a script coordinator?
In principle, a screenwriter named Sergio Barrejón will replace me. I am focusing on ‘HIT’, but I will always be there, because I am working at home and I am there for whatever it takes. I hope to be as in the shadows as possible, but to be there: in the brainstorming of the start, for example.
Manu Dios, the actor who plays Luis, has joined the scriptwriting team. How have you experienced this role change?
I was one afternoon in a masterclass in which I gave a script course and he was among the students. So I was not surprised by this change. He does it very well. He is co-responsible for some chapters and I have signed some with him and very well. It is not that uncommon, although this change in direction does occur more. Many actors direct. It seems to me that this role reversal is good for everyone. Putting yourself on the other side makes you understand a lot of things in the script.
Are you going to direct any chapter, besides the first, of the season?
No. What happens is that I have taken responsibility for the 2020 part. We recorded that part first and, since it was a mess to change directors, because there are a total of five, I was in charge of directing this part at the beginning. Then we already recorded the part of the past of the first chapter.
Beyond ‘Cuéntame’, you are preparing the second season of ‘HIT’, do you plan to continue with the same students or are you going to bet on a new generation?
No, in principle we are going to go along the continental line, that is, another problem, another place and other people. That’s the idea. Regardless of that, since we think the kids did a fantastic job and everything that affected the school, and somehow we have been left empty with that, we are thinking about an idea. We have even made a teaser to see if something parallel comes out that we could investigate or work on. I always believe that there is a gap between the series that pass in schools and institutes and the world of work, I always believe that that part of an intern doing hours, or a cashier while you study … I think it is a space that is little said and there many people who live that reality.
So, on the one hand, there would be the HIT character in another institute with new students and, on the other hand, you are working on a kind of spin-off with the old generation.
Yes. What happens is that we are working on it, but it does not mean that there is a commitment to anyone yet, nor are we working for any platform or for Spanish Television itself. We are doing it for the pleasure of working with them, seeing if there is something that would be interesting to work with. The scripts for the second season are beginning to be developed.