Last season we were with ecstasy criminals at the Brabant campsite, this season with arms dealers at a riding stable, the El Dorado Ranch. But the heart of the Netflix series remains Ferry Bouman, the drug lord who hides at the campsite. Bouman is a ruthless criminal and at the same time a sociable Brabanter with a small heart. Frank Lammers plays the villain: „Playing a crook with a heart is of course the best thing there is. It is easy to make such a character very bad. That he is also bad for his wife, for example. You look for the things he does have a feeling for. There are actors who play crooks as crooks. Then you are actually quickly bored. ” But whether Ferry is also the role of his life? “I hope not, I still have many years to go.”
Serial Undercover, a Flemish-Dutch co-production about two undercover agents, offers a clever mix of hard crime and tragicomic moments. The series struck a chord with Netflix viewers last year: in the Netherlands, the first season was the most viewed program of the year on the streaming service. The recently started second season moves the action to a country-and-western riding school and the world of illegal arms trade.
Since the launch of the season stands Undercover almost constantly in first place in the Dutch top-10 of Netflix, although no viewing figures are published (due to the collaboration with the VRT, which broadcasts the series linearly on TV in Belgium, an episode is added every Sunday).
Last season Ferry was cornered by the Belgian undercover agent Bob Lemmens (Tom Waes) and his Dutch colleague Kim de Rooij (Anna Drijver). In the new series, Bob goes undercover again, via a tip from Kim, who now works at a human rights organization. Bob infiltrates the El Dorado Ranch of two brothers who trade weapons: Laurent and JP Berger, while Ferry is trapped in the cell like a ticking time bomb, full of revenge thoughts. A third season has already been announced and filming of a film about Ferry’s early years has just been completed.
Showrunner Nico Moolenaar: „Undercover agents who manipulate and by forming friendships bring people down, that is an exciting fact. We were looking for a way to tell such a story in a local way. ” As a maker, Moolenaar likes to look for the vulnerable side of a character: “It is something that officers also do, look at the weaknesses of a character. target. They are going to exploit that. No one is one hundred percent bad or good, everyone has a vulnerable side. At Ferry, that is his wife Daniëlle, he lives for that. That love makes him a 3D character. The character Laurent in Season 2 has that too. He craves love and recognition. He started doing bad things because of that craving. ”
Every season starts with an extensive research phase, says the showrunner. “You find out what special cases have been in our area. In the first season we took the ecstasy trade, because that is very specific on the border region between Belgium and the Netherlands. And we found an article about a criminal at a campground. The real person only serves as inspiration, it is turned into a fictional story. ”
According to Moolenaar, the location provides the comic effect Undercover: “At first it was the Brabant campsite, now it is the ranch, a place where outsiders from society come together. We also searched for a topic that could be considered an undercover story and made a list of iconic crimes. Partly because of its central location in Europe, Belgium can be interesting for illegal arms dealers. You then expand that. Something like human trafficking, for example, is not suitable for this series. That doesn’t leave any room for air, because it is such a heavy subject. ”
After the scenario phase, more and more people come on board. Moolenaar: “If you don’t pay attention, everyone wants to go in a different direction. It is up to me to constantly clarify what our vision is in terms of direction, casting, visual style and editing. ” Leading actor Lammers speaks of a pleasant collaboration. “Nico also monitors the story on set. Fortunately he is not vain, so I am free to come up with ideas or handle my text. It will only become a joint product if such a showrunner does not constantly push his own will. Then you get a fight on the set and that doesn’t work. Of course he does occasionally stand on his stripes, but if you have a good idea, you can tell him. That is also why this series feels so authentic. ”
The development of Undercover started at the VRT. Netflix joined early on. Lina Brouneus is responsible for co-productions and purchases on behalf of the streaming service, including for the Benelux. “We came to Undercover via distributor Dutch Filmworks. We are very happy with the reception and the cooperation with VRT. We want to give Nico and the creative team as much freedom as possible. We are there as a sounding board and talk about what we want to achieve and what will happen in a season. ”
A factor that should not be underestimated is the marketing campaign that Netflix can set up around a title. Lammers: “We used to make a film, put up two posters and then we hoped someone would come and watch. Now we are finally working professionally. The entire film climate in the Netherlands had collapsed a bit. There are many reasons for this. The talent is indeed there, but we just don’t often get the space to make nice dirty things that are less safe. So Netflix is a boon to us. Let’s hope that the Film Fund and associates will also start to think more progressively. Furthermore, there is more time and space in Belgium to make something beautiful, there is more love for culture than in the Netherlands I fear. ”
Fits regardless of the content Undercover also in the larger strategy of Netflix, which has nearly 200 million subscribers worldwide. Making more local productions is more important than ever because the originally American company sees a lot of room for growth, especially outside the US. That is why considerable investments are made in ‘international’ titles such as The Paper House (Spain). “Demand for non-English content continues to grow,” said Brouneus. “The more local and authentic, the greater the chance of a global audience. But first of all, it must have a big impact in the home country. Next, we need to find ways to make it cross the border. We look for things we have not seen yet, or a new perspective on what we have seen before. Also from voices that we have not heard often. ”
Dutch parties, such as the public broadcaster, are reluctant to enter into partnerships with competitor Netflix. Lina Brouneus: “We work together with broadcasters all over Europe. It has to be a win-win situation and make sense to the broadcaster and to us. Sometimes it can take longer depending on the structure and the market. Some regions also have less history of co-productions than others. For example, we are now working on the film together with the EO The Battle of the Scheldt.”
With a film and a third season on the horizon, it will remain busy for the makers for a long time to come. Can Nico Moolenaar still keep up? “It’s a challenge, but a lot of fun. I did split up the writing team for both projects. The corona crisis caused a delay of several months. I used it to rewrite a few things and make things even better. So I was not one hundred percent sorry about that. ”