Maintaining the title of best series on Spanish television is not easy. After 369 episodes, 20 seasons and almost two decades on the air, this fiction has no magic formula that guarantees success. ‘Tell me how it happened’ is what it is like to have the courage to risk to reinvent yourself season by season, possibly being the most innovative and least valued production of the moment. But it is becoming more and more difficult to surprise a reluctant viewer who has an offer as wide as it is unaffordable, and to do it without bizarre twists that make them lose their own hallmark. And at that point is the Spanish Television series and Grupo Ganga, trying not to fall into constant repetition with a shocking change in its narrative structure and in its own essence. The series jumps to the present, to 2020 and 2021, to narrate the coronavirus crisis through the eyes of the Alcántara. Is it a wise decision that brings fresh air to fiction or have they lost their way? The answer is not easy.
Carlos (Carlos Hipólito) and María (Silvia Abascal) in season 21 of ‘Cuéntame’
FormulaTV has been able to see the first chapter of the twenty-first season, entitled « From my balcony », which serves as a presentation for this new stage. Episode 370 starts with the clock striking 20:00, a key time that none of the Spaniards who have lived through confinement can forget. The residents of San Genaro come out to their balconies to applaud the toilets who work day and night to save the lives of the thousands of infected.
On the front line of battle is María Alcántara, now played by Silvia Abascal, the fifth actress who has given life to the character throughout its history. Carlos, now played in body and voice by Carlos Hipólito, returns from New York to take care of his nonagenarian mother, while his father is torn between life and death by testing positive for Covid-19. A few first minutes from the hospital so different that they could well belong to another series, reinventing itself but distancing itself from what we expect. But quickly, the viewer is situated, assimilates what is happening and the connection with the family re-emerges.
The elderly Merche (Ana Duato) and Antonio (Imanol Arias) in season 21 of ‘Cuéntame’
In the end, ‘Tell me how it happened’ has always been an emotional X-ray of the recent history of Spain from the point of view of the Alcantara. And does the pandemic unfortunately no longer occupy a prominent place in our history? If for nearly twenty years we have felt part of that family, seeing ourselves reflected in it and excited with each event in their lives, now we will live with them a key event that has shocked not only the country but the whole world. ‘Cuéntame’ always grows with drama, uniting the family in the face of adversity, and I can’t think of a more important moment to do it.
Characterization will be key to connecting with the viewer
Nor is this the first time that fiction jumps to the present, since Carlos has been telling this story since its inception, only now the off-screen story takes on a life of its own and is materialized in images. Deep down, ‘Cuéntame’ has always played to narrate two eras in parallel, with the points that separate them but also with all those that unite them. Obviously, we are not going to deny that there is a break in the story, but what really matters is not that this turn occurs, but how it will occur.
Probably, its biggest drawback may come from the characterization to which the main actors are subjected to put 28 years on top. These decisions are always controversial because there is a fine line between verisimilitude and the parody of a humor sketch. And not believing the characters would be a serious problem for the emotional journey it poses. At the moment, the first chapter barely shows the elderly Merche (Ana Duato) for a few seconds and we will have to wait to see more footage of the present to see if the goal has been achieved.
1992 remains the central axis
Despite the commotion generated by the jump to the present, the central axis of the series will continue to be the 1992 timeline, which will be interspersed with small 2020 pills. After the rapprochement that we saw between Mercedes and Antonio (Imanol Arias) in the outcome from the previous season, both They still cannot reconcile but are not able to turn the page and start a new life with their respective partners. Season 21 plunges Antonio into a thriller as he is chased by an alleged enemy who ends up running him down. Possibly, this is the most forced plot of the return of the Alcántara.
Antonio (Imanol Arias) and Mercedes (Ana Duato) in season 21 of ‘Cuéntame’
As for the rest of the family, Inés (Irene Visedo) begins to have problems with his girlfriend, Belén (Beatriz Argüello), and is increasingly estranged from her son, Oriol (Javier Lorenzo). Something similar happens with Toni (Pablo Rivero), who does not finish connecting with Santi (Víctor Garrido) and has problems with Deborah (Paloma Bloyd) again due to his obsession with work. While María (Carmen Climent), the youngest of the family, continues with her university studies and is involved in a love triangle.
Once again, ‘Cuéntame’ returns to the small screen with good intentions, ready to revalidate its title as the best series in Spanish fiction. As is the case in most seasons, your emotional cocktail is simmered and the end result never disappoints. Although the closing of season 19 with the farewell of Ricardo Gómez would have been the perfect finishing touch, the series is still healthy enough to continue exciting its faithful. But Spanish Television should not let its most emblematic series wither and maybe starting to consider a date for its outcome would not be a bad option. Not necessarily immediate, but yes set a roadmap to build that ending that serves as the finishing touch to a unique story, the history of the Alcántara and that of all of us.