Foreign TV Watch: El Barco (Spain)

I make no secret that I am a huge fan of the TV show Lost. I’ve even defended the finale (one of my most popular posts that still gets daily hits). Ever since it ended its successful run, many, many attempts have been made by American TV to duplicate that success. Most were total bombs, a few hung on for a season or two.

(In my opinion, the closest to the show’s feel—with an even more diverse cast—is Netflix’s Sense8. Which only lasted two seasons, unfortunately.)

So it was a very exciting day for me when I discovered the Spanish television series El Barco (The Boat). The show is the tale of a boat stranded in a post-apocalyptic world after an accident during the implementation of a particle accelerator. All the continents disappear, leaving Earth a water world. The boat becomes home for the crew and its passengers, who must try to survive while looking for someplace in the world where land—and possibly other people—still exist.

This type of story is my JAM. Post-apocalyptic, a group of disparate strangers (mostly) who must band together to survive and thrive in the new reality—I love this kind of stuff.

So how does it stack up to Lost? Pretty well, actually, with a few significant exceptions.

The Estrella Polar (the North Star) is helmed by Captain Ricardo Montero (Juanjo Artero), a recent widower, and First Officer Julian De la Cuadra (Luis Callejo). The passengers consist of a group of students on scholarship who are learning how to become sailors, including Montero’s twenty-year-old daughter Ainhoa (Blanca Suarez). Also aboard are Montero’s five-year-old daughter Valeria (Patricia Arbues), Dr. Julia Wilson (Irene Montalà), a medical doctor with a mysterious connection to the scientists implementing the particle accelerator, Ernesto Gamboa (Juan Pablo Shuk), the ship’s survival coach, Salomé Palacios (Neus Sanz), the ship’s cook, and “Burbuja” (translates to “Bubble”) (Iván Massagué) Salomé’s assistant, who is mentally challenged due to a brain injury.

The captain and his first officer are stunned to discover a stowaway, Ulises Garmendia (Mario Casas), who claims De la Cuadra is his biological father.

Yes, his name translates to Ulysses. I kid you not. And I love that. While it doesn’t go quite as far as Lost in referencing literature and mythology, it does it in many ways, especially when it comes to Homer’s The Odyssey. At certain points in the story there are sirens and a cyclops, of sorts, for instance.

The first season is mostly about adjusting to the new world order, with most of the passengers skeptical that the world has really ended. Montero and De la Cuadra have to fight against a mutiny, and the entire ship has to battle flocks of birds that attack the ship because they have no other place to land.

While El Barco is missing the supernatural elements of Lost, there are strange new things the crew has to face, such as giant predators that previously lived so deep in the ocean they weren’t known to exist, and vents in the ocean that appear suddenly and emit poisonous gas.

Against the fight for survival are many emotional stories: of course, with a crew of young, attractive people there are going to be quite a few romances. Though attracted to Ulises at first, Ainhoa falls for Gamboa, much to her father’s distress, because he is much older. Ulises becomes involved with Julia, who is also older (and, unbeknownst to her, has a secret admirer in Captain Montero).

For some reason in these kinds of stories there is always a pregnant girl. In this case it’s Vilma (Marina Salas), who attracts the ship’s cut-up/Lothario Piti (Javier Hernández Rodríguez) and at the same time a young priest, Andrés Palomares (Bernabé Fernandez). Estela (Giselle Calderón) falls for Ramiro (David Seijo), who can’t return her feelings because he is still mourning the girlfriend he lost during the apocalypse. On top of all this De la Cuadra and Salomé, who have sailed on voyages together for many years, realize after the disaster that they are in love.

While I enjoyed most of the love stories, one of the quirks of the show, and how it doesn’t stack up totally favorably to Lost, is the way it can’t seem to weave in the emotional storylines with the action. Over and over, with some horrific disaster bearing down on the crew, the characters choose those exact moments to take time out for conversations about their love/emotional lives.

Flock of birds eating up the now irreplaceable sails? Time for the captain to ponder if he has been a good enough father to his daughters. Boat hanging over a waterfall where two oceans are meeting up? Time for Palomares to confess his love for Vilma. It gets to be almost amusing after a while.

As far as the action, though, and the suspense—this is where the show does a stellar job. There are fingernail-chewing moments in abundance. Both the writing and direction in these areas are on point (and here’s a cool thing: twelve of the episodes were directed by a woman, Sandra Gallego).

During the first season or so Ainhoa suffers a bit from a case of Dumb Girl Syndrome, falling for the obviously villainous Gamboa and defending him over her own father. However, she becomes smarter and more capable as the series progresses, even heroic at times.

They do somewhat better with the character of Burbuja, who was a scientist before his injury. It’s wonderful that a disabled character is shown as heroic (in fact, he saves the boat and the crew more than once). At times the characters infantilize him, but the story never does. Another thing that’s interesting is before his injury he MAY have been complicit in the disaster. Is he a hero who once was a villain? This is one aspect that keeps the story intriguing throughout all three seasons.

There are a few goofy plot points (can’t say specifically without giving away spoilers) but a minor thing that never failed to make me giggle: they never seem to run out of Coca Cola or fresh orange juice. There is one point where they find a cargo of food and get a replenished supply of Coca Cola, but those crates must have been bottomless, because from then on no one has to go without Coca Cola.

We can’t let the apocalypse get in the way of product placement, apparently.

O.K., now we get to the nitty gritty: how’s the ending?

Sadly, not that great. No one goes to heaven in this but it leaves some major questions open. It was so confusing one of the actors had to assure the audience after the finale aired that his character did NOT die.

Even so, up to those last couple of episodes, I thoroughly enjoyed this show, and do recommend it if you’re looking for something like Lost. As of this writing it is available on Netflix streaming.

 

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