Lucas Paraizo on Globo’s ‘Under Pressure’ 4, Transformation, Hope, Death (EXCLUSIVE)

John Hopewell and Emiliano Granada

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Under Pressure,” the highest-profile international series from Latin America’s biggest TV player, Brazil’s Globo, will turn in  Season 4 on the COVID-19 crisis, feature the death of one key cast member, and stress the need for social transformation.

Season 4’s coronavirus focus was announced early May by newspaper O Globo. Further details, revealed by “Under Pressure” lead writer Lucas Paraizo, come as Globo prepares to unleash its latest sales slate of telenovelas, mini-series and series at the 2020 Virtual Screenings from May 12, with one undoubted highlight in “Under Pressure” Season 3. 

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Breaking years-old time-slot records when it bowed in July 2017 in Tuesday 10.30 pm late primetime – a day and grid berth it will retain for Season 4, said Paraizo – “Under Pressure” (“Sob Pressão”) signaled part of a revolution at Globo as the TV giant embraced the formats and concentration of ideas and length of international drama, but grounding them in an action-defining Brazilian reality. 

So a medical series became war-zone ER, with Evandro and Carolina, a brilliant surgeon and doctor and on-off couple, both with traumas, battling a lack of resources, and an appalling death rate – 60,000 people die every year from gun-shot wounds, hospital head Samuel says in Season 2 – with a mixture of professional principle, ingenuity and desperation. 

In Season 1, Brazil’s health system was “sick,” said Paraizo. Season 4 will now show it collapsing. Doctor Vera, whose search for her son provides a first final Season 3 emotional high, will inevitably be even more in the frontline in Season 4 as an infectologist, he added. 

“One of the main characters will die. But we haven’t decided which one yet,” Paraizo added. 

Season 4 will, however, attempt to give people a sense of “hope.” “Under Pressure” has always talked about not only problems, but possible longterm solutions: Weaning recent mother Geise off crack and giving Virgilio stomach-contracting bariatic surgery in Season 2 so he can walk down the aisle to give his daughter away in marriage. 

Anticipating COVID-19, for three seasons “Under Pressure” has portrayed Brazil’s overwhelmed,  but do-or-die medical staff as heroes. 

Season 4 suggests that if there’s any solution to COVID-19 crisis and Brazil’s endemic ills, “it’s not just a question of government relief measures, but of a social transformation, of “the way we live in society, instead of thinking about ‘me’ and ‘you,’ of thinking about ‘us,’ and What can I change?’” Paraizo said.  

Just how that plays out should be seen first half 2021, after Globo and Conspiraçao Filmes, whose Andrucha Waddington will once more head up the series’ direction, have shot Season 4.

Paraizo will re-team to write Season 4 with Marcio Alemão, André Sirangelo, Flavio Araujo and Pedro Riguetti. Its cinematographers are Fernando Young and Lula Cerri. 

Variety talked to Paraizo, a distinguished screenwriter of celebrated recent Brazilian movies (“Divine Love,” “Gabriel and the Mountain”), on the eve of Globo’s virtual screenings.  

One thing that sets “Under Pressure” apart from other medical dramas like “ER,” “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy”  is that its plot is deeply grounded in a social issue realism, instead of providing escapism. How did this came about? 

Paraizo: Andrucha Waddington had made a film called “Under Pressure,” from which the series derives. It was quite successful. Globo accepted the idea of taking its hospital and two protagonists and creating a show. Our first move after that was research. At the beginning I saw “ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House” and I confess that I was scared. They’re such a high level. I wasn’t certain how  we could make a show like that in Brazil. So when we started doing the research we were guided by Márcio Maranhão, who wrote the book that became the film and the series. Márcio took us through the reality of public hospitals in the projects, which was very tough. We knew it, we knew it from newspaper reports but he brought home the reality. 

For three weeks we went to hospitals every day and slowly realized that the social reality of these places was a character of this show, our hallmark, our differential. The show became a hospital with no resources, a hospital that is set in the middle of a favela and a hospital that mostly has to deal with not only health but social problems. Our hospital is not simply to heal illness, but violence, problems of basic hygiene, and so on. We understood that our hospital marked a kind of limbo for a whole society and exactly what’s happening today. What we face today is not only a coronavirus crisis, not entirely. The real problem that we face is all the social differences in our country, seen here in a hospital.

When writing Season 1, I didn’t know if people would want to watch it when they come back home from work and turn on the TV at 10 o’clock and their reality is there. But it worked because we’re making them think critically but without ever loosing the emotional side. Sometimes I see films and shows that are very critical, but without emotion their critiques loose power. Ken Loach does this amazingly well. He’s one of my favorite directors, can get highly critical but at the same time his films are very emotional.

One of the series’ appeals is the medical staff, showing  Brazilians who are extraordinarily principled and professional –  Evandro, Carolina, Samuel –  perform their jobs at the highest level. There’s even a suggestion in Season 2 they’re tantamount to miracle workers. Season 4 looks to suggest that even they can’t cope with the collapse of the system. But are we reading this correctly?

Yes, in how the story talks about dealing with the tragedy in your personal life, I don’t want to give any spoiler, but one of our medical staff will die. We need to show how tragedy gets to the doctors because it’s also happening a lot in Brazil. What’s missing today is professionals in the frontline. We have to talk about the need to form and educate more doctors, to create more good medical schools. [Brazilian president Jair] Bolsonaro threw out a lot of Cuban doctors about a year ago. Now we need them back. One of the things I’d love to talk about in Season 4, though I still don’t know how, is how can we change our values, the way we live in society. How, instead of thinking about ‘me’ and ‘you’ – and faced by this dilema most of society normally chooses ‘me’ – and start to think about ‘us.’ That’s the big change society faces today: To think about such issues collectively. We’re facing a paradigm break in society right now. The question is how can we put this into a procedural show. How can you put together all the stories that arrive at that hospital, and that affect the main characters. I’m searching for the answers.

What are you research methods at the moment? What’s catching your attention about this crisis?

With re-thinking values, I’d add hope. Not as an escape from reality but hope in the sense of looking to one other, the hope that’s inside you. What I want to suggest to people is that the solution for the humanist crisis starts with you. People haven’t realized that yet. They’re expecting governments, other organizations to do something, and they are doing it. But the question is what I can change. Regarding the research, what we’re doing now is collecting stories that we’ll eventually adapt for the show. Some of those stories like the transplant in the  third episode of the first season, the story of the mother that has accept that her child was killed in a car accident, even when his body is moving, something that happens after brain death. This is a true story on how a mother accepted the transplant of her child’s heart. After we screened the episode, I received an email from the system of transplants in Brazil, informing us that normally in Brazil they get 300 people per day that sign to donate organs, and after this episode went on air, it jumped to 8,000 in one day. Nowadays we are talking with a lot of people, our consultant is at a hospital, and he tell us a lot of what’s going on. It’s difficult to talk with him because reality barges in with so much power and gives a new sense to what I’m writing.    

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