Three years ago, Walter Iuzzolino—an excitable, sprightly Italian man with black frame glasses and a passion for sweater vests—locked himself inside, and turned on the TV. For the next nearly two years, for eight to ten hours a day, Walter watched TV.
And now, Walter would like to present the fruits of 4,000 thousand hours of television binge labor: a lovingly curated boutique streaming service called, suitably, Walter Presents. Branded as the “Netflix of foreign television,” Walter Presents launched in the UK a year ago with great success, and is making its stateside debut this month, offering 34 prestige television shows from 12 different countries.
Walter, 48, who worked for years as a program commissioner for Britain’s Channel 4, explains the impetus for his passion project this way: “When I moved to London for work and film school, I was quite shocked by the fairly narrow palate of what was offered. Everything there was incredibly Anglo-American. And there was great American and English TV, but I remember thinking, where is everything else? Because in Italy, there was very shiny, very glossy—accessible, not snobby or elitist—fare that was coming from Germany and Spain and so on. I was missing that, and I just thought there was room in the market for something that would match the quality of the mainstream, but was different and more exotic.”
At a cocktail hour and introductory screening in Manhattan a few weeks ago, Walter was accompanied by the stars Walter Presents’ biggest hit series: Spin, a French House of Cards-esque political drama, and Valkyrien, a cerebral Norwegian thriller about a disgraced doctor and an eccentric “doomsday prepper” who run an underground clinic serving the city’s outcasts.
Walter admits to the fortuitous timing of Walter Presents’ arrival in America, having landed at a cultural moment when many of us are looking for more ways to connect with our international counterparts. And yet, Walter insists, there is no underlying political motivation.
“Some of you may ask,” he says, “What are we doing here? Is it a sort of liberal response to the wave of cultural conservatism sweeping through the western world and the United States? Or more literally—are we trying to smuggle in immigrant drama?” He laughs heartily at this, clapping his hands and rocking back and forth on the stool where he’s perched. “It’s none of the above!” He exclaims. “The reason is much more basic. It’s just that I think these are great stories and fantastic dramas and I think that American audiences will embrace them. I think this country has always been at the forefront of every big cultural revolution. The tradition of the great serial drama started here, many years ago, and there are some seminal pieces that I think taught the world how to appreciate drama. But the rest of the world hasn’t stood still, and I think it’s important to recognize that.”
Still, as he chats with Grégory Fitoussi of Spin and Pål Sverre Hagen of Valkyrien (Walter curates all things with artful intention, including the heartthrobs he brings on his press tour) there’s no denying that the shows resonate with the dramas and fears of the current moment.
Hagen, a tall, substantial blonde who is one of Norway’s biggest stars, describes why his “doomsday prepper” role in Valkyrien spoke to him, and—to his surprise, many others.
“[Years ago] I was doing this Danish movie where I was playing a Satanist, so of course I researched my role. So I Googled a lot of satanic stuff,” he pauses for a laugh. “And I came across prophecies, lots of unpleasant things. I had just become a father so the world felt different, and I just had this feeling that something bad was going to happen happen. I was thinking, what world will my daughter grow up in, and things like that. Then I got this script, and it sort of enters into that exact feeling. The character that I play is a doomsday prophet. He preaches his thoughts about the fractured state of society to others, and of course his problem is that people don’t listen. So it’s interesting now, with the show coming out, because never in my career have so many people identified with a character.”
“This character has become incredibly popular,” Hagen continues, “and I wish I could take more credit for that. But I think it’s a very rare case of the real world and art coming together to creating something… I don’t what the American government wants you to have in your house, but in Europe now there is a lot of debate. The Germans have been asked to store enough water for 10 days and food for 72 hours. The Norwegians say vaguely to prepare without saying for how long… But there was a situation last week, actually, where all the government agencies of Norway came together and had this huge convention talking about the issues and concerns with public safety. And they called me up and asked, could you come to the convention and be your character?’”
Grégory Fitoussi, a handsome method actor with a loyal French fan base—who’s begun a gradual cross-Atlantic trek to Hollywood after an appearance in World War Z—says that Spin also hit closer to home than its creators could have even imagined. In the third season, in which Fitoussi plays a Machiavellian political “spin doctor,” the writers envisioned a Brexit-like situation—before the real thing ever occurred.
“We read the script and thought, maybe they went too far,” Fitoussi says. “And then reality came around and almost everything happened for real. So we’re not far from reality here. And sometimes reality is more surprising than fiction. The show tells about our world and how politics works—it’s all about manipulations and power and trying to get power on each level.”
In other words, if you’d like to see the future, buy a subscription to Walter Presents and start binging.