Link: 21 Thunder is a fine drama containing soccer, sex and action 21 Thunder (starts on CBC, Monday, 9 p.m.) manages to out-manoeuvre all the possible pitfalls by being about soccer and mainly not about big stars and crucial games, but about young players on the cusp of being full-time professionals and potential legends. It’s an excellent melodrama that reaches into the lavishly exotic and coarse world of club soccer and pulls out stories and characters that are believable and compelling. Continue reading.
From Mackenzie Patterson of Post City:
Link: Emmanuel Kabongo stars in CBC’s ‘21 Thunder’
“At the moment, I’m trying to enjoy the ride because it doesn’t always come along. There have been days where I’m, like, ‘Is this ever going to work out? When am I going to break?’ I had rejection after rejection after rejection,” he says. “It was after my 357th audition that I finally landed 21 Thunder. I’m in love with acting right now, it’s what I’m good at.” Continue reading.
Friday Night Lights was recognized not only for weaving incredibly relatable tales of drama and romance but for presenting small-town Texas high school football in an authentic way. The folks behind 21 Thunder are hoping they’ve done the same for soccer.
Debuting Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC, 21 Thunder‘s eight episode first season introduces viewers to a large cast of characters swirling around a common interest: under-21 soccer in Montreal. All are devoted to the sport in some way, and everyone appears to have a secret. There is coach Christy Cook (Stephanie Bennett), an Olympic soccer hero forced on the team for PR reasons; striker Nolan Gallard (RJ Fetherstonhaugh), whose gang member past revisits him; and gifted Ivory Coast midfielder Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo), who chooses Montreal over playing in bigger leagues elsewhere.
“Junior is a young man who is secretly on a mission,” Kabongo says. “He could have gone anywhere in the world and played in the Premier League or the Spanish League. He decides he wants to come to Montreal. Underneath, he’s searching for something that he lost, and for him, what matters more than soccer is family. Yes, he’s skilled, but family is the most important thing to him. Also, through him, you get to see life as an immigrant in Canada.”
“There is a lot that happens with her and you will find out and see where Christy starts and her progression,” Bennett hints of her character. “She starts out and doesn’t really know what she’s doing and is trying out this new role. Then she begins to build relationships with the players and those relationships change throughout the season.”
Co-creator and executive producer Kenneth Hirsch says that he, along with Riley Adams and Adrian Wills, wanted to set a television show in the world of competitive sports one step from the professionals, making it more accessible to viewers. Who hasn’t at least played house league baseball, basketball or soccer, or competed in gymnastics or volleyball as a kid? The trio shuffled different sports into the mix before deciding on soccer.
“We looked at hockey, we looked at basketball … we knew we wanted to set this in Montreal as Montreal,” Hirsch says. “We thought soccer first because it’s growing very quickly in Canada. More kids are playing soccer than hockey. And second, we thought the soccer pitch is a great microcosm of Canadian society. It’s very diverse and you have many intersecting stories happening there. We thought it was the perfect lens to tell Canadian stories and from which to find characters to tell the really compelling stories of.”
There is plenty of drama in the first episode to fuel interest in the rest of the season. Davey Gunn (Ryan Pierce), an international soccer superstar has an impact on the Montreal Thunder players, and not in a pleasant way; and Albert Rocas (Conrad Pla) is a tough and demanding coach. But as intriguing as the interweaving stories are, the soccer footage is incredible. Credit for that goes to showrunner and executive producer Malcolm MacRury, who got help from the team and staff at Concordia University, their own consultants and cast who have played the beautiful game to get it right.
“We were very fortunate to find actors who were actors first and were convincing on the field so we actually film the sequences, including stunts, without having to double the players,” MacRury says. And though they could control how the show looked and felt, no one had control over the weather, as Kabongo found out during production.
“Junior had to kick a ball from half field,” Kabongo recalls. “I was practicing and I was getting it. On the day of shooting, it decided to rain and it was four degrees at four in the morning. The ball was slippery, I was wearing gloves to keep my hands warm. My toes were cold, and every kick kept missing the distance. Then I got one, and my reaction was so real, I was so happy.”
Link: TV drama 21 Thunder explores the world of under-21 soccer in Montreal
“We realized very quickly that every Canadian can relate one way or another to soccer. Either you play it or you watch it or you watched Canada play in international tournaments or you love the Impact or you love Toronto FC. Also, look at any soccer field across Canada and that field reflects huge diversity, of cultural background, of different segments of society. That diversity is reflected in the show. So we thought it was the perfect pitch for a show that was simultaneously Canadian and exportable.” Continue reading.
CBC has commissioned 21 THUNDER, a new original eight episode, one-hour drama series from PMA Productions and Generic Productions. Set in Montreal, the series takes viewers into the fiercely competitive and high-stakes world of an under-21 soccer academy, following the players and coaches who risk it all for a shot at the pros. Production started in late August in Montreal and will continue until November 15, with the series set to premiere in summer 2017 on CBC.
In the cutthroat world of pro soccer, a club lives and dies by the stars on its under-21 team. They are the future and lifeblood of any franchise, but most will never make it. 21 THUNDER is the story of the Montreal Thunder U21 team, following the team’s star players on and off the field. A story of love, crime, race, sex and athletic glory, at its core the series is about how a group of players and coaches unite as family in the whirlwind of life, one step away from the pros.
Helping to coach the team are Christy Cook (Stephanie Bennett, The Romeo Section, Descendants), an Olympic soccer hero forced on the team for PR reasons; and Davey Gunn (former Scottish footballer Ryan Pierce, who played as Ryan O’Leary), an international soccer superstar who is on the run from both the paparazzi and his past. The team consists of striker and former gang-member Nolan Gallard (RJ Fetherstonhaugh, Wayward Pines); Ivory Coast midfielder Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo, Hemlock Grove), a brilliant new arrival; and team captain, goalie and academic prodigy Alex el Haddadi (Andres Joseph, The Flash). Together they strive under notorious coach Albert Rocas (Conrad Pla, 19-2) to win games for the club, and a future for themselves.
Commissioned by CBC, 21 THUNDER is produced by PMA Productions and Generic Productions, and executive produced by Kenneth Hirsch (Extraordinary Canadians, Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague), Michael Levine (Republic of Doyle), Adrian Wills (The Surrogacy Trap, All Together Now), Riley Adams (Crossing the Rubicon: The Journey, Flashpoint) and Malcolm MacRury (Republic of Doyle, Saving Hope), who also serves as showrunner. Riley Adams is co-creator along with Kenneth Hirsch and Adrian Wills.