Jaime Lorente as Denver, Belén Cuesta as Julia and Úrsula Corberó as Tokyo. Picture: Tamara Arranz Ramos/Netflix
Jaime Lorente as Denver, Belén Cuesta as Julia and Úrsula Corberó as Tokyo. Picture: Tamara Arranz Ramos/Netflix

How ’Money Heist’ was plucked from obscurity to become a global phenomenon on Netflix

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Sep 11, 2021

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Okay, so I’m a lot late to the binge-watch party.

This week, I realised that almost everyone has watched “Money Heist”, except me. How did this series escape my generally on-the-ball radar?

And it’s from my favourite genre – crime dramas – too.

Oh well, better late than never, I guess.

Although Netflix recently dropped the fifth season, I’m starting from the beginning.

As such, I felt a quick introduction would be apt and caught “Money Heist: The Phenomenon”, a doccie on the same streaming platform.

It was most insightful.

This is what I learned. When the show first debuted in Spain as “La casa de papel”; it performed relatively well. By season two, it faded into obscurity.

Then Netflix threw it a lifeline by signing the show up for its international slate. And the show blew up, turning the likes of Stephen King and football icon Neymar into die-hard fans.

The casts’ trademark red jumpsuits and masks, which is inspired by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, was now worn at various protests around the globe. Diesel also stepped in to redesign the jumpsuits and marketed them.

It is now one of the most viewed shows in the world. Fans can’t get enough of it. Even robbers took inspiration from the series, not that it was encouraged.

And the cast went from nobodies to overnight stars with thousands of followers on social media.

In the doccie, the makers and stars unpacked the challenges, including the elements wreaking havoc on filming, and respective successes.

So this is how the Emmy-award winning series starts.

Álvaro Morte as The Professor. Picture: Tamara Arranz Ramos/Netflix

Set in Madrid, a geeky looking man named The Professor (Álvaro Morte) approaches Silene Oliveira (Tokyo), played by Úrsula Corberó, just before she is ambushed by the police.

He recruits her along with several others: a jewel thief named Berlin (Pedro Olonso), who becomes The Professor’s right hand, miner-turned-criminal Moscow (Paco Tous), counterfeiting and forgery expert Nairobi (Alba Flores), hacker Rio (Miguel Herrán), Denver (Jaime Lorente ), who is Moscow’s son, and Serbian muscle Helsinki (Darko Perić).

They later recruit Mónica Gaztambide (Esther Acebo ), who becomes Stockholm. A hostage, she used to be Arturo Román's (Enrique Arce) secretary and mistress, until she fell in love with Denver.

The Professor names everyone in his motley gang of thieves after a city to ensure anonymity, should things go pear-shaped.

And so begins their rigorous training to relieve the Royal Mint of Spain of €984 million.

The Professor goes through everything in painstaking detail to ensure the plan is foolproof, right down to using visiting student Alison Parker (María Pedraza ), who is the daughter of the British ambassador to Spain, as a bargaining tool.

Meanwhile, Raquel Murillo (Itziar Ituño) is roped in by the commissioner to ensure the negotiations go smoothly with as few casualties as possible.

Of course, this is no random robbery or one that can be predicted. Time is, literally, money, as the thieves work hard at keeping the authorities at bay.

And a few unplanned romances throw a spanner in the works.

There are several characters that stand out and have become fan favourites.

While The Professor is the head of the criminal organisation, he’s also very nerdy.

He’s not one to be underestimated and there is a concealed darkness and awkwardness around the opposite sex that points towards him being a borderline sociopath.

Berlin is a loathsome character. He has this Jekyll and Hyde vibe going so you never know where you stand with him.

Rio, as this lovesick guy, is cute. And as much as Tokyo tries to conceal it, he’s grown on her.

Arturo, the cowardly Director of the Royal Mint of Spain, also gets a lot of screen time. He is a character despised for his selfishness and lack of a backbone.

Úrsula Corberó as Tokyo. Picture: Tamara Arranz Ramos/Netflix

For those who are all caught up on the seasons, you are familiar with some of the characters being killed off and the other big twists.

But, if like me, you are only jumping onto the show now, expect a slick, high-octane action offering in a similar vein to the “Oceans” movie franchise, the suspense of a “Prison Break”-meets-“24” and the playful charm of “Lupin”.

“Money Heist” and “Money Heist: The Phenomenon” is currently streaming on Netflix.

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