Club de Cuervos, which premiered August 7 on Netflix, represents the company’s first foray into original Spanish-language scripted television. Set in the fictional town of Nuevo Toledo, Mexico, the sophisticated dramedy begins with the sudden death of the patriarch who owns the city’s beloved soccer team, the Cuervos. A power struggle between the patriarch’s playboy son, Chava, and dutiful daughter, Isabel, ensues; along the way, Club de Cuervos satirizes class and gender politics in Mexico, among other things.
The last person you would suspect to be running such a show is an American who, by his own admission, hasn’t spoken much Spanish since junior high, and whose only trips to Mexico before his latest gig were “a few visits to Tijuana.”
Nonetheless, Jay Dyer—a veteran of such shows as Californication and Andy Richter Controls the Universe—was the right man for the job. We caught up with Dyer to learn more about how Netflix got into Spanish-language programming, how Dyer solved problems in the writer’s room, and why it’s good to be open to jobs that seem to be, on their face, wrong for you.
What’s the backstory of Club de Cuervos?
Gaz Alazraki, an awesome Mexican director, made a movie called Nosotros los Nobles, which became the highest-grossing homegrown Mexican film of all time. Netflix wanted to expand into the Latin American market, so they said, “Hey Gaz, we’d love to do a TV show.” He and a friend, Mike Lam, came up with an idea that was sort of like Game of Thrones set in the world of soccer, with family members fighting for ownership of a team. Alazraki and Lam wanted to hire an American writer, and specifically a writer who had an American cable sensibility. Over the last 10 years in American TV, there’s been an explosion of great cable shows, but there’s been no real equivalent explosion in Mexico.
How in the world does someone who knows nothing about soccer get a job running a show on soccer?
When my agent first presented the idea, I thought, I’m not gonna get this job. I’m not a sports guy. I don’t speak Spanish well. But I went and saw Nosotros los Nobles, thought it was a great movie, and said, “I’d love to meet these guys. I still don’t think I’m right for it.” So I went to the meeting with low expectations. I met Gaz and Mike, and we just started talking and talking and talking. It was an amazing meeting of the minds. I realized that it wasn’t a show about soccer, it was just set in the world of soccer. The funny thing is, I think it’s my lack of soccer knowledge that eventually got me the job.
Describe that first meeting.
It was in L.A., the Friday before Memorial Day of 2013. Gaz started off talking about what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to reflect what’s going on in Mexico today. I said, “What’s going on in Mexico today?” I only knew the headlines. Gaz had all these things he wanted to explore about the class system. I started saying, “Well, this character’s this and that character’s that,” breaking the show down in the meeting.
What did you do to get up to speed on Mexico?
I started with Google. I did all the Internet reading I could. Then Gaz was essentially our tutor. The writing staff was me, Gaz, Mike, plus two other people. The first couple days, the five of us gathered and Gaz just talked about Mexico: the things he wanted to capture, the things that concerned him and excited him about his country. He put up photos, he told amazing, funny stories. A month later, the five of us went down and spent a week there to immerse ourselves. We met famous soccer players, coaches, rich kids, everyone across all strata. We did a lot of research in a town called Pachuca, where we actually film the show. We were in the locker room before a game, which was thrilling. A great banquet was held for us in the owner’s dining room. We drank lots of tequila.
What’s a creative logjam you had to solve in the writer’s room for this show?
We had a story idea that Chava wanted to change the team’s uniforms. At first I thought the only way it would work was to push it to a broad, farcical, climactic ending. I had an idea where he gets a shady operator to quickly make the uniforms, but then in the end, the team members have an allergic outbreak. People said, “I don’t know . . . ” and I said, “Just trust me, guys.”
Then I went home and woke up, as I did many a night, at four in the morning, and said, “This is terrible. Gaz is right.” We had to dig deeper. I came back in the morning and said, “Let’s rethink this.” We realized we weren’t digging into this on a character level. We had to ask, “What do the uniforms mean to Chava, and why is Isabel opposed?” We realized the father has just died, and Chava is trying to throw away the old uniforms to assert himself, but his sister doesn’t want to let go. We land on Isabel’s emotional reaction to the new uniforms, and it’s a stronger episode for it.
While the show was being shot, did you spend much time in Mexico?
At one point, I thought I was going down for a three-day trip, but I wound up staying three weeks. We shot the episodes in two batches, and this was during the hiatus before diving in and shooting the second batch. In the first six episodes Gaz had shot, he’d learned quite a lot about the characters and the actors. Gaz said, “Here are my concerns, and here’s what we could take advantage of.” So during those three weeks, he and I just did a lot of rewriting. It was the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. I didn’t sleep for three weeks. I was holed up in my hotel room, writing and rewriting. It sounds like it would not be fun, but it was the thrill of my life. In the end, I think I spent about half of the last six months in Mexico.
This interview has been condensed and edited.