Son of a B**** Review

Leke Sanusi reviews Son of a Bitch


A good referee typically avoids the spotlight, inconspicuously setting about his or her job officiating.?SON OF A BITCH, a Brazilian comic-drama series starring Eucir de Souza, eschews football’s hat-trick heroes and match-winners in favour of a more curious and less heralded subject – the man with the whistle; zooming in on a fictional official named Juarez as he pursues his dream of refereeing a World Cup final with all the doggedness and enthusiasm of a striker closing down a centre-back.

Launched on Channel 4’s world drama streaming service, Walter Presents, the series – set in Brazil – provides a personal, albeit, fictional, account of life as a referee; portraying the pleasures and pressures of the job, and highlighting that – beyond awarding free-kicks and handing out bookings – referees (believe it or not) are people too. For them – like everyone else – the show says, life goes on after the final whistle’s been blown.

In the first few minutes of its pilot episode, the tragic-comic drama tells us everything we need to know about our protagonist, the troubled referee and titular son of a bitch, Juarez Gomes da Silva: we are informed of his lofty aspirations with a whimsical opening scene culminating in the beaming official being held aloft by cheering players on football’s grandest stage – the World Cup final. We are also given insight into his relationship with his beautiful wife, Manuela – a love turned sour by Juarez’s extra-marital affairs; his playing away from home on one too many occasions costing him his marriage.

Fighting for custody over their son, Vini, Juarez and Manuela – played by Cynthia Falabella – each make their case to Dr. José Pablo, a markedly shifty judge. Upon recognising Juarez from TV, being a football fan, his honour suddenly perks up, becoming as star struck as anyone taken by the sight and presence of a referee can be. Despite being given ample reason and evidence to award custody to Manuela, the judge inexplicably backs Juarez. Exercising egregiously bad judgement, his passion for football takes precedence over his fiduciary responsibilities and with the bang of his gavel, he settles the fate of a young boy and his broken family.

A big, goading smile sweeping across his face, Juarez can hardly contain himself, the happy ref pleased with the judge’s decision. Restraint being in his job description (as an official), Juarez is presented with a rare moment to celebrate – and he does, relishing the occasion like a forward whose just slammed home a match-winner in stoppage time. Unbeknownst to him, this is nothing more than a pyrrhic victory.

Gearing up to take to the pitch in a local cup game between fictional sides Paulicéia and 18 de Abril, Juarez veers between elation and despair within minutes. With kick-off just around the corner, he is given the great stepping-stone opportunity to take charge of a few matches in the Copa Libertadores – the premier club competition for South American and Mexican teams – before being dealt a bone-shaking shock when Judge Pablo turns up, emerging villainously from the shadows to reveal he is the legal director of Paulicéia. Showing little flair for subtlety, the unscrupulous judge pressures Juarez to throw the game in his team’s favour, implying, in no uncertain terms, that his custody rights might be under threat otherwise. Thrown for a loop, the embattled ref is torn between chasing his dreams and/or losing his son.

Much of the show plays out in this fashion. Fittingly, the funny drama explores the consequences of each and every single decision made over the course of the referee’s life, examining how he responds to them. Tackling subjects and issues like divorce, sex and corruption, the show ends up being about more than football, bad calls and debatable off-sides; it becomes a grounded – though humorous – series about life itself; its ups, downs and curious quirks; its strange and serendipitous twists of fate – life seen through the lens of a man with a whistle.

Interestingly, the show could be narrowed down to just that: a drama about a man. Or rather, a drama about men. Addressing themes such as virility, fatherhood, and male bonding, the series contends with what it means to be a man, even trying its hand at a little social commentary by parsing how one can be both masculine?and?gay.

Arriving in Mexico for their first game of the Copa Libertadores (in the third episode of the series), Juarez and his team of linesmen go out for a drink the night before their big match. Having spent the whole evening bemoaning his bad luck with women, Juarez is shocked when his friend, Sergio – one of his assistant referees – tries to steal a kiss. “Man, you’re a referee!” Juarez exclaims, taken aback. “So what?” Sergio asks. “The world is full of gay refs.”

In a later scene, when the very same Sergio throws a punch at a hostile fan after their Libertadores debut, Juarez remarks to his friend, “You’re a very macho gay.” Nonplussed, Sergio reveals he is a black belt in taekwondo. Drily, he adds: “But my apple rice pudding is delicious.”

Funny and engaging,?SON OF A BITCH packs more of a punch than you might expect. Clever, playful TV, the show confidently sets about hitting its marks, doing so more often than not. Nevertheless, it is not without its failings. Though lacking a laugh track, some of the series’ jokes come off like they’ve been written for a sitcom, while the drama does at times feel soapy. The show also indulges in gratuitous womanising from time to time, fixating on one too many backsides and well-shaped thighs in service of cheap laughs and forced sex appeal.

That said, SON OF A BITCH?is a fun and easy watch. A nice little guilty pleasure to provide some welcome respite from the underwhelming Euros. Our verdict? Watch it: much worse decisions have been made.

Son of a Bitch was launched on Channel 4’s streaming service, Walter Presents.