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Netflix’s First Italy Original Features Comedian and Opposition Politician Beppe Grillo

Variety logo Variety 2/6/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME – Netflix has partnered with Italian standup comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star movement leads the country’s parliamentary opposition, on comedy special “Grillo vs. Grillo,” the streaming giant’s first completed Italian original production.

The show is set to go out globally on Netflix on Feb. 10, a Netflix representative said.

The global streaming service seems a congenial media outlet for the anti-establishment Grillo, 68, who launched the Five Star Movement in 2010 as an offshoot of a massively popular blog he started after claiming he had been exiled from Italian television.

Indeed, after becoming a ratings magnet on Italian pubcaster Rai, Grillo in the late 1980s was temporarily banned from Rai following a caustic sendup of then prime minister Bettino Craxi. His subsequent TV appearances as a comedian, and also as a pol, have been rare, arguably due to his own choice. But they have always earned big ratings.

Produced by Marangoni Spettacolo, “Grillo vs. Grillo” marks the iconoclastic comedian’s return as an on-screen entertainer after at least a decade away, though he has continued to perform regularly in theater tours across Italy. His 2010 tour also played in other European cities, including London, Paris, and Berlin.

The Netflix special, taped during a stop on Grillo’s current tour in his native Genoa, features the wild-haired populist spouting sarcastically on a wide range of topics, from the global economy to environmental issues, technology, and his two different public identities.

“I never thought I would become leader of a political movement, but it happened. I don’t know why, but I have to tell you the truth: I was kidding!” he tells the howling audience.

The Internet-based Five Star movement led by Grillo drew one-fourth of the vote in Italy’s latest national election, in 2013. More recently, in December it got a boost at a referendum proposing constitutional reforms which it opposed and which was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

Despite big differences between them, Grillo is sometimes compared by European commentators to Donald Trump.

“Our movement has some similarities,” Grillo said, commenting on Trump’s victory. “We became the first political movement in Italy, and the media didn’t even realize it.”

While he is known for his anti-immigrant stance and supported Brexit, Grillo has recently backtracked from wanting to take Italy out of the E.U.

Comedy specials are becoming a key plank in Netflix’s programming strategy in the U.S. where the streaming service in recent months has been binge-buying shows featuring the biggest names in the genre, including Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, and Dave Chapelle. Grillo could help drive Netflix in Italy.

Netflix is also producing original Italian series “Suburra,” about present-day ties between organized crime and politics in Rome. It started shooting late last year, produced by Cattleya for both Netflix and Rai, and is not likely to broadcast before this summer.

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