AV Club: ‘Fatal Seduction’, ‘Wura’ & what series remakes say about streamers in Africa

As with all on-screen art, it has to start with a great story.

Last Friday, Netflix released the second batch of episodes for the first season of ‘Fatal Seduction’, the South African TV series that premiered earlier this year with seven episodes. The streaming platform gained popularity for delivering an entire season of shows for viewers to watch on-demand, either bingeing them or taking their time—the discretion depends on who’s watching. The strategy of breaking up a season by dropping episodes in batches isn’t new but it’s been used sparingly, mainly reserved for blockbuster shows like ‘You’ and ‘Stranger Things’.

‘Fatal Seduction’ isn’t a blockbuster—at least, not in the timeline-consuming, conversation-driving manner—which makes the two-volume release of its first season surprising. The strategy is even more puzzling when you consider that the show isn’t exactly an original series. It follows Nandi (Kgomotso Christoper), a university professor who gets into an extramarital affair with Jacob (Prince Grootboom), as she can’t keep a lid on her desires when the pair have a one-night stand after meeting at a short beach getaway. As the story unfolds, it turns out that their meeting wasn’t so serendipitous; there’s a death in the first episode, it turns out Jacob is taking the professor’s class, Nandi’s daughter falls for a catfish, and more stuff happens, leading to a cliff-hanger in the seventh episode, which is where the first volume ended back in June.

Depending on who you ask, the end of that seventh episode might not be much of a cliff-hanger, since the show is based on another Netflix original series, ‘Dark Desire’. While ‘Fatal Seduction’ is not an entirely Xeroxed show, the similarities are overwhelming enough to describe it as a remake. The premise is the same, the liberal show of libidinous sex scenes cuts across both shows, the pacing for ‘Fatal Seduction’ is slightly faster but the events unfold in the exact manner as its predecessor, which means there will be no surprises in the second volume if you’re already hip to ‘Dark Desire’.

On its own, ‘Fatal Seduction’ is an enjoyable watch, even though it’s some ways off gripping. The plot might be predictable but the show is aware enough to ensure the story feels worthwhile, leaning into the sleaze and steaminess of its sexually-charged moments for pure entertainment purpose. (Full disclosure: I watched ‘Desire’ after seeing the seventh episode ‘Seduction’, before its latest batch episodes.) Asides maybe Nandi, none of the characters standout to be liked or deeply disliked; for now, they’re just moving pieces in service of the story, and it also plays into how simply serviceable the overall acting is on the show.

A Mexican original, ‘Dark Desire’ was a big hit for Netflix in Mexico and across Latin America when it debuted in 2020. A lot of that attention no doubt came from its smutty content. At eighteen episodes in its first season, though, the show was a serious drag. ‘Fatal Seduction’ will not get that many episodes, which is a positive, but being based on a commercial hit is a telling sign of Netflix’s ambition to replicate the success of another show basically lifted from halfway across the world.


The critical reception to ‘Dark Desire’ was lukewarm when it premiered, and I doubt ‘Fatal Seduction’ will be highly acclaimed when its first season is completed—in fact, early conversations have centred the similarities with its forebear. As any construction engineer will tell you, it’s impossible to erect an edifice when the architectural plans the building will be based on is mediocre. That’s pretty much the case with ‘Fatal Seduction’. The new batch of episodes might end up vindicating Netflix’s gamble, but what are the ramifications if the show becomes a hit—or it doesn’t.

Since entering the African film market, Netflix has repeatedly stated its commitment to telling African stories while centring excellence. The streamer has mostly done that with a growing catalogue of commissioned, original films and TV shows, with South African originals comprising a significant portion of those releases. It’s apt, since SA has the best structured film industry on this side of the world. The variety has also been remarkable, from family dramas and folky sci-fi to mini-comedy series and spy thrillers, and much more. ‘Fatal Seduction’, a romantic and erotic thriller, expands the scope but it’s undercut by being a remake of a not-so-great show.

Imitation might be regarded as the best form of flattery, but a lack of inventiveness in art can be a net negative. That’s why, in music, artists add their own spin when they cover already released songs. While there are shows like ‘The Office’ and ‘Jane the Virgin’ that hit high critical marks and are based on pre-existing TV series, most remakes are stuck with the limitations of their forebears. To eclipse those issues, following the blueprint step-by-step isn’t an option.

Earlier in the year, Netflix released ‘Unseen’, another SA TV series based on ‘Fatma’, the Turkish original. In ‘Unseen’, Zenzi Mwale (Gail Mabalanle) desperately searches for her husband Max (Vuyo Dabula), after he goes missing on the day of his release from a long prison stint. While Max was locked up, their son was killed, and the anticipation of reuniting with her husband was the only thing that really kept Zenzi going. The main characters and central conflict in both shows are the same: Zenzi and the titular Fatma are both cleaning ladies on the same quest, reaching murderous extremes for answers if need be.

‘Unseen’ unfolds in the same manner as its forebear, but it takes a few liberties that helps its identity as a South African show. The scenes don’t fundamentally differ—in fact, you can hear dialogue being reprised from ‘Fatma’, as well as the same character matrix. The setting does aid some of the storytelling, especially the police procedural parts that ‘Fatma’ couldn’t get away with, since police investigation procedure is expected to be better in Turkey than it is in SA. The show uses societal factors like that to help Zenzi manoeuvre a bit better but it still wobbles in character depth and as it reaches its resolution.

As much as Mabalanle puts in an awe-inspiring shift, there’s some deficit in what we know about Zenzi—viewers will connect more to her struggles than the character’s person. In trying to be a little more inventive about the remake, there’s a priority in adjusting the nuances of the story and it affects fleshing out the characters. Even the penultimate to ending phase is as puzzling as it is affecting, still inheriting issues from the show it’s based on.

So far, Netflix has invested in two remakes for the African market, one more worthwhile than the other, and neither has really reached cultural ubiquity. Even looking outward, there’s no proof of concept—the streamer’s South Korean remake of its Spanish smash hit series, ‘Money Heist’, wasn’t greeted with the same fervour. Currently, film is partly dominated by remakes and reboots, but it’s yet to widely translate to TV shows. Originality is a factor, but so is execution; reprising an entire show is a difficult ambition to pull off.

As far as remakes in African TV, it doesn’t get more ambitious than the Showmax telenovela ‘Wura’, based on the long-running South African series ‘The River’—which has also been adapted in Kenya (as ‘Kina’) and Portugal. Starring Scarlet Gomez as the titular character, ‘Wura’ portrays the difficulty in balancing being a cold-blooded businesswoman, great wife and loving mother—at least that’s what I gleaned from watching seventeen episodes.

‘Wura’ is at 100 episodes now; ‘The River’ has six seasons so far, all at 120 episodes. According to reports and parts of my Twitter timeline, ‘Wura’ hasn’t deferred that much from ‘The River’. I can’t say if it’s a good or a bad thing, the same way I can neither confirm nor deny the many tweets and group chat texts I’ve seen about bad acting on the show. It would be a hell of a task to watch 720 episodes of the older show and cycle through another 100 (well, 73 for me) to figure out if ‘Wura’ nailed its impression, eclipsed its forebear, or is shackled to any critical issues. The goal is clearly to localise the story for a previously oblivious audience.

In adhering so closely to the source of its inspiration, there might already be a positive. Showrunner Roger Ofime recently discussed the show’s portrayal of a queer love story, a taboo topic in a deeply conservative Nigerian story that squeezes queer people beyond the margins. “We don’t face challenges telling stories of a boy and girl in love, so why now?” he answered when asked if there were any challenges with that part of the show. “We had two queer characters in The River and got to see more. So, expect the same.”

The common thread between ‘Fatal Seduction’, ‘Unseen’, and ‘Wura’ is that their level of excellence is mainly tethered to the excellence of what came before it. That would mean that the adaptation of a critical hit would turn out an acclaimed show. It’s not an entirely linear correlation but, in the African film mainstream where story construction is something of a general Achilles heel, there’s some merit to that line of thought. It’s uncertain which other remakes we’ll be seeing but, as with all on-screen art, it has to start with a great story.