Deutschland 83

January 19, 2016

Just like there are people who will excuse Rebellion its many faults because it’s a homegrown production, so too are there people who will forgive Deutschland 83 the same because it’s a fancy, foreign import showing on Channel Four’s new Walter Presents service, that specialises in showing the best foreign-language drama series from around the world.

What you think of it will depend on how you like your TV done.

If you’re one of those folks who likes a fast moving narrative, with the music and familial-strife of a budget wedding, well Deutschland 83 should be right up your alley, with lots of characters acting ridiculously for the sake of some drama, against a backdrop of 80s chart music.

If you like your shows to establish characters beyond what can be summed up in a few sentences and see them put through scenarios where you’re not quite sure what’s going on- or what’s going to happen, then you should tune back into Homeland, which just finished its fifth- and some might say best, series on RTE. 

Because Deutschland 83 is televisual fly tape for basic bitches. It’s undemanding, unoriginal yet punchily paced and mildly nerve-wracking. It won’t stay with you after the credits role, but it wont work you up in a rage either. 

Set against the background of a Cold War roasted up a few degrees by Ronald Regan’s “Evil Empire” speech, Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is a border patrol guard, knocked out and disabled by the Stasi, East Germany’s Secret police, who black mail him into serving his country.

His mission- which he has no choice but to accept seeing as his mother Ingrid (Carina Wiese) is on a transplant list (but wont be if he backs out), is to go undercover in West Berlin as the aide-de-camp to the West German General Edel (Ulrich Noethen), who’s closely allied with the Yanks to discover what their plans are for an attack on the East.

So as Martin- or Moritz as he is now called, is trained up in what seems like no time at all- with much comic mirth milked from his innocence of all things spy or capitalist, we see him act out a check list of spy tropes.From safe cracking to file snapping, room bugging to honey trapping he must also cope with the trials and tribulations of his bosses kin.

A daughter, Yvonne (Lisa Tomaschewsky) who has fallen in with a ridiculous cult; A son Alex (Ludwig Trepte) who serves in the Army with Moritz and who has begun a flirtation with the peace movement; and a lush aunt who has rumbled Moritz’s secret but can’t prove it as Moritz manages to spike her drink and make her look a thick before she can spill the beans.

Meanwhile, Annett (Sonja Gerhardt) his own girlfriend- who has no idea where he has up-and-left to, begins filling the void, his mother’s health deteriorates and, oh yeah, his aunt Leonora (the brilliant Maria Schrader)- who is his Stasi handler, came up with the plan to hi-jack him in the first place, playing with his mother-her own sisters!!! health like a fundamentalist cat.

Deutschland 83 needs you to take massive leaps of faith in its story telling, which is sped up to such a degree that there is nothing really at stake. Martin is more like one of those old crime serial heroes, like The Fugitive or J.B. Fletcher, then the nuanced characters played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) or Clare Danes. And that’s no fault of Nay, who is as charming and layered as the script or direction will let him be.

But there’s never any real tension in what happens to him, or what revelations come from his spy craft. Nor is there any real danger milked from the fear that those who rule the world, might just end it for the rest of us.

Its all about the challenges Martin/Moritz faces each week at the behest of his government handlers, so Deutschland 83 plays out like a contrived, formulaic thriller, with the narrative horsepower of a CSI Whatever. It has its charms, but they hark back to a more formulaic style of television making.


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