“Dark” review: the German “Stranger Things”?

Due to its obvious parallels to Stranger Things, Netflix‘s first original German series Dark was widely perceived as a European version of its American ‘counterpart‘. But isn’t this assertion just a little too simplified?

The 10-episode series created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese was launched by Netflix on December 1, 2017. As Netflix has recently started focussing on internationally produced series, Dark is in line with other productions like the Spanish-language series Narcos or the Italian-language series Suburra: Blood on Rome. What makes these series so enjoyable for me is their authenticity – the combination of foreign settings and foreign languages give me a sort of “yes, that’s it!” feeling for which I readily accept the cost of having to read subtitles in most conversations.

Dark  is set in a German town called Winden. After  the disappearance of two local children, the overall situation of the town seems to worsen, bringing to light a network of intrigues encompassing the four families involved in the plot. With time it becomes apparent that the local atomic power plant has something to do with the children’s disappearance. The story follows the three main characters: police chief Charlotte Doppler and police officer Ulrich Nielsen, who are investigating separately, and the teenager Jonas Kahnwald, who has his own way of finding answers to the many questions in his life.

As a consequence of time travel, the series switches between three different storylines – 1953, 1986 and 2019, all of which are related through the number 33. This allows Dark to become a very complex show where the characters can take on up to three different guises depending on the time.

Dark and Stranger Things do share several characteristics: the 80s setting, missing children, mysterious tunnels, different dimensions, to name only a few. But on the other hand, Dark can’t simply be considered a copy-and-paste offshoot of Stranger Things. There is somehow more to it: Dark has a far more serious story and indeed puts the viewer in a kind of ‘dark‘ mood. There is not much space left for humour and funny scenes – this, however, to me is simply a criterion which makes the series fit its name. Furthermore, Dark seems to have a more sophisticated approach to the plot. The series involves questions of determinism and destiny and gives seemingly reasonable and thus authentic explanations. The aforementioned complexity combined with the seriousness of its themes and actors have led to some critics labelling the series ‘Stranger Things for grown-ups’.

While I generally consider the series’ complexity a positive aspect, it can also lead to some confusion. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who is who in the different storylines and the seemingly endless number of plot twists and deeper connections forced me to watch some scenes twice. Again, this is what makes Dark a special series – you can hardly just lean back and let yourself be entertained. But once you try to connect with the story, you will definitely get hooked and your brain demands the next episode.

As a German who for some reason is naturally quite crictical about German actors and productions, there were some scenes where actors like Christian Pätzold playing the police officer Egon Tiedemann in 1986 or Louis Hofmann playing Jonas Kahnwald in 2019 didn’t convince me. I simply couldn’t buy their seriousness – but maybe I was paying too much attention to their acting, particularly because they are German.

To sum it up, despite two minor negative aspects I believe that Dark is a thrilling show with a lot of potential for the upcoming seasons. Watching Dark brought up feelings in me which Stranger Things never did – that’s why I’m of the opinion that both series have their peculiarities which make them great in their respective fields.

Dark’s mysterious setting in the German town of Winden perfectly contributes to its creepy overall theme. To me it felt like the place had as much significance as the series’ characters. Interestingly, it’s a matter of debate whether Winden is a real town: while there are several places with this name in Germany, like Winden im Elztal which is situated in the Black Forest, a New York Times article suggested that the place in the series is fictional. There is no official statement from the producer’s side on the fictionality or otherwise of Winden. Just to add some more dubiousness, a look into an English-German dictionary reveals that “winden” is an action verb which means “to twist something”. Thinking of the many plot twists involved in the show, this could also be a genius example of intentional word play.

Florian Rehme

Posted in TV

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