After premiering on US network TV last year, British audiences finally got a taste of Deutschland 83 when episode one (‘Quantum Jump’) aired on Channel 4 last night.
The Cold War drama is the first German-language show to make it to the States, and has been garnering plenty of positive reviews.
Here’s why we’re already hooked.
It taps into our fascination with the Cold War
As countless films, from Dr Strangelove to The Lives of Others, have shown, the Cold War is excellent fodder for both tense drama and absurd comedy. Both of these play an important part in Deutschland 83, which sees a young East German border guard called Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) sent across said border to spy on behalf of the Stasi, where he’s given the new identity of Moritz Stamm.
In the early ’80s the underhand, underground struggle between East and West was reaching its final act, with the Soviet-backed East Germany increasingly desperate, and increasingly paranoid, about what its ideological enemies were up to. But the fascinating thing about Deutschland 83 is that it reinforces – through fashion, music and the televised Ronald Reagan ‘Evil Empire’ speech that opens the whole series – the fact that this is recent history, within living memory for many people; it’s staggering to reflect on how much has changed in just three decades.
The attention to detail is impressive
Whether it’s the Puma t-shirts, the grainy old TV sets or the background details, Deutschland 83 employs a Mad Men-esque attention to historical accuracy. And, this being 1983, everyone smokes, all the time.
The creators of the show, American novelist Anna Winger and German TV producer Joerg Winger, brought in several social historians and military experts to ensure that everything on screen rings true. If there are any bloopers we’ve yet to spot them.
There’s a killer soundtrack
What song could be more emblematic of early ’80s continental pop than Nena’s ’99 Luftballons’? It plays in one of the first scenes, as Martin (to give him his real name) is enjoying a reunion with his fiancée Annett (Sonja Gerhardt) at his mother’s house. The first episode also features New Order and Eurythmics, so expect a glut of new wave hits over the coming weeks.
The writing is razor-sharp
We’ve gotten comfortably used to quality TV drama of late, so it’s a relief that Deutschland 83 scales the high bar set by the likes of This Is England, Fargo and Narcos.
Case in point: in one scene in ‘Quantum Jump’, when Stamm is chatting to his new West German general’s son and daughter at a barbecue at their house, he lets slip that he once danced with a “delegation from Cuba”. Realising the potentially cover-blowing clanger, he quickly covers by saying that he’s talking about a nightclub called Cuba, not the Communist country.
Jonas Nay is one to watch
The 25 year old actor plays the role of the naive young pup thrust into the impossibly pressurised world of espionage very well. At first he’s indignant, attempting to escape as soon as he’s in West Berlin (he only gets as far as the wondrously stocked supermarket), but he gradually learns the tricks of the trade. Given that the show has been picked up in America, he could well be a star of the future.
And look out for Maria Schrader as Lenora (pictured above), the auntie who recruits Martin for the Stasi and keeps him in check – the veteran German actress plays the deviant spymaster card with gusto.
A hit German TV drama is long overdue
Nordic Noir has been dominating BBC Four for years now, and France has been getting in on the action with shows like the brilliant Spiral and the upcoming Spin, so it’s about time Germany made its mark on the global TV market.
Deutschland 83 is the perfect calling card: a compelling spy drama covering a story and setting audiences across the world can relate to.
Deutschland 83 continues on Channel 4 on Sunday at 9pm. Catch up with episode one on All 4 now.