With the Kremlin and White House not exactly seeing eye to eye these days, it almost feels like we're on the verge of a second Cold War — if we aren't in one already.
(In case you were wondering, the next great war will probably be fought in space with China and North Korea.)
But if any country felt the bitter results of the Cold War most, it was probably Germany, which was split in two after the Allies defeated the Nazi regime. However, even during battle, two biggest Allied forces, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, were distrustful of each other, and eventually the Red Scare took over America while USSR leaders were convinced fascism and capitalism were one in the same.
Looking back at the point in time, it's a fascinating look at two world powers battling for supremacy, mainly through a lot of chest thumping, arms races, and proxy wars. So why aren't there more movies and TV shows that directly explore this period of time? (And, no, Rocky IV doesn't count.)
Enter Deutschland 83, the first German-language TV show to be broadcast in the U.S. Yes, it's subtitled, so that could turn off some viewers, but it really shouldn't. The storyline, characters, and time period make this one of the most enjoyable shows we've seen this year. While most critics have been comparing it to FX's The Americans, Deutschland 83 is more of an action-packed spy thriller that has quickly unfolded over the course of its eight-episode first season, perhaps to the detriment of character development, with the finale taking place tonight on SundanceTV.
If you've been foolishly unaware of Deutschland 83's existence until now, don't worry, the entire first season is available on iTunes or, with a cable subscription, you can watch on Sundance.tv.
And really, this is the perfect show for a day of binge watching. Here's why.
Germany as two countries.
"German Cold War history is also American history" is how Deutschland 83 executive producer and creator Joerg Winger explained the show's possible appeal to American audiences. That's because the actions taken by the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War directly affected the two Germanys, and the show provides a fascinating look into the cultural and political divides the war caused through both humor and action. In the first episode, Martin Rauch, the character sent by the East Germans to spy on the West, is given a quick schooling on the differences between the two, lest he blows his cover. (For example, a supermarket is called a kaufhalle in the East and a supermarkt in the West.)
'80 fashion without being over the top.
When a contemporary TV show or movie looks back to the '80s, the fashion almost always ends up being a comical exaggeration to the point of distraction. Sure the colors might have been a little louder and shoulder pads were in, but not everyone dressed up like an up-and-coming pop superstar named Madonna. Deutschland 83 uses its costuming to establish a time period and give the viewer a sense of how culturally different East and West Germans were and never using it as an excuse to be gimmicky. Still, if you're looking for a fashion icon, the show has one thanks to Lenora Rauch, Martin's aunt and East German handler. Seriously, Lenora makes communism and the Stasi look amazing.
If you're going to give into one '80s cliché let it be the music.
New Order, Eurythmics, David Bowie, the Cure, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Idol, and more have all provided an '80s-appropriate soundtrack to the series. Even the opening credits uses Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)" as an intro to each episode. The music also serves to show Martin's growth as a character, who in the very first episode attends a party at his mother's home in East Germany where Nena's anti-war song "99 Luftballons" is playing. (We are unsure if that would have been frowned upon by the Stasi.) Later on in the series, Martin is introduced to Duran Duran by a very pushy hustler trying to unload a Walkman. It instantly takes him away for a moment of having to remember that he's a spy in West Germany.
All the characters, both East and West, are flawed, but somehow you end up rooting for them.
Without giving too much away, you'll probably be cheering for Martin's success every episode as he trying to gather intelligence and not get caught while doing so. But other character's like Alex Edel, the son of Martin's boss in the West, General Wolfgang Edel, is both frustratingly unlikable and likable at the same time. There's also Martin's fiancee in the East, Annett Schneider, who seems deceivingly naive in that she doesn't always seem to understand the consequences her actions can have. Of course, the show revolves around Martin and his own East-vs.-West conflict — both in the work he's required to do and within his own conscience — but the supporting characters help to effectively drive the storyline as well.
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It doesn't eschew using humor.
The Cold War and espionage can be pretty heavy topics, but Deutschland 83 doesn't take itself too seriously. In fact, one of the best scenes in the show comes during episode two after Martin has stolen a comically large floppy disk from a NATO analyst and sent it back to East Germany. At the Stasi headquarters, nobody seems sure what the damn thing does or how to access the information on it. There is talk of having to get a "personal computer" but even then everyone is still confused and the Western trade embargo is going to make it pretty difficult for them to obtain one. Humor like this not only again reinforces the differences between the two Germanys, but it also seems absurd to modern audiences that this was considered sophisticated espionage. NSA, take note.
Deutschland 83 season finale airs Wednesday, August 5, at 11 p.m. on SundanceTV.