The Reviews Are In: Babylon Berlin Sets the Scene for Unusually Visionary Television, Intercontinentally

By Hannah Quinque

CC BY-SA 4.0, Lear 21

Grant­ed, Baby­lon Berlin has at its dis­po­si­tion all the means nec­es­sary to become a true block­buster. But it isn’t every day the view­er gets to expe­ri­ence just how phe­nom­e­nal­ly a big bud­get can be spent on a TV series – with­out com­pro­mis­es between bom­bas­tic mon­tages and cin­e­matog­ra­phy for lovers, between fast-paced sto­ry devel­op­ment and cred­i­bly com­plex char­ac­ters, that is.

For Baby­lon Berlin, pro­duced in Ger­many by Ger­man pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies, the com­mit­ment to an unflinch­ing and unre­served depic­tion of a nation on the verge of fas­cism pays off. As a bit of an inside tip, the show’s spec­tac­u­lar efforts are appre­ci­at­ed far beyond its coun­try of ori­gin, as demon­strat­ed by almost exclu­sive­ly glow­ing U.S. reviews.

The three sea­sons of Baby­lon Berlin aired thus far haven’t received pub­lic atten­tion in the U.S. even remote­ly com­pa­ra­ble to how big of a deal the show is in Ger­many. After the third season’s U.S. Net­flix release in the begin­ning of 2020, excit­ed review­ers still regard­ed the show as large­ly neglect­ed by Amer­i­can audi­ences. Accord­ing to the rav­ing reviews, this should real­ly change ASAP. So, what exact­ly are the high notes in this tenor of praise?

Baby­lon Berlin clear­ly hits that sweet spot of edu­tain­ment; it’s binge-wor­thy but by no means eas­i­ly digest­ed. The atten­tion to his­toric detail trans­ports the view­er into a Ger­man era where the Weimar Repub­lic is slow­ly but sure­ly los­ing its pre­car­i­ous demo­c­ra­t­ic foothold. Liv­ing through this ter­ri­ble dra­ma offers a sort of cathar­tic effect that might well feel dif­fer­ent­ly dur­ing this hope­ful­ly once-in-a-life­time pan­dem­ic. What review­ers rec­og­nize is the insid­i­ous man­ner in which fas­cist move­ments thrive on social and per­son­al inse­cu­ri­ties. We see how eas­i­ly peo­ple are divid­ed into groups, so that mis­trust and vio­lent hatred spread and turn exist­ing gaps into insur­mount­able chasms. Sound famil­iar? It’s dis­qui­et­ing, to say the least, that the mot­to res­onates with ‘the cur­rent U.S. Amer­i­can zeit­geist,’ com­men­tary that pops up in one form or anoth­er through­out reviews.

Look­ing on the brighter side of cap­ti­vat­ing tele­vi­sion, Baby­lon Berlin gen­er­al­ly gar­nered over­seas reviews as exul­tant as the show itself. Said reviews as well as per­son­al expe­ri­ence sug­gest that the show’s abil­i­ty to deal in extremes suc­cess­ful­ly set it apart from both oth­er Ger­man pro­duc­tions and the cus­tom­ary taste of Amer­i­can audi­ences. What oth­er show offers itself to be oxy­moron­i­cal­ly described as a col­or­ful noir or a block­buster that just doesn’t feel like Hol­ly­wood? One can only hope that the next sea­son will keep the extrav­a­gan­za going.

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