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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