The Question is Not Where, but When
Imagine if the Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things), David Lynch (Twin Peaks)and Alfred Hitchcock (seriously?) got together to create a show…it’d be something like Dark, now streaming on Netflix.
Now I am only three episodes into this series so this may be a little premature…but I doubt it.
Let’s get this over with, here are the things that will make you not want to watch Dark.
First, it’s German.
In what appears to be one more step towards world domination in streaming, Dark is the first German language Netflix production. So yea, you will need to set up your subtitles on Netflix. For those that hate to read subtitles, you can view the show dubbed in English but, and I can’t stress this strong enough, you’d be silly to do that. It’s never a good idea to watch anything foreign dubbed into English. It turns watching even the best film or television show into an awful experience. You can take a look at this quick read from Meagan Fredette at Refinery29 for a better explanation.
Second, you might be coming down off of your Stranger Things high and aren’t in the mood for a similar show. Make no mistake, there are similarities here. And while I enjoyed Stranger Things, I never quite understood the incessant adulation the show received. Stranger Things is good, I agree. I get it.
But Dark is better.
Third, there are multiple story lines and they jump around in time. You do kinda have to pay attention to what’s going on. If you have the attention span of a gnat, are easily confused or think that The Big Bang Theory is good, this may not be the best show for you.
Lastly, if you have some sort of deep-rooted hatred towards Germany it’s probably best to skip this one.
So why should you watch Dark? Because it’s fucking brilliant!
Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese who are, as near as I can tell, Swiss and unafraid of the comparisons to Stranger Things, “It’s really exciting because if all those people who watched Stranger Things will at least think about watching Dark, I think that’s a great opportunity for us,” Friese says. “So keep comparing it.”
Where the shows diverge is in atmosphere. Where Stranger Things is a little cheeky, Dark is brooding. From the very first scene, a sense of worry engulfs you and you just know that some dark shit is going to happen. Visually, the show is, well, dark and it does rain a lot in the small town of Winden, where everything unfolds. It’s visual American kissing cousin would be David Fincher’s Seven. So if you like a darker aesthetic and lots of rain, you’ll find Dark satisfying. The show is very aptly titled.
Even though I am only three episodes in, I feel safe saying that the look and feel of the show will remain intact because all ten episodes were directed by Baran bo Odar and all ten were shot by Nikolaus Summerer. It seems unlikely that the show will somehow adopt a more sunny disposition. I mean, it is called Dark.
To try to describe what Dark is about, I’ll have to leave to the Internet. This is what the web tells us the show is about “The disappearance of two young children in a German town brings light to the fractured relationships, double lives and past of four families living there, revealing a mystery that spans across three generations.” I think that seems about right so far.
The theme song, created by German electronic musician Apparat (Sascha Ring), is the perfect introduction to the show, and I hate electronic music. What can I say about the relationship between the soundtrack, the music and the visuals? They all come together and shoot the tension of the narrative up tenfold. I’ve never at once been so aware, yet not at all distracted by, the sounds and music that lay underneath the images of Dark. Australian composer, and current Iceland resident, Ben Frost is the guy behind the music in the show. I usually find ambient music just awful, but then I’ve never seen it paired so perfectly with visuals. Frost’s music here is the absolute perfect marriage of sight and sound; it raises the bar for this creative element.
Because the show goes back to the 80’s you’ll hear some music from that era as well. Nena (obviously), Tears for Fears, ABC are a few that pop up in the early episodes. There are also a bunch of songs by artists that I don’t recognize and those are interesting enough. They sound to me to be mostly electronic, which is not my preferred genre, but they neither add nor take away from the story.
The acting is great. I don’t know any of these actors so I can’t really compare it to anything they have done in the past. The show appears to focus around Jonas Kahnwald, played by Louis Hofmann who is more than adept at carrying the scenes he’s in. The woman who really has that sort of “it” factor is Jördis Triebel, who plays Katharina Nielsen. Whenever she is onscreen you gravitate to her, waiting to find out what she does. That is a unique trait for actors to have and not one that can be taught.
I believe that the actors are mostly German, so the guys have a stern, or jerkish, look about them and the women have a sort of cranky, or resting bitch face, look about them. This is even true of the child actors…but I am guessing that this may just be the normal German disposition. I know very little of German culture, but they do seem like a very severe people.
I will say this (and this seems much more prevalent in foreign programs) it is REALLY nice to see actors their age portraying characters their age. The adult characters are all middle age and so are the actors, the children and teen characters are all children and teens and the older characters are all older actors. No one is playing outside of their respective demographic. And, at least so far, all the physical relationships are age appropriate too!
Because the show hops decades, it’s important that the child actors resemble their adult counterparts and, in an amazing attention to detail, they all do.
In addition to creating the show, producing the show, and in Baran bo Odar’s case directing the show, both Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar wrote or co-wrote all ten episodes of the show. Other writers listed are Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk and Marc O. Seng. All of these names are, literally, foreign to me but, so far, I’d have to say the writing is amazing. Having the ability to maintain all of these storylines, and do so effectively, is kind of incredible.
For as complicated and conceptually wide as Dark is, it is at the very same time quite taut. Nothing is extraneous or out of place; the music, the sound, the acting, the look, the writing and the directing all coalesce into an extremely tight narrative. The show doesn’t deploy any cheap tricks as it builds tension (more than once in each episode I felt my heart beating a little faster) and you will find yourself deeply engrossed rather quickly. Now usually, a show like this would have me up all night and bingeing on the whole season asap, but this time I am gonna go a little slower, enjoy the ride.
A slow ride, if you will (oh yea, I went there…live version no less).
The comparisons between Dark and Stranger Things exist. I can see them but don’t feel they’re worth mentioning because I don’t find them debilitating to the narrative or distracting. For a lot of people, I don’t suspect Dark will be as fun as Stranger Things (I’m not really sure “fun” is part of the German vernacular)…and I’m OK with that.
Dark is much, well, darker. This may seem like heresy to Stranger Things fans, but I think if you are open to it, and give it a chance, Dark will be a much more satisfying experience.
It will definitely be a different experience.
UPDATE: I am now six episodes in. My accolades still stand BUT I will say that the story, if you’re not paying attention, can get a little confusing. This is not the type of show you can watch, go away for a few days and come back to, there is no “Previously on Dark” synopsis up front, thank God. I think Dark was designed to be viewed in rapid succession. And if it wasn’t, I’m finding it the best way to watch it.