I’m not a TV snob. You know, one of those people who claim they don’t own a television, or that they have a small one but keep it in the closet and just bring it out to watch butterfly documentaries on PBS. In fact, the definition of ‘TV snob’ might have changed now because so many people watch TV on their computers, tablets, or phones, but I think you know what I mean and you probably know where I’m headed with this. I admit that I sometimes watch TV, but not as much as you might think for someone who’s been retired for over a decade, so I’m pretty selective and sometimes a little quirky in what I watch.
A few years back I tired of the usual stuff and began exploring foreign TV programs available through various streaming platforms, and I found that something about them appealed to me. Beginning with British shows and other imports that were in English, I ran through a number of good ones (and bailed out on the occasional duds) then widened my scope and found myself becoming interested in Scandinavian dramas with subtitles. I was unsure at first, but it turned out that the subtitles were not a problem and the flood-gates opened for me. Since then I’ve enjoyed TV shows from all over the world, and that brings me to the main subject of this post.
Babylon Berlin is now available on Netflix, and it has flown below the radar a little in this country so far but people are beginning to catch on. It’s a stunning German series that takes place in 1929 during the Weimar Republic era, a period of debauchery and turmoil leading up to the beginning of Hitler’s Third Reich. It’s the most expensive TV series ever made in Europe and you can see it in almost every richly-drawn scene. Huge historically accurate sets filled with an enormous cast help make it jaw-dropping viewing at times.
I have to admit that I was scratching my head in the first couple of episodes (there are 16 total) because there is a lot of depth to it — mysteries, plots, counter-plots — but it all begins to make sense eventually. And you’ll never be bored. Even if at first you don’t understand all the little things happening in a particular scene, it will later become clearer, and meanwhile the show is just so dazzling that you’ll stay engrossed, even with subtitles. (Note that you can change it to English-dubbed if you want. I tried it, but didn’t care for it. I’d rather hear the fierceness and emotion in the actors’ voices, even if I don’t understand German. Dubbed-in voices can sound tame by comparison.)
Oh, and one more thing — because this is the Geezer Music Club after all — I’m happy to report that Babylon Berlin is filled with outstanding music, with a period-correct sound that’s still very appealing to modern ears. And then there are the dancing scenes, almost hypnotic and perfectly attuned to a wicked and seductive city that was trapped in a volatile and explosive era.