Babylon Berlin

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Why it’s worth your time:

A dark and dirty film noir, set amid the final years of Weimar Germany, Babylon Berlin is the most expensive non-English language series ever produced — a melting pot of gangsters, prostitutes, and political intrigue set against the most intoxicating spectacle of the roaring 20s you’re likely to find.

What to expect:

It’s 1929, the stock-market has yet to crash, and Berlin is at a crossroads of political and social revolutions. Although we know what’s rising, murder, stolen trains and Trotsky Communists distract our attention.  We follow “vice” police investigator Gereon Roth as he arrives in Berlin to investigate a pornography ring. He battles mud-soaked scars beneath a morphine addiction — but that’s just at first glance. As the audience, we’re ahead of the characters. We know it’s only a matter of time before the Nazi’s materialize and any triumphs against police corruption and ambitious aristocrats will be ultimately short-lived. It’s this seeping political backdrop which sears it with tension.

The takeaway:

A gripping and layered history lesson with a lot to say, Babylon Berlin will entice you through its three seasons. It’s based on the international best-selling books on Detective Gereon Roth by Volker Kutscher, so you can expect more as the series continues through the remaining books, steamrolling toward the inevitable rise of Hitler. It remains to be seen whether our heroes will survive.

Critic’s Take:

From New Republic’s Adrian Daub: “[Babylon Berlin] wants to make broader points about democracy and its institutions, how they survive staggering inequality and a general loss of faith in them.”

Watch it with:

Any fans of history or detective tales will take to it, but it’s so well produced, acted and paced that it should have a wider audience than it does.

Worth noting:

You do need to concentrate, so it’s not the type of show to watch hungover or to cheer you up during quarantine. Unless your thing is a strong, healthy dose of schadenfreude for a time more politically perilous than our own.

Also: It’s better to watch with subtitles than dubbed over in English. You’ll want to make sure you’re getting the full benefits of the actors’ fine performances.

Where to watch it:

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