One of the features of modern criminal drama has been the quality series from mainland Europe. The Killing started a whole new genre of Scanda Noir and The Spiral and Montalbano proved popular and watchable too. I have now watched 4 episodes of Babylon Berlin, a joint-production of German public broadcaster ARD and Sky Deutschland. It’s set in Berlin between 1929 and 1934 in the Weimar Republic and is a graphic depiction of the seediness and corruption of those times.
The location detail seems accurate. There are various plot lines but the central one is the arrival in the Berlin vice squad of Commissar Gereon Roth (Volker Bruch) from Cologne whose mayor, the future chancellor Kurt Adenauer, is being blackmailed. Rath’s colleague Oberkommissar Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth) is more than curious as to why Rath has taken the position.
Liv Lisa Fries plays Charlotte Ritter who lives in a one room flat with her family in some squalor and works at police headquarters.
Added to this is a Trotskyite group of activists led by Alexei Kardakov, a musician, whose lover Svetlana sings as a man in a dance club that Charlotte frequents and works as a prostitute in the basement. Getting complicated? There is another plot line of a restauranteur who seems to have served up the brother of and to a diner who has deceived him.
This is the problem. The locations, the acting , the recreation of atmosphere are all first class but so far there are too many plot lines that do not mesh and none of the twists and turns that made The Killing so absorbing. We have yet to see any detective work though there are unpleasant torture interrogation scenes a-plenty. There is plenty of sex too – sex and violence the old reliables to sell a series – but in this case these scenes reminded me of Cabaret and the superb Berlin novels of Christopher Isherwood.
There is enough in and about it to make me want to view further. I tend to be traditionalist and if the programme is broadcast 9-11 pm on a Sunday than that is when I will watch it rather the download at any time. Although the series has been sold to Netflix I don’t see this series as a winner.