With depictions of pandemic catastrophes, war, failing empires, the divide between rich and poor, shooting rampages and massive power outages, Germany’s newest TV shows appear to reflect the current apocalyptic zeitgeist.
German broadcasters and streaming services alike are going heavy on suspense, crime, psychological thrillers, action and adventure, often colored by themes of societal disruption and armed conflict.
Showrunner Christian Alvart (“Dogs of Berlin”) was in production with ZDF Enterprise’s new series “Sløborn” well before the COVID-19 pandemic but the storyline was eerily prescient: A community on the North Sea island of Sløborn is slowly devastated when a deadly virus begins killing residents while being largely ignored by most of the population until it’s too late. Alvart says he wanted to make a series about a crisis that occurs because people are too occupied with their daily lives to take the situation seriously.
In ZDF’s “Shadowplay,” an eight-part series sold by Studiocanal, Taylor Kitsch stars as an American cop in Berlin trying to organize a police force in the chaotic aftermath of World War II while the U.S. and Soviet Union vie for power in the city.
“America’s very close alliance to Europe, especially to Germany, since 1945 acted as a safeguard and kept the superpowers — including the USA — in balance,” says Tim Halkin, managing director of Tandem Prods., which produced “Shadowplay” with Bron Studios. “‘Shadowplay’ is a story of how power and greed lead to such dangerous imbalances in our world’s stability. ‘Shadowplay’ will hopefully act as a reminder of what could happen again.”
“Ferdinand von Schirach: Enemies,” an ARD production sold by Telepool’s Global Screen, examines the kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl from two perspectives in two separate 90-minute movies based on a concept by bestselling writer Ferdinand von Schirach and featuring Austrian star Klaus Maria Brandauer.
“‘Enemies’ appeals to our sense of justice and questions it,” says Alexandra Heidrich, Telepool’s head of international TV acquisitions and sales. The story deals with a police officer who uses illegal means to find the victim. “The viewer not only watches a thriller, but is directly involved in the plot, because everyone has his or her own personal view of justice.”
ARD’s new true-crime miniseries “Dark Woods,” likewise distributed by Global Screen, follows a high-ranking police officer who, in 1989, sets out to find his missing sister and uncovers a series of horrific murders in the process.
Economic inequality is the focus of “Echoes,” Jakob M. Erwa (“Center of My World”) and Florian Kamhuber’s new series for Joyn, about a group of rich kids who discover a hidden community of impoverished outcasts living in the catacombs beneath Munich.
“‘Echoes’ shows Munich as it has never been seen before,” says Joyn managing director Katja Hofem. She adds that the series offers “a powerful visualization of the social inequality between rich and poor.”
The series, sold internationally by Beta Film, “traces starkly and in bright colors the fine cracks that run through our society,” adds writer-producer Kamhuber.
Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta TV embraces high-minded adventure with “Wild Republic,” a Beta Film series about a group of young offenders who escape a rehabilitation program in the Alps and flee into the mountains to form their own community.
In its depiction of a waning empire, Netflix’s “Barbarians” takes viewers back to the blood-drenched Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in which Germanic warriors halted the northward advance of the Roman Empire in A.D. 9.
Dark and frightening themes look set to continue in upcoming series in production. ZDFneo and ORF’s “Die Macht der Kränkung” is a six-part series about a shooting rampage in a shopping mall. Set in Austria, the story focuses on various characters who could ultimately become the perpetrator.
“Blackout,” commissioned by Joyn and Sat.1, is based on Marc Elsberg’s bestselling novel about a cyberattack that triggers the collapse of electrical grids across Europe, plunging the continent into darkness and catastrophe.
“Corona has shown us all how fragile our whole world is, how quickly our lives can change fundamentally,” says producer Quirin Berg of W&B Television. “An absolute blackout would have much more massive immediate effects.”