Posts Tagged ‘dark’

Netflix Turned a Creative Corner In 2017 With Originals Like ‘Dark,’ ‘Suburra’ and ‘The Punisher’

January 2, 2018

Call it the Lilyhammer of the Gods.

In February 2012, Netflix established its creative model right out of the gate. Its first original show, Lilyhammer, starred “Little” Steven Van Zant, fresh from playing a mobster on The Sopranos…as a mobster, albeit one who’s relocated to Norway for witness-protection purposes.

The road from Lilyhammer‘s quirky Sopranos rehash to Stranger Things‘ unabashed theft from ’80s pop-culture staples is not a particularly long one. All that changed was the company’s self-identification as a creator of original content rather than an online video store, and its subsequent accumulation of user data and development of a predictive algorithm to deliver the goods.

Many of the network’s original series —”original” being a relative term— speak to this desire to please the crowd with things that have already pleased them. Why have only one off-beat comedy about the mildly crazy lives of young people set in New York (Master of None), for example, when you can also have one in Chicago (Easy) and Los Angeles (Love) as well? It’s too bad Donald Glover titled his show Atlanta and took it to FX, or else I’m sure Netflix would have something on the docket for that youth-culture mecca as well. In a more traditional move, reboots are common, from the campy (Fuller House) to the acclaimed (One Day at a Time). And that little row of Netflix Original rectangles contains enough grim-visaged cops, crooks, and killers to look like a photo array you’d use to identify suspects in the world’s most focus-grouped crime.

Which is what makes shows like DarkThe Punisher, and Suburra: Blood on Rome stand out. From the outside, these 2017 debuts seem like status-quo programming. But each veered of the course they could have cruised down effortlessly, taking creative risks that yielded entertaining and provocative results.

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action: Over at Decider I wrote about the possibility that Dark, The Punisher, and Suburra represent a creative turning point for Netflix, in which the sheer volume of material the network puts out is now enabling some shows to complicate and interrogate their genre elements rather than serving them up straight.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Alpha and Omega”

December 15, 2017

The true innovation and genius of Dark — the thing that separates it from even the most entertaining time-travel stories, from Back to the Future to The Terminator to The Time Machine itself — is that it’s not just an exciting riddle about creating and escaping time warps for you to try and solve, nor a chilling look at a dark future we wish to avoid (until that final scene, anyway). As I put it in an earlier review, “Dark’s true interest isn’t in the characters’ inability to escape the spacetime loop, but in using that premise to explore their inability to escape their own nature.”

The adult Jonas makes this point explicitly to his younger self. In the middle of a speech about how he has to leave the teenage Jonas locked up in Noah’s chamber, because his experiences inside will be necessary to make him the man he becomes, he drops what almost feels like a non sequitur: “Why did you kiss Martha?” Then he elaborates: “We’re not free in what we do, because we’re not free in what we want. We can’t overcome what’s deep within us.” At this, the younger Jonas begins sobbing, begging his older self to stop talking over and over again. “I want everything to go back to normal,” he says.

But there is no normal. Just as the wormhole locks the people of Winden in an inescapable loop of misery, so too do their own unchangeable natures and desires. It’s the boldest wedding of time travel to a provocative psychological theme I’ve ever encountered. For that reason alone I’ll follow Dark into the future.

I reviewed the season finale of Dark for Decider. It ends with my least favorite scene in the series so far, and it’s a bit deflating to see it reach the end zone only to trip over its own untied shoelaces, but whatever. Still a show to be reckoned with.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Everything Is Now”

December 15, 2017

It occurs to me now that among its many other antecedents, Dark feels like a version of Lost folded in on itself, in which the action on the magical, spacetime-traveling Island and the secret-revealing, surprise-laden, character-driven backstory flashbacks all occur simultaneously. “Everything Is Now” indeed.

I wrote about the baroque complexity of Dark’s penultimate episode for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “As You Sow, So Shall You Reap”

December 15, 2017

Like so much great genre art, Dark uses its fantastical elements not just because they’re compelling in their own right, but because their spectacular nature is closer to the inarticulable gravity of the emotions we experience every day.  Helge, Ulrich, Mikkel, Hannah, Jana, Jonas, the mysterious stranger, and (in a striking reveal) Claudia Tiedemann all seem to have driven to mental illness by the wormhole’s impact on their lives, but as another great work of genre fiction about family and murder once put it, we all go a little mad sometimes. And what else do the worst disasters and failures of your life feel like if not a tear in the fabric of space and time themselves?

I reviewed episode 8 of Dark, which really fucking went there, for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Crossroads”

December 8, 2017

As convoluted as Dark‘s plot can be, forcing you to keep track of a sprawling cast of interrelated characters across multiple timelines, it’s done an impressive job of making that task easier as the show goes along. This is where the show’s emphasis on the emotional struggles of Winden’s townsfolk pays practical dividends as well as dramatic ones. Like Game of Thrones or Twin Peaks, two shows that also boast large casts and complex storylines involving secret identities and family connections, Dark digs painfully deep into the darkest recesses and most burning desires of its characters, which in turn makes figuring out who’s who and what’s what much more intuitive.

I reviewed the seventh episode of Dark for Decider; new reviews will resume Monday. Use that time to catch up over the weekend, please, since this show is one of the best Netflix has ever done. (More on that anon!)

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Sic Mundus Creatus Est”

December 7, 2017

“You don’t really know your parents, do you? What they were like as kids, or teenagers. You’re a family, but you don’t really know anything about each other.” Martha Nielsen says this to her brother Magnus as they lay in bed together, contemplating the disaster area their lives have become following the disappearance of their brother Mikkel. The most moving sequence in “Sic Mundus Creatus Est,” Dark‘s excellent sixth episode, demonstrates the truth in her words to devastating effect.

I reviewed episode six of Dark for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Truths”

December 7, 2017

This latest installment of the time-traveling trials of the men, women, and children of Winden is bookended by lengthy splitscreen montages. It’s the most effective, and stylistically bold, use of the technique I’ve seen since Fargo Season Two. And rather than showing us multiple points of view as characters move toward confrontation or through a suspense sequence, the splitscreens are used to compare, contrast, and highlight the emotional reactions of the characters to the romantic and familial trauma they’re experience. It’s like calling in Brian De Palma to cut an Ingmar Bergman film.

I reviewed the fifth episode of Dark for Decider, and this passage about its formal aspects is really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a very challenging and very rewarding show, and I’m proud of the writing I’m doing on it.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Double Lives”

December 5, 2017

There’s power of a different sort in nearly everything the Dopplers’ daughter Franziska does in this episode. Like a teutonic Laura Palmer, she leads a double life — star student and ribbon-wielding rhythmic gymnast by day, big-money drug dealer by night. The latter truth is uncovered by Mikkel’s goonish older brother Magnus, who’s simultaneously angered, repulsed, and attracted to the mismatch between Franziska’s emotional exterior and interior. Of course, he finds her just as magnetic in her gymnastics uniform, while his anger at her sparks a sudden torrent of truth-telling about the state of her family. The next thing you know, the two frienemies are fucking while fully dressed in the school locker room. Again, this is powerful stuff for a supernatural Netflix show to play with: probing the point at which intense feelings of any kind grow so white-hot that they exceed the capacity of the designated area of the brain to process and wind up fueling sexual energy instead, and depicting sex as a way damaged people can address the things that are damaging them without doing so directly.

I wrote about Dark’s very strong fourth episode for Decider. The complex dynamics in the Doppler family — including their extremely awesome and funny deaf daughter Elisabeth — demonstrate how the show puts in the work where other supernatural shows just coast.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Past and Present”

December 5, 2017

“Past and Present,” the aptly named third episode of Dark, continues its predecessors’ pattern of being hella reminiscent of a past genre work. In this case it’s Richard Kelly’s melancholic cult-classic science fiction film Donnie Darko, which the episode echoes in ways that feel more like homage than out-and-out swipes.

Yes, Mikkel has indeed been transported back in time through some kind of “crossing” (to borrow the term from Jonas’s late father’s map) in the caverns outside of town. After his unpleasant run-in with his parents and grandmother — the former are assholes, the latter is too distraught by her missing son Mads to do anything but grab the kid and beg him for information — he wanders to his school, only decades in the past. As he wanders around in a skeleton costume that looks like the one Donnie wore in the film except a few sizes smaller, the totally-’80s style of the town’s teens are paraded in front of the camera while a Tears for Fears song plays on the soundtrack (“Shout” here, “Head Over Heels” in the movie).

Would it be nice if shows stopped doing this kind of thing? Even good shows? Yes. The Punisher, for example, was strong enough on its own for its in-your-face (ahem) borrowing from the climax of 28 Days Later… in its penultimate episode to feel completely unnecessary, though perhaps not ethically or creatively ruinous. And Dark has enough going on to render this hat tip superfluous. Admittedly, though, the line between homage and theft is a blurry one, particularly in horror, a genre more in conversation with itself than any other. I could rattle off scene-by-scene comparisons in, say, Get Out or The Descent with the movies their filmmakers clearly know and love. But those two films are animated by a spirit that is unmistakably their own. Dark isn’t at that level, but it’s operating with enough sophistication to provide context for nods to its antecedents, instead of simply constructing itself out of nothing but such nods.

I reviewed the third episode of Dark for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Lies”

December 5, 2017

Two episodes in and Dark is reminding me of a different touchstone in recent zeitgeisty supernaturally-tinged murder mysteries: True Detective Season One. Co-creator/director Baran bo Odar’s style is not far removed at all from TD‘s original helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga: wide, stately shots of the imposing yet beautiful natural landscape, deep greens, lots of tree imagery, the occasional crazy conspiracy wall. Throw in references to time as circular — “yesterday, today, and tomorrow are not consecutive; they are connected in a neverending circle,” as the pilot’s cold open put it — and you half expect local cop Ulrich Nielsen to call Rust Cohle in for a consult. None of this is blow-you-away amazing, or all that original (duh), but Dark creates a vibe for itself and deploys it effectively, and doesn’t require you to think back fondly on stuff you loved as a kid to do so, unlike certain other shows we could mention.

I reviewed episode two of Dark for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Secrets”

December 1, 2017

The opening credits for DarkNetflix’s first German-language original series, are simple but striking. Eschewing the “here is a significant object and/or an image of one of the cast members’ faces, slowly moving through a black field, with some cool coloring” technique beloved by so many shows for the past few years, the title sequence reflects moments seemingly plucked from throughout the series back on one another, symmetrically — the mirror effect from “When Doves Cry,” basically. Like a kaleidoscopic rorschach test, it renders the familiar suddenly weird and angular as if it’s being sucked into or ejected from an invisible portal in the middle of the frame, simply by repeating what you see and smushing it back in on itself.

If that ain’t the Netflix model, I don’t know what is.

Created by Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar and directed in its entirety by bo Odar, Dark sure feels familiar. “Secrets,” its series premiere, is set in a small town surrounded by a forest that borders a nuclear power plant, where teenagers and their adult parents are forced to come to grips with the unexplained disappearance of a young boy. And based on a brief glimpse we’re given of the plight of a previously vanished teenager, it seems he might be subjected to strange psychological and physical experiments designed by a mysterious lone captor. In other words, if you watched Stranger Things and The OA, this is Recommended for You: The Series.

Yet Dark does not feel nearly as derivative as it could, or perhaps even should. For starters, it’s dealing with much more emotionally fraught material than Stranger Things, the show to which it will no doubt most frequently be compared. (Including by me, apparently.)

I’m covering Dark for Decider, starting with my review of the series premiere. Could be a pip, could be a pip.