A funny thing happened to Anna Winger, a novelist from New York who moved to Berlin back in 2002. Anna was a novelist and her boyfriend and then husband Jorg, became a showrunner on the successful German show SOKO Leipzig, which he is still part of today. They had the idea of working together on a project and the result became Deutschland 83, an eight-episode television show which aired on the Sundance Channel, the first German language production to appear on an American television network, and a pretty darned good one at that.
Set in East Germany in 1983, Jonas Nay plays Martin Rauch, a 24-year old soldier for the East German Army. He is recruited for an undercover mission for the Stasi by his aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader) to work as an assistant to General Edel (Ulrich Noethen). The General works with NATO to help deploy American missile systems in Western Europe, in the hopes of preventing a Communist first strike. As Edel's assistant Moritz Stamm, Martin has to acquire information without Edel's knowledge that the West is preparing a first strike of its own, without compromising his cover and increasing already tense relationships between the East and West.
Unbeknownst to me, many people have drawn parallels to this show and The Americans. But the only parallel between the two is the 30,000 foot pitch one, where a communist (East German in this show, and a married couple who were born and raised in Russia in The Americans) is dropped into the West, with the hopes of acquiring intelligence for his superiors. But where The Americans focuses on the emotional toll for the most part of the show, Deutschland 83 focuses on the mission, as well as any of the events surrounding it, choosing to show the human cost of having someone on the other side through the eyes of Martin's fiancé Annett (Sonja Gerhardt), who is living with his mother Ingrid (Carina Wiese). Annett wonders where Martin is and what he's doing, getting glimpses of his actions which distort her opinions of him. While he is concerned for her health early on, his thoughts in the West drift more to the mission at hand.
Which is something I'm fine with, actually. Martin goes through the obligatory struggle with getting acclimated to his new role and his missing Annett quickly, and has to put up with Lenora and Tobias (Alexander Beyer), Martin's handler in the West as they make sure the ‘wet behind the ears' Martin gets used to life as Moritz. If there is a nit to pick about that, it's that he does this surprisingly quickly, but when you have only eight episodes, some things get sacrificed I supposed. But Moritz makes friends with the General's son Alex (Ludwig Trepte) and begins a romantic relationship with his daughter Yvonne (Lisa Tomaschewsky) in no time, but these friendships serve as springboards for those characters to develop backstories of their own.
These are also done well, particularly Alex', who juggles the ideas of communism against the capitalist backdrop of the West, with an amateurish and comedic payoff in the sixth episode of the show. Homosexuality and the then-emergence of AIDS in the West is shown, one of several real-life situations woven into the show, including the downing of Korean Air Lines 007 and the Maison de Prince bombing in West Berlin (which discusses Carlos the Jackal), adding to the tension, combined with the show's firm grasp on authenticity.
There may be one or two minor gaps in plausibility, but the Wingers believe that they are minor and push things forward so that you forget about them easily, and the show's twists and turns through its brief first season help to carve out an identity of its own. Deutschland 83 is not The Americans, nor does it aspire to be. And within this universe, that's a welcome thing.The Discs:
Kino Lorber presents Deutschland 83 and its eight episodes over three discs, and the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is fine. The color palette for the show isn't incredibly broad, but the exteriors are nice and natural looking as are flesh tones. Darker lit moments suffer from a bit of crushing but nothing to be concerned about, and film grain is present during viewing with little edge enhancement. A solid transfer all around.The Sound:
Your choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option or a Dolby two-channel one, and I went for the surround for the show. It's quite the musical one, with loads of 80s' songs throughout, whether it's 99 Luftballons (of course) or some of the more Western-based acts. In quieter moments, dialogue is consistent in the front of the soundstage, and in more dynamic ones (a couple of explosions come to mind) dynamic range is such that the low-end engages when called upon. Nice sonic work to back up the transfers.Extras:
Three things, clearly done when the cast and crew came to New York for their American press junket, and I'm not complaining. "The Actors" (11:49) includes Hay, Gerhardt and Trepte sharing their thoughts on America and Germany, what they learned in the show and what they would show Americans if they came to Germany. "The Creators" (13:19) has insight from the Wingers as they share the challenges of making the show, what they wanted to accomplish, and thoughts on a Season Two. There is also a Q&A with this group at New York's Goethe Institute (21:55), where they answer many of the same things, along with inspirations for the characters and American shows they like.Final Thoughts:
The first season of Deutschland 83 aired from June to August, came to video in September, and here I am reviewing it in October. Fancy turnaround, Kino. Irrelevant observation aside, the show could very easily fit in with the Follett and Ludlum books of the era, borrowing some emotional notes that today's shows hit, with the overall product being one of the better shows of 2015. Definitely worth checking out ahead of whatever the final idea of a Season Two may bring to viewers.