Friday, December 22, 2017

Streaming non-recommendation: Netflix's crappy German time-travel series, DARK

Yes, I know that conventional wisdom  has long insisted that Germans (and German movies) have no sense of humor. But Look Who's Back, to use just one recent example, disproves that theory entirely. Unfortunately, the idea bounced back into my mind while viewing the dismal new Netflix-produced German series entitled DARK, which is now available pretty much worldwide via the cable behemoth. There's not a moment of levity, lightness or anything approaching humor anywhere to be seen in these ten tiresome, derivative and annoying 50-minute episodes.

This is one of those series chock full of pseudo-science, pseudo-religion, pseudo-philosophy, and pseudo-entertainment that keep promising some kind of coalescence that never arrives. Worse, it consistently trips over its own ideas. All about time travel, supposedly made possible every 33 years via our not-quite reliable calendar, it posits a bunch of kidnapped children used in some experiment (above) to facilitate this time travel who keep turning up dead (the experiments evidently continually fail).

And yet, as we see throughout the series, time travel in this sodden little German town is not just possible but is increasingly discovered by a number of its citizens (the one above, for instance), who simply open a couple of doors in a cave beneath the earth (see poster, top) and find themselves either backward or forward in time by those 33 years.

Yet the movement of those citizens is certainly well known to the "experimenter," so what's the point of keeping up the experiments on that rather silly-looking machine? This piece of nonsense is only the worst example of stupid plotting that relies completely on the viewer's inability to stop and "think" for a moment or two. There's so little logic in so much that happens here (the dead come back to life, along with other nonsensical dreck) that you might as well place your brain on hold as you watch.

Yes, the series offers its titular "noir-ish" themes, cinematography, ugliness and gloom. All this is offered up with the kind of expert professionalism we now expect out of Netflix. But then it merely keeps repeating the stuff, over and over, until one has to ask (to quote Peggy Lee), Is that all there is?

Nuclear energy is also on view here, and is part and parcel of the town's problems, as are other things like lust and love (unrequited, of course). The characters are as sullen and sodden a bunch as you will have ever seen in any TV or cable series. The only humor finally arises mostly from how utterly lacking in any the series actually is. It almost becomes something of an inside joke. You can image the producers, writers and directors watching the day's shoot and suddenly saying, "Oh, my god -- that actor just smiled. Delete that moment immediately!"

The performers are mostly good-looking and get the job done, but as we keep moving from 2019 back to 1986 and then (in the last three episodes) 1953 and piecing together exactly who is the grandfather of this one or the mother of that one, not only our interest but any chance to care much about these people dissipates. Also, the series lasts twice as long as it needs to, thanks to its very slow pacing and the camera constantly stopping to focus on a character's angst for maybe two to three times as long as necessary to get the point across. (Were the filmmakers worried that we might miss the abject "seriousness" of all their fine work?)

The finale helps in no way whatsoever, except to begin a whole new section in what I imagine is the year 2052. The series keeps promising some closure, none of which ever arrives. Dark exists to simply string us along. Perhaps that's its point, but if so, then it's mostly for folk who enjoy being diddled without ever reaching a climax. (Think of it as the television equivalent of Tantra Yoga.)

Netflix has just announced that it is renewing Dark for a second season. Good luck -- but count me out. These eight hours-plus have now taken their place as my biggest waste of time this year.

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