Wednesday 21 February 2018

High stakes with a killer soundtrack

Deutschland 83, RTE 2
* The Walking Dead, Fox
* The Toy Show, RTE One

Spy drama: Deutschland 83
Spy drama: Deutschland 83
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

There was a period in the 1970s when my father was quite the ardent communist, as was the style of the time.

That lasted right up until he brought us on holiday to the 'worker's paradise' that was Ceausescu's Romania.

Nothing can cure an idealist of the myth of communism quite like actually being exposed to communism and that holiday, which was marked by the paranoia of the 'tour guides' was the end of dad's Utopian misconceptions.

One joke stands out from that time and it went like this - the definition of happiness is being woken by the secret police at 3 in the morning only to discover that they had the wrong address and had actually turned up to arrest your next-door neighbour. Dark jokes for a dark time.

I remembered that joke while watching the first episode of what could well be RTE's finest drama of the year. Of course, the fact that what will probably be the best thing RTE have shown this year also happens to be a foreign-made, subtitled drama about reluctant East German spies during the hottest moments of the Cold War, probably won't come as great news to the Montrose mandarins. But their programme buyer deserves great credit for managing to secure Deutschland 83 before any other English-language broadcaster (Channel 4 have bought it, but won't be showing it this side of the New Year).

The last time RTE stole such a march on the big boys happened last year with Generation War, which was, coincidentally (or not), made by the same people as Deutschland 83.

Anyone who enjoyed that bloody and brilliant account of some young Germans during the war will recognise the same lush photography, skilfully subtle use of vivid colour and stylish scene setting here, which occurs four decades after the war.

The early to mid 1980s was the closest we had ever come to nuclear conflict in Europe - this was a time when Reagan was ramping up the 'Evil Empire' rhetoric and anyone who was around at the time will remember the sense of not just fear, but also the belief that a nuclear exchange was almost inevitable.

Which is where Deutschland 83 comes in.

Martin Rauch is a young East Berliner working for the security forces who finds himself picked to spy on a West German general.

Life in East Germany is rigid and dreary but Martin is no Winston Smith, silently fulminating against his oppressors. He is still naive enough to believe the lies he has been told - for the smartest people in Europe, the Germans do have an unfortunate habit of swallowing bullshit - but the seeds of discontent have been sown. Even when dragging a young student in for questioning and confiscating a copy of Shakespeare, he gives it to his mother - an early indication that, deep down, he knows he lives in a flawed system.

For those not particularly interested or versed in complex central European nuclear chicanery (and if that's the case, why aren't you?) this also works as a blackly humorous fish-out-of-water tale, featuring our reluctant hero trying to become a spy while also being exposed to all the luxurious consumerism of the decadent West.

Even more brilliant is the choice of contemporaneous music from acts like Nena, 10CC and New Order.

We may know this period as recent history, but the sounds of 'Blue Monday' accompanying the tension is a striking reminder for any 1980s indie kid that this wasn't happening that long ago.

Has The Walking Dead jumped the shark? As it lurched towards this week's mid-season finale, the sour taste of Glen's miraculous survival still lingers like a mouthful of deodorant you accidentally inhale after a shower.

There's a scene in Misery where the crazed Annie Wilkes tells the tale of how her favourite childhood hero once cheated death in a cliff-hanger that didn't make sense. As she put it: "And all the kids cheered! But I didn't cheer. I stood right up and started shouting. This isn't what happened last week! Have you all got amnesia? They just cheated us! This isn't fair!"

Without wanting to go all Annie Wilkes on the show, that sums up my feelings.

Having said that, the ultimate bad ass, Negan, makes his long awaited appearance in the second part of this season - so count me in.

Like most everyone else in the country I tuned into the Toy Show last Friday. I'm still not sure why I bothered, I just sorta found myself watching it and I can't entirely blame the wife for this one, sadly.

The Irish can be divided into two different categories - the first group actually took part as children; the second group wanted to appear but never made the auditions; and the third category is those who always thought the kids were little shits (I'm a TV critic, not a maths expert).

My favourite child this year was the lad who was obsessed with tractors and, when he grew up, he wanted to be either a farmer or a guard.

Honestly, if the next item had featured a girl who wanted to be a nurse when she grew up, their parents could have married the two of them off there.

And what of the cute kid who was monstered online for her funny nursery rhyme, I hear you ask? Well, you'll just have to buy the paper tomorrow to read my column about it.

Form an orderly queue outside your newsagent as soon as you can.

Irish Independent

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