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As one of the 16 million households who signed up to Netflix during lockdown, a lot of my time indoors was spent watching television.
Over the past few months, everything from American comedies to Danish dystopian dramas has filled the small screen in my living room. But there was one show that stood out from any TV series I’ve seen before.
This was German sci-fi thriller Dark. Running from 2017 to 2020, Dark follows (primarily) the life of Jonas Kahnwald, played (primarily) by Louis Hoffmann. In what is initially thought to be the peaceful town of Winden, a more sinister side is slowly revealed, caused (primarily) by time travel. But there are loads of shows about towns and messed up timelines, so here are just a few of the things that make Dark so refreshing:
Complex characters, and a lot of them
One of the biggest draws to a TV show for me is the characters. The more of them, the better.
There are minor characters in every TV show, but Dark brings almost all of these would-be plot devices into the spotlight in a new way; making them all integral to the plot. So, when the central events occur, they contribute in realistic proportions instead of allowing one or two of them to predictably do everything.
The writers also made sure that nobody was an angel. Whilst viewers loved an anti-hero long before now, Dark puts a whole new spin on this idea.
What if the villain was the hero, but at different times, so people were actually fighting against themselves? What if you’re trying to save the world, but first you must ensure years of suffering for those you’re trying to save? These are the kind of hard-hitting questions that Dark forces its characters to face.
It doesn’t treat the viewers as stupid
This series wants to be complicated.
The timey-wimey premise, combined with the many characters and actors needed to play them at different stages of their lives, leads not only to a mind-boggling main plot, but also several subplots that feed into the overarching story. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rom-com with an easy plotline, but I didn’t realise until I watched Dark just how few shows bother to challenge their audiences. Instead, they let the answers to puzzles become too obvious, or if you’re Game of Thrones, which started with such promise, you dissolve into cliches and storylines that make no sense.
Dark never lets up for a second and keeps you guessing, even when it’s impossible to know the answers, right up until the very end.
It actually ended when it should have done
My love of shows that bow out gracefully comes from having been an avid lover of The Walking Dead. However, I gave up long before the showrunners announced season 11 would be it’s last. It had got to a stage where nothing was happening, and everything felt like it had been done earlier in the show’s run.
Whilst I’m still happy to give long series a go, I worry that things will eventually slip. But Dark never aimed to roll on down a broken track. Three seasons were perfectly sufficient to tell the story of Winden and its lack of an ability to keep things chronological.
There was no ambition to keep it going, it just wanted to showcase its story in the best way possible- something that too many shows have forgotten how to do.