Counting down the 17 best TV shows of 2017… No. 17: Babylon Berlin

Set in 1920s Weimar-era Germany, Babylon Berlin is a sin-filled police drama following police inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), who is involuntarily transferred from Cologne to Berlin to solve a difficult criminal case – a porno ring run by the Berlin Mafia.  Based on the historically accurate book series by bestselling German author, Volker Kutscher, Babylon Berlin is a complex and thrilling tale of corruption, set against a backdrop of political unrest as Germany’s democracy unravels at the seams. 

It is the spring of 1929, and Berlin is city of polarising extremes, both politically and socially.  The populist far-right is gaining momentum, as is the far-left, while a microcosm of disenfranchised youth don’t care.  (Sounds eerily familiar, right?)  The jazz age is in full swing, with the once infamous super club Moka Efti, lavishly re-imagined in Berlin’s Delphi Cinema for the show, playing host to a myriad of delirious patrons in the Champagne-filled dance hall or the basement brothel.  While exaggerated, the legend of Berlin’s underground culture, rife with debauchery and naughtiness, is key to the gritty web of this 16-part story.

BB Rath
Detective Gereon Rath arrives in Berlin in 1929.

The protagonist of said story is PTSD-suffering, morphine-addicted, detective Rath.  Bruch is mesmerising as the mentally tortured policeman, struggling with who to trust, with where his loyalties will lie.  Expressing emotions so raw, so real, you may find you don’t even need to read the subtitles to understand him.  He finds an unlikely partner in bright-eyed Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), police stenographer by day and leather-clad mistress by night.  She parties hard and works harder, living life with a tenacity and gumption rarely seen in women on screen from the roaring 20s.  Fries is magnetic, saying as much with a knowing smile as a keen observation.

BB Ritter
The tenacious Charlotte Ritter in the infamous Moka Efti.

Boasting the most expensive TV production not in English, Babyon Berlin is a sumptuous vision of a decadent Berlin, clinging desperately to dance crazes and top-dollar seafood in a socioeconomic climate primed for the rise of Nazi Germany.  Some 70% of the show was shot on location, and it shows.  From serene lakeside picnics, to period-perfect city squares, to glittering crystal ballrooms, to dingy underground hideouts, Babylon Berlin is unparalleled in both beauty and attention to detail.  An 11-minute Charleston sequence in the aforementioned Moka Efti took 4 days to shoot!

With a staggering complex plot, a film noir aesthetic, typically German black humour and thrilling mystery to unravel, plus a thinly-veiled parallel to the social turmoil that has dominated 2017, Babylon Berlin is essential viewing.  And if I can’t convince you, perhaps the enigmatic Dietrich-esque Russian with banana-clad back-up dancers can.  It is epic.  It is frenzied.  It is Berlin.

UK release date: 5 November 2017
No. of episodes: 16 (over 2 seasons)
Episode length: 45 mins(ish)
Genre: Crime, drama, history, thriller

BINGE WATCH BASH’s 17 of ’17
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17. Babylon Berlin

Check back tomorrow for number 16! Bash xo

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