Sundance TV Crosses International Waters with “Deutschland 83”
Sundance TV is bringing “Deutschalnd 83,” the first German-language series, to the American airwaves. It’s not a remake – it’s the bona-fide show that debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2014. Sundance is forging a brave, new trail for U.S. television. Instead of Americanizing an already successful concept, they’re trusting the audience to embrace the brilliance of the original, even if everyone on the show is speaking another language. What’s It All About? This slick soap opera masquerading as a serious political thriller is a Technicolor celebration of the excesses of the ‘80s, a history lesson in cold war espionage, and a parade of tasty 20-somethings getting into compromising situations. The story centers on an enthusiastic East German operative, Moritz Stamm (Jonas Nay), who is smuggled to West Germany and set up with a false identity and a mission to learn NATO’s nuclear secrets. But it’s not all war games. There’s plenty of love, sex, and betrayal to keep the viewers’ blood pumping. One side-effect of the mission is that Stamm is separated from his Communist girlfriend Annett (Sonja Gerhardt). And the show does a bang-up job testing the bonds of true love by thrusting him smack-dab in the middle of an endless stream of Western hotties. The political themes may be dressed up in new wave music and splashy colors, but they remain a central point of the show. In an eerie coincidence, “Deutschland 83,” which is set during a time when Germany found itself in the middle of a showdown between Russia and the U.S., echoes Germany’s current real-world position. The country once again finds itself caught in the middle thanks to the continued stalemate over Russia’s recent incursions into Ukraine. Is America Ready For This? Whether current real-world tensions will influence the American response to this German-language series remains to be seen. However, Sundance TV is the perfect place to test U.S. waters when it comes to the globalization of American television. The show is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Anna and Jörg Winger. Perhaps their own American-German alliance is what makes “Deutschland 83” work so well. For the American audience, this will likely be the first time we’ve seen the Cold War play out on foreign soil. Even shows that give us a mostly foreign perspective, like “The Americans,” still center on our own interests and culture. There has been a huge surge in remakes of foreign shows for American audiences. Even shows that are in English (the BBC’s “Broadchurch”) have been completely redone in hopes of better matching American tastes. However, as “Gracepoint” proved, different isn’t always better. By broadcasting “Deutschland 83” in its original form – all the way down to the language spoken – Sundance TV is giving the American audience its vote of confidence. The network resisted the urge to re-create the show as a sad imitation, and instead is urging American audiences to sit at the big-kid table. Why This Show Is Important In a world that is getting increasingly smaller, we need to stop expecting everything to cater to our tastes, preferences, and demands. As the political climate becomes more complicated and our past mistakes create a shadow on our present, it might seem silly that TV can make a difference. But it can. America is a pop culture nation. If we want America to become more open to learning foreign languages and understanding foreign cultures, TV is the best place to start infiltrating the collective unconscious. Just look at how Caitlyn Jenner has been embraced with arms wide open (for the most part, anyway). That would have been impossible just a decade ago. But groundbreaking shows like “Transparent” helped soften the American psyche and opened the eyes (and hearts) of the general public. Now, “Deutschland 83” gives us the chance to look at significant world events from a different perspective. America’s once shiny image as the world’s savior is tarnished, and it’s hard for us to realize what that means if we continue to re-create the world in our image. Regardless of “Deutschland 83’s” ability to entertain, it is also poised to usher in a new era of amazing international television. This show could easily pave the way for more than a lot of other great television. It can help create a broader world view that helps Americans see the rest of the planet with more compassion, understanding, and tolerance.