Comparisons are tricky creatures, especially when you’re in an odd niche, but if a show hits that is moody, dark, and has a really bonkers, sci-fi story, it’s going to be compared to Stranger Things by just about everyone. Such is the case with Netflix‘ German series, Dark, and the problem is figuring out what, “Germany’s Stranger Things,” and similar, could possibly mean.
Does it involve tweens and monsters, or is it just hard to make out what’s going on without adjusting the brightness? Is it a small town/neighborhood thrown into utterly impossible events that may get everyone killed, or is it just something sci-fi with an ’80s theme?
Of course, the real trouble with such simplistic comparisons is that just because Dark “feels” a bit… Stranger Things-ey, it gets saddled with a lot of assumptions and expectations, few of which will pan out in this case. Sure, it’s creepy and has teens, some of whom go missing, and part of it takes place in the ’80s, but it doesn’t really have a lot in common with Stranger Things, and it’s better to boot.
On the plus side, highlighting the idea that Dark is Germany’s anything clues you in that there are some cultural differences to be found here simply in the background theories of storytelling.
Dark is a story that involves so many people that trying to pin them all down here will just send your head spinning, and will probably give the impression that it’s all too confusing to bother with. Generally, it follows four families in a fairly small town in Germany and their connection to a missing boy. Two missing boys actually, because we soon lose another one. Well, three in fact, because the curious events that are taking place now turn out to be eerily similar to a disappearance that shook this same town 33 years ago. It already seems like audiences should get a corkboard and a lot of yarn just to keep up.
It seems to be another case of there being something nasty in the nuclear power plant, and/or the caves not far away, but what exactly? Not long into the case, a boy is found, but it isn’t either of the ones we lost, and if you haven’t seen a community collectively lose its mind, that’s the sort of thing that will do it.
The touchstones in this mystery that weaves through a near din of characters are Ulrich (Oliver Masucci) and Jonas (Louis Hofmann). As the story begins, Jonas’ father commits suicide and leaves a note with a strange, “Don’t open until…,” message on the outside. As Jonas returns to school after some months away at a mental health facility, Ulrich is heading up the police investigation of a missing boy. Events lead us to the aforementioned spooky caves, naturally, and we soon have another missing boy. Ulrich turns out to be the brother of the boy who went missing all those years ago, and Jonas becomes obsessed with the case in general, especially as further exploration seems to lead to baffling connections that link several families to… everything.
The show does have two relevant things in common with Stranger Things (and most good sci-fi): the plot is mostly irrelevant because what it’s about is its characters, and you really can’t get a handle on what’s coming next. It’s a tension-filled investigation with ominous woods and mystery doors, but it’s also four different, and excellent, dramas revolving around marital tensions/affairs, dealing with loss, teen angst, and more.
The only problem with the show is that the season doesn’t end especially well. While spinning a wild yarn that creates possibilities everywhere is a good way to keep an audience invested, leaving so many of them untouched as an entry to a second season is likely to frustrate most people.
Still, Dark is a wholly enthralling serious that has its audience on a ride that amounts to constantly exploring, and it keeps shifting between metaphor and referent while still infusing every moment with pure, bonkers fun.