An expat survival guide to German TV
An expat survival guide to German TV
Yes, it’s Tatort time.
Before I go on a rant about German TV and how much I despise it, I have to take a moment to pay homage to German cinema and the important role it has played in the history of film-making. Before the Second World War, the arts and music scene was thriving in the Weimar Republic, and German filmmakers were at the forefront of the cinematic zeitgeist.
This creative Molotov cocktail produced directorial heavyweights like Fritz Lang, whose most notable cult films Metropolis (1927) and M: Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (a city is looking for a killer) have served as iconic hallmarks for future filmmakers all over the globe. So, yes, job well done, Germany.
My credentials as a TV critic
As someone who is on the inside of the business - an avid film composer - the subject of film and music, and particularly the putting-together of moving images and sound, is one close to my heart. Having studied music and later a Master’s in Music for the Screen, I consider myself knowledgeable on the subject. Since the eighties, growing up in four different countries, I’ve seen a lot of television in my lifetime.
As a child, I was accustomed to Russian (or Soviet, at that time) TV; later I was exposed to Scandinavian and British television, and even later – and not by choice, I must say – I came across German TV in its purest form. So, I feel pretty well-put to state, definitively, that German TV is awful.
German television: a study in atrociousness
Before I even begin my scornful fountain of projectile vomit in reference to German TV, I will acknowledge that there will be a fair share of people who will vehemently deny my criticisms, shake their heads in disbelief, and dismiss my comments as some form of “Anti-Germanisms”. But, naturally, we can ignore these nay-sayers.
Disclaimer: I have to clarify, when referring to German TV, I am primarily talking about the terrestrial channels, and not the recent original Netflix and Sky masterpieces such as Dark and Babylon Berlin, for which I am full of praise.
So what exactly is my “beef” with German TV, you may ask? Well, to put it in a nutshell – everything, really. From the diabolical storylines, atrocious pantomime-like acting, ancient camera and editing techniques that stink of the 1970s, grotesque use of musical cues and worst of all – the never-ending dialogue.
Tatort: The worst of the lot
If I were to encompass all of these shortcomings in one show – then they would perfectly fit one label: Tatort. This crime detective series is a bit of an institution in Germany. If you ever ask a German person what they are doing on a Sunday between 8 pm and 9 pm, you will undoubtedly hear them say, “I’m watching Tatort.” If you have any sense, you should follow up with a cheeky question: “Why?” But that will not increase your chance of making friends in Germany, I can assure you of that.
Tatort has been around since the 70s – making it the longest-running German TV drama ever - and the people making it, evidently, are still the same ones that did it back then. Just see the opening credits for proof.
The interesting part is that pretty much every major city in Germany can boast an episode that was filmed in that city – because Tatort is jointly produced by regional stations all across Germany, who each contribute a few episodes per year. So, if you’re from Munich, you can look forward to the episode dedicated to Munich and its police team.
The same goes for Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin and so forth. So part of the fun, I presume, is to see if you can recognise any of the locations where the episode was filmed. Perhaps that is the point, and instead, I’ve been banging on about cinematography, craftsmanship, creativity, and all that nonsense instead.
Scene X: A case in point
But let’s set the “Where’s Wally” location finder fun aside for a minute and look at the actual film-making factor. The last episode I actually watched was purely for research purposes for this article, and that is an hour of my life I’ll never get back. To elucidate all of my criticisms of German TV, I’ve taken a scene from the episode, which lasts about five minutes. Indeed, if I wanted to point out the shortcomings of the entire episode, I would need a whole book.
And thus, Scene X: a police van is transporting a high security prisoner from one location to another. All of a sudden, when travelling through a dodgy woodland area, the prisoner gets the urge to go for a pee and asks the police officers to stop the van. Initially, they refuse, but the prisoner is very persistent and exclaims “I need to go!” This appears to be enough to convince the highly trained special ops officers, so they wave to the driver to stop the bus, as you do.
At this point the prisoner insults one of the police officers, the one who is obviously an extra, and doesn’t have any dialogue. His reaction is similar to one you might see at a panto, when somebody says “Oh look!” and points in a different direction. He has obviously been instructed by the producer to look “angry”. The only problem is, they forgot to teach him how to act – or in this case, rather, how not to act.
What ensues makes even less sense, even in a David Lynch-esque bizarre world of logic. A car pulls up on the horizon, and then turns into a side road. One of the officers (the main character) goes to investigate – again, as you do – and the camera follows him. While he is out of sight, he hears gunshots. The car turns out to be a false alarm, so he runs up to the corner of the alley, pulls out his gun, and points it towards the police van, which is about 100 metres away.
At this point a vein on my forehead began to twitch. My eyelids began to flicker in a kind of a nervous dismay.
The officer sees the van pulling off and accelerating past him, with the prisoner presumably in it, driven by one of the coppers, who obviously was not a cop at all. The good cop aims at the speeding van in the distance and fires several shots, as we have seen in many scenes in the 70s gangster movies. Two other officers are dead, lying on the ground next to the spot where the van had been parked.