With Rectify, Top of the Lake and the original French version of The Returned (Les Revenants), the Sundance Channel is quietly building up a reputation of sterling original programming and/or imports from other countries. This new addition could almost count as both, since it aired here in the U.S. this summer, but its renewal depends upon how well it does after its run in Germany later this year, a country that apparently isn't as used to serialized programs.
Let's hope this one breaks the mold, because I'd be crushed if we couldn't get another season out of it. Deutschland 83 is from co-creators Anna and Joerg Winger, a husband-wife team who fashioned an eight episode retro-thriller set in Cold War era Berlin. 24-year-old Jonas Nay stars as Martin Rauch, a border guard in East Berlin who's recruited by the Stasi in 1983 to go undercover in a West German army camp and report back to them with information about NATO's activities regarding a potential nuclear confrontation. Martin is not particularly happy about this and essentially blackmailed into it so that the government will provide his mother with the kidney operation she needs to survive. He's handled by his aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader), who works for the East German embassy and believes she will be best able to control her capable but young and skeptical nephew.
Once undercover in West Germany, Martin does his best to fulfill his duties, but keeps getting into trouble- his adorable puppy dog face and amiable demeanor endears him to General Edel (Ulrich Noethen) and his son, fellow soldier Alex Edel (Ludwig Trepte), but he's nowhere near the greatest spy in the world. When he's told to seduce a secretary he immediately falls in love with her after five minutes and can't follow through on elimination orders, when he meets the general's beautiful daughter Yvonne (Lisa Tomaschewsky) he's head over heels in a matter of days despite her having nothing at all to do with his mission, and all this on top of leaving his pregnant girlfriend Annet back home in East Germany, where unbeknownst to him, she's dangerously allying herself with the East German cause in far more committed ways than he is.
The show is exciting and suspenseful but incorporates a lot of humor into the episodes as well, especially because Martin is never all that committed to the Stasi government, comes to realize the West and his new friends aren't really that bad, and that the paranoia from his own side threatens to destroy the world as we know it unless he manages to stop it somehow. The supporting cast has lots to do as well, with fully developed characters in Martin's world on both sides of the border, but particularly the West, as General Edel and Alex form a complicated and destructive father-son relationship that Martin can't help but get in the middle of as he negotiates his way through his increasingly hapless situation. The retro feel of the show takes us back to the 80's with every popular radio hit you ever heard on the soundtrack (even the theme song will have you headbopping), and every move Martin is forced to maneuver makes him even more appealing and endearing to the audience.
The season ends on a series of cliffhangers, so it'd be a real shame if the show was not able to come back, but it all depends on how the German audience receives it later this fall (the show is entirely in German with subtitles, which I'm told don't translate some of the humor entirely accurately, but that's just too bad for us). Still, with such solid performances, such fun action and suspense, and characters you want to follow well into another season, I'd be totally pumped to see more of this, whenever it shows up. It may not have the complexity and nuance of a show like The Americans, but solid, old-fashioned entertainment with exciting action, great music and tense build-up makes this absolutely one of the most fun shows of the summer and the year. Give me more of it, please.