A German-based, Sunday night spy thriller accompanied with subtitles doesn’t seem like the most alluring pitch to the average telly watcher. However Channel 4 has got it spot on with its broadcasting of Deutschland 83 as a welcoming start to 2016.
Delving into the heat of 1980s Cold War tensions, the plot follows spirited 24-year-old Martin Rauch’s (played by award-winning Jonas Nay) switch from unassuming East German border guard into the thick of undercover spydom as a reluctant West German soldier on the end of orders from his homeland’s notorious Stasi secret service.
Drugged and hi-jacked away from a devoted mother and girlfriend by the hand of his chain-smoking, Stasi-staunch aunt, captured by the alluring villanesque of Maria Schrader, Martin trades his identity for that of Moritz Stamm, the new aide to General Edel – a frosty commandant working next to NATO and the Americans on the deployment of nuclear missiles with East Germany on the red button radar.
With the deal bait of helping his mother receive a transplant for her kidney failure, Martin is under the cosh to photograph secret documents and steal reports on the impending missile attacks. Two episodes in, we see him ducking and diving his way through pick locks, close shaves, schoolboy errors and a would be femme fatale Chinese spy with a Bruce Lee uber-touch.
In the mix of Deutschland 83’s gripping narrative is the modern socio-economic disparity lesson between the socialist ideals of commercially sparse East Germany and the capitalist thrive of its neighbouring counterpart. When Martin attempts a runner in newly fitted Adidas pumps and Puma t-shirt through the streets of then West German capital Bonn, he’s dumbstruck by a supermarket stacked to the rafters with fruit, soda, cereal and detergents the likes of which he’s never seen before.
With a firm nod to the times, Nena’s original anti-war protest song 99 Luftballons and other 80s classics such as Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and New Order’s Blue Monday melt into the easy-on-the-eye creative artistry of the series. The fashions, the cars, the Germanic efficient sensibility and the impending threat of nuclear war are all captured beautifully within what’s proving the early signs of a memorably classic Channel 4 coup.
The next episode of Deutschland 83 will be aired on Channel 4, 9pm, Sunday 17th January