Stranger Things is undoubtedly a giant when it comes to genre television. The same goes for Twin Peaks, so it makes sense that Netflix would readily invite comparisons of both shows to hype its first German original program Dark. There is a lot of obvious similarities between the three shows, ironically the number 3 plays a huge part in Dark. All three shows begin with a young person getting either murdered or kidnapped, and each has a heavy dose of nostalgia for perceived simpler times. Twin Peaks, like much of David Lynch’s work, uses a false version of 50s Americana as part of it’s style, Stranger Things is set in an 80s that only existed in movies, and Dark has its own distinctive versions of these time periods. Lastly, to keep the theme of three’s, each show has a government facility that counteracts the small-town innocence of the setting.
That’s where the things these shows have in common end. Instead of being a derivative European knock-off of Stranger Things and Twin Peaks, Dark has its own distinctive identity, and it’s an ugly one. The show takes place in the small German town of Winden, in which a teenage boy has gone missing, and it gets complicated from the word go. A common perception of the show is that it’s Stranger Things for grownups, which is a little insulting and reductive to both shows. Dark isn’t trying to be the grownup version of anything but itself. There is a pervasive mood of frustrations and bitterness in the town. Many times, throughout the show’s first season Winden is described as a festering wound and that’s more than accurate when we are introduced to each character.
Dark is not a nice show. Out of the large cast, spanning three different timelines, there is maybe a handful that are even a little likeable. It’s the kind of town in which the youngest children in two separate families gets slapped in the face by an older brother or sister in front of parents that do nothing about it. The kind of town in which the same children talk about how happy they are that others go missing. There is no one here to root for. Seriously, in nearly every situation a character picks the nastiest course of action more often than not.
Except maybe the show’s ostensible lead character Jonas. Dark begins with Jonas’ father hanging himself, while leaving a note to his son that isn’t to be opened until a specific time. Because of his father’s suicide Jonas has been in a psychiatric ward for the past two months and continues to have visions of him, especially in Winden’s creepy forest. In this forest is a cave in which may be the home of some monster, or the gateway to an unknown realm, or something equally weird.
Still, the lack of any likeable characters is a problem. This is what Dark lacks compared to something like Stranger Things. All the narrative complexity, and keeping the audience guessing doesn’t amount to much if they don’t care about the people carrying the story. There isd a reason fans of Stranger things talk about the characters more than the plot twists, it’s because they are relatable. This problem will turn off a lot of viewers within the first few episodes, but for those willing to persevere, Dark does become worth your time.
Despite its problems Dark is a compelling story, intricately structured to keep us guessing, and the moments of warmth hit all the harder for the show’s overall lack of it. If you care more about a good yarn than good characters Dark is your new puzzle, just don’t watch the English dub, it’s too unnerving.