In the era of peak TV, it often feels next to impossible to actually keep up with the shows you already watch, much less try to start new ones. I get it. I watch TV for a living and even I can’t keep up with as many shows as I would like.
So with that in mind, I’m gonna pitch you on “Dark,” the extremely heady new time travel show that just landed on Netflix. It’s going a bit under the radar right now, sandwiched between “The Punisher” and the second season of “The Crown.” Also it’s in German rather than English, which may put you off. But having watched its 10-episode first season twice now, I can confirm it’s worth your time.
“Dark” takes us to the small town of Winden, Germany, a place full of fun personal melodrama — and also children who have gone missing without a trace. It centers on a handful of families that have lived there for a long time and are prominent in the community. The time travel conceit does more than give us a window into how these families have evolved over many decades — it’s brings a whole new meaning to “things are not quite what they seem here.”
I’m going to stop there with the description. I’m not usually one to be overly concerned about spoilers, but “Dark” is such a weird and twisty thing that It’s tough to talk about it much without delving into a place that even I would call spoiler territory. “Dark” is a show best discovered with the bare minimum of information about its premise. That being said, I’m going to, without spoilers, explain why I like the show below, if you need more encouragement.
1. It’s a little bit “Stranger Things,” a little bit “Twin Peaks,” a little bit “Lost” and a whole bunch of doing its own thing
“Dark” is the kind of show where, early on before you really get to know it, you can feel the vibes of shows that came before. The stories that influenced “Dark” are ones that deal with people who are wrestling with extra-natural forces that are just beyond their understanding. But it’s certainly not a show that wears those influences on its sleeve — series creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese have crafted a fiercely original piece of fiction that is one of the most thoughtful and unique TV shows of 2017.
2. It’s one of the rare on-screen time travel stories with airtight time travel logic
Time travel is hard, OK. It’s inherently illogical and can’t follow the rules of reality as we know them in the real world. So the foundation of any good time travel story has to be the rules. You can set whatever time travel rules you want, so long as you stick with them — if you don’t, the story falls apart. It’s a whole extra thing the writers of a story have to deal with, in addition to simply trying to write a good story in the usual sense. So it’s easy to mess that up, because it requires basically double the work.
“Dark” is one of the ones that doesn’t mess that up. It was actually kind of startling when I realized that, because it’s a very complicated story arranged in a complicated way — a way that I was worried midway through was constructed to hide the show playing fast and loose with its rules. But by the time it was over I realized I had worried in vain, because it ultimately does not stray from the time travel framework it set up early . I did have a few nagging questions after it was over, but that’s inevitable since this is a TV show with plans for multiple seasons. Rest assured, this is the type of heady, smart time travel story that really does work on its most fundamental level. It’s kind of a puzzle, so you will have to put some brainpower into it — but that’s a good thing.
3. It’s also a super compelling personal drama
There’s one major character, Ulrich (Oliver Masucci), who I’ve been really fascinated by since I watched the series. “Dark” puts Ulrich at the center of things for a while, and successfully made me care about him even though he’s really kind of a terrible and not particularly likable person the whole way through. What makes him work as a character is how truly human he feels, and Ulrich is representative of how Odar and Friese treat all their characters. There isn’t a single major character on “Dark” who you can’t empathize with on some level, which makes all their myriad interactions and conflicts all the more engrossing.
4. It uses time travel as a religious metaphor
Without delving into the particulars, “Dark” takes a sort of existential angle with its time travel shenanigans, with characters talking about time as if it were God — and who talk about time travel is if it were a means to exert power over God. It’s a fascinatingly weird angle for a time travel story, and one that worked like gangbusters on me since I come from an extremely religious part of the U.S. That Friese and Odar would even think to take the story this way is demonstrative of how “Dark” goes to places you find anywhere else in the realm of television this year.
5. It’s just extremely cool looking, with a stellar score to boot
Aside from simply being an excellent show, “Dark” also manages to be one of the more visually striking shows around. It’s up there, in fact, with “Westworld,” the new “Twin Peaks,” and “Hannibal.” And it’s got a score to match, simple and booming and dread-fueled. “Dark” would probably still be very good were these elements not working on this level, but that they do elevates the show into a truly complete package.