What I'm watching: Babylon Berlin, Dark, and The Ministry of Time

I've noticed a lot of people asking for recommendations on Netflix recently. Having no further ideas for a post this week, I thought I'd share some of current favorites. In case some of you have trouble watching shows with subtitles, I'm putting the language in brackets behind the title. 

Babylon Berlin [German]
Police commissioner Gereon Rath is transferred from Cologne to Berlin, the epicenter of political and social change in the Golden Twenties. Shellshocked from his service during World War I, he uncovers a dangerous web of intrigue while investigating one of Berlin's biggest pornography rings. There's an even bigger conspiracy unfolding, though, when Soviet rebels hijack a train as part of a mission hatched by Trotsky supporters in the city.

The truth here is that I initially misread the tagline, which had the word "demon" in it. My brain automatically said: 1930s! BERLIN! DEMONS! and I clicked play. Then I realized that "demons" referred to the figurative demons in Lotte's homelife, but by then it was too late, I was hooked.

[Author's note and obligatory book plug: if you want actual demons in the 1930s, you're stuck with Diago and company, and they're in Barcelona, and it's here.]

Meanwhile, in Babylon Berlin:

The series begins with Rath investigating a series of pornography rings and then segues to a White Russian plot to overthrow Stalin. Along the way we meet characters such as: the mysterious gangster known as the Armenian; a German businessman, who is backing the emerging Nazi party; a beautiful Russian countess, who has fled the Reds and is seeking to reestablish her wealth; and a tough young girl determined to work as a homicide detective.

I can't begin to enumerate all of the beautiful things about Babylon Berlin. It's seedy and dark and historically accurate. The writers have found a way to interweave the various political factions into the story in such as way as to illustrate the history without bogging down the pace. I'm so in love with this show, I binge on weekends and hope it never ends.

Dark [German]
When two children go missing in a small German town, its sinful past is exposed along with the double lives and fractured relationships that exist among four families as they search for the kids. The mystery-drama series introduces an intricate puzzle filled with twists that includes a web of curious characters, all of whom have a connection to the town's troubled history -- whether they know it or not. The story includes supernatural elements that tie back to the same town in 1986. "Dark" represents the first German original series produced for Netflix.

I'd initially avoided this, because I imagined it would be something like Stranger Things. John Hornor Jacobs persuaded me to give it a shot, and he is right--the title nails it. This is a mind-twisting series centering on time travel, a nuclear power plant, and a small community of people, all of which are entwined in one another's lives. I'm about midway through the first season, and I'm engrossed with the characterization and the twisty plot. The acting is superb, the menace is low-key but looms over both the town and the characters like the massive nuclear plant, and there is enough mind-bending ideas going on to keep me intrigued.

The Ministry of Time [Spanish]
The Ministry of Time is the best kept secret of the Spanish state: an autonomous government institution that reports directly to the Prime Minister. Its patrols have to watch the doors of time so that no intruder from other eras can change history for their own benefit.

The series follows the assignments of the Ministry's newest patrol: the one formed by Army of Flanders soldier, Alonso de Entrerríos, 19th century student Amelia Folch, and 21st century Samur paramedic, Julián Martínez.

This is a great show if you want to learn a little Spanish history, have some fun, and just let your brain unwind. I'd first encountered El Ministerio del Tiempo when someone on Twitter mentioned it about a year ago, but my Spanish isn't good enough to watch shows in Spanish ... yet. So I was positively thrilled when I saw it on Netflix's offerings with English subtitles.

In a series of catacombs beneath a building in Madrid, there are actual doors to various time periods. These are the "authorized" doors used by the members of the Ministry of Time to ensure that someone doesn't slip through and change the past. There are also "unauthorized" doors through which people sometimes enter, and this is where the Ministry becomes involved so as to avoid butterfly effects in time.

I'm only an episode in and loving it. The show doesn't take itself too seriously. You don't have to be Spanish to get some of the running jokes, but knowing a little about Spanish literature and history helps.

For example: Velásquez pops into the Ministry to sketch composites for the agents. He's also intrigued by Picasso's works.

Everyone keeps asking the Flanders soldier Alonso if he is Alatriste. Completely confused by the reference, Alonso happens to be in a bookstore and sees a book entitled Alatriste. He steals it, and while the Ministry's rules forbid taking articles from the one time period to another, Alonso returns to the 16th Century with the novel. [For those not in the know: Alatriste is a character from a popular series of novels, The Adventures of Captain Alatriste, written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.]

So it's all quite fun and actually made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

And that is how I've been spending my viewing time lately. If you're watching something you're in love with, drop it in the comments. I'm always on the lookout for new shows, too.