A Cold War thriller laced with all the hallmarks of its 80s setting, ‘Quantum Leap’ is an entertaining introduction to Deutschland 83, that offers suspense and humour in equal measure.
Produced by German television station RTL, Deutschland 83 has already received a lot of international support, and became the first German language television series to be aired in the US, launching last June. The eight-part series has now made its way onto UK screens this January, debuting on Channel 4 at 9pm on Sundays.
‘Quantum Leap’, is a confident first episode, demonstrating that Deutschland 83 has a lot to offer. Jonas Nay plays 24 year-old Martin Rauch, a promising member of the East German Army, who is uprooted from the life he knows in East Germany and embedded on the other side of the Iron Curtain. There he is tasked with stealing American military intel for the Stasi.
The episode is a compelling thriller. As Ronald Raegan steps up the presence of US missile bases in Europe, the threat of nuclear war is omnipresent, a fact which is intensified by the knowledge that Martin’s home country lies within range of the fallout, should the US fire on its targets in the USSR.
Despite the hefty politics at play during this war of ideology, Deutschland 83 avoids the pitfall of alienating its viewers by making an overt retrospective commentary, and instead directs our attention to the more personal struggles faced by the characters caught at its center. ‘Quantum Leap’ keeps its focus firmly upon Martin and his separation from his family.
The real fun is to be had in Martin’s acclimatization to life in West Germany. Deutschland 83 evokes a similar tone to Wolfgang Becker’s Goodbye Lenin, depicting the flaws and the merit in both East and West German culture during the Cold War. The production company behind the series, UFA Fiction, have spared no expense with period details. Amid the familiar hallmarks of a military costume piece, Martin’s overwhelming first encounter with Western consumer culture is an undeniable highlight.
The episode isn’t short on pop culture throwbacks too, and as you’d expect, the soundtrack is notably authentic. Nena’s ‘99 Luftballons’ captures the anti-war sentiment perfectly, as it plays in the background at a birthday party for Martin’s mother. However, other classics are inserted a little less subtlety. The end of the episode is punctuated by the harsh kick drums that introduce New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, which are far too upbeat for the particular scene, as well as being completely unnecessary, apart from to remind us that we’re in the 80s, just in case we’d forgotten.
All in all, ‘Quantum Leap’ is a strong first episode that encapsulates the appeal of Deuschland 83, as both a political thriller, and a nostalgic revisit of 80s youth culture, even if it rests on familiar characters to pull it all together.
Deutschland 83 airs on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.