How Netflix's Dark Became a Rare Foreign Language Hit

Netflix’s sleeper hit isn’t just a German version of Stranger Things.
  • Louis Hofmann in Dark. (Netflix)
    Louis Hofmann in Dark. (Netflix)

    With Dark returning for its third and final season today, you may have noticed a growing buzz about the series over the past few weeks. A hashtag for the series started trending on Twitter when Netflix unveiled the first teaser trailer for the new season, and fans of the show have been busy speculating about what could happen iin its final stretch of episodes.

    For anyone who wasn’t already familiar with Dark, the sudden attention may have been confusing. On paper, a German-language series with one of the most complex, time-bending narratives in the history of television wouldn't seem like a prime candidate to break into the mainstream TV conversation here in the U.S.,

    Over the past three years, however, Dark has been steadily building up a dedicated and passionate fanbase that extends far beyond its home country. It’s the type of series that inspires people to write detailed episode recaps and compile lists of questions they want answered at the end of each season, and passion for the series appears to have reached new levels heading into its Season 3 premiere. But what, you may be wondering, is it about Dark that's made it such a sleeper hit for Netflix?

    Maja Schöne in Dark. (Netflix)

    When it first premiered, Dark couldn't escape comparisons to another Netflix sci-fi hit, Stranger Things. Both shows are set in small towns plagued by strange, supernatural events, and both are set largely in the 1980s. But the connections between Dark and Stranger Things basically end there.

    For starters, from a sheer numbers perspective, Dark’s on-screen ensemble practically dwarfs every other TV show on the air right now, including Stranger Things. Without spoiling too much about its plot, Dark doesn’t just revolve around one central group of characters — all of whom are brilliantly played by the primarily German cast — it also focuses on multiple versions of those characters, some older and some younger. Dark uses these different iterations of its characters to create the most unexpected twists it can, all of which tie back into the show’s central themes of fate and free will. Series creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese use Dark’s time-bending premise to weave multiple timelines together in ways the writers of Westworld could only dream about.

    Where others shows engaged in these kind of time/space hijinks might lose track of their characters in the process, Dark uses time travel to forge deep, existential bonds between its key players, to the point where the show feels more like a greek tragedy than a lighthearted, sci-fi romp. The show demands your complete attention in the most delightful of ways, as even the most minute plot details provide insight into its characters and their motivations.

    Louis Hofmann and Lisa Vicari in Dark. (Netflix)

    Creators Odar and Friese have both publicly stated that they always intended for the new third season to be the show’s last. That puts quite a lot of pressure on Dark to finish well, and while we’ve seen plenty of other TV shows crumble under the weight of such expectations, we’re less worried about that happening with Dark. For a show about time loops and the concept of fate, Dark has proven itself capable of seeing its story threads through in satisfying (and often surprsing) fashion, setting up and paying off its mysteries in ways unlike any other show on television right now.

    So, if you’re one of the Netflix subscribers out there who hasn't yet given Dark a shot, consider making it your next summer TV binge. It’s one of the few shows that invites audience participation in every episode, and rewards its viewers for investing their time and energy. In an age when so many series and franchises seem incapable of constructing satisfying payoffs to their own long-running mysteries, Dark’s ability to do so makes it a rare thing to behold. It’s easy to see why so many are hooked.

    The third and final season of Dark drops Saturday, June 27th on Netflix.

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    Alex Welch has written about television and film for TV by the Numbers, IGN, The Berrics, Paste Magazine, Screen Rant and GeekNation. Follow him on Twitter @alexrwelch.

    TOPICS: Dark, Netflix, Stranger Things, Lisa Vicari, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schöne