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Series review: Biohackers


- Despite a good premise, the series fails to provide a coherent narrative and may leave viewers puzzled

Series review: Biohackers
Adrian Julius Tillmann and Luna Wedler in Biohackers

Some might hope that Biohackers, the new TV series released on Netflix on 20 August, could be another unmissable German production building on the success of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s Dark. Unfortunately, the six-part show, co-directed by Christian Ditter (episodes 1, 2, 3) and Tim Trachte (episodes 4, 5, 6) and written by Ditter himself with Nikolaus Schulz-Dornburg, Tanja Bubbel and Johanna Thalmann, offers an interesting premise but is far from fulfilling expectations.

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This sci-fi thriller revolves around a girl called Mia Akerlund (Luna Wedler) who enrols in Freiburg University’s prestigious medical school in order to get close to professor and visionary scientist Tanja Lorenz (Jessica Schwarz). Mia suspects that Lorenz was involved in the tragic death of her family years ago, and throws herself into a dangerous world where human biohacking and illegal scientific experimentation are the norm. She soon develops strong bonds with Jasper (Adrian Julius Tillmann), a biologist who works as Lorenz’s right arm, and Niklas (Thomas Prenn), a sociology student and Jasper’s roommate.

Despite a good setup and an opening scene that undoubtedly arouses curiosity, the show fails to provide viewers with a coherent narrative as it constantly opens a myriad of questions about the characters’ actions – who often appear terribly clumsy or go unbelievably unnoticed – and creates convoluted story dynamics. Throughout the series, for example, most of the locations holding sensitive information, such as hospital rooms and laboratories, are unguarded or very easy to access. The same applies to devices: almost every character seems to know each other’s passwords, there are no encrypted files but simple PDFs displaying top-secret data, and all of this sensitive information that could shake the future of mankind is stored in regular home computers.

In broader terms, most of the plot twists are highly predictable and the creative possibilities offered by a world where biohacking is a normal aspect of everyday life are significantly underdeveloped. Besides a couple of human mutations that play a central role in the plot (and are invisible to the eye, with only DNA sequences appearing on screen), we only see some glowing plants and a rat, a group of lethal mosquitoes, and strange pot plants chiming.

When it comes to character development and acting, the villain’s portrayal is perhaps the least defined. The medicine guru played by Schwarz is presented as a “genius,” a “visionary,” but acts always in the same way, usually making naive decisions while remaining totally impassive. Moreover, most of the secondary characters do not serve the narrative development and only help create an awkward “sitcom” feel that does not blend well with the serious tone and fast pace of the intrigue. This is particularly obvious with Luna’s roommates. Chen-Lu (Jing Xiang), a biologist, often speaks annoyingly fast for no reason and vaguely resembles a caricature of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper; Ole (Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer), a medical student, conducts several stupid, risky experiments on his body; and Lotta (Caro Cult), a wealthy girl, does not try at all to break away from the dumb blonde stereotype. In their defense, the actors’ interpretations are heavily limited by their dialogues, which are often dull and unoriginal. All in all, Biohackers’ main problem is its broadly superficial and pretentious writing.

On a more positive note, the series’ cinematography (courtesy of DoPs Jakob Wiessner and  Fabian Rösler) is certainly pleasing to the eye and masterfully crafted. Overall, the score does a fair job too, besides a couple of classical music pieces that seem out of place and do not fit the scene’s atmosphere.

Biohackers was produced by Munich-based outfit Claussen+Putz Filmproduktions GmbH, the German Motion Picture Fund and FilmFernsehFonds Bayern.

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