German Series in the USA
You Are Wanted: The story of a man on the run is a runaway success
When Amazon Video launched the first season of “You Are Wanted” with Matthias Schweighöfer in March 2017, the six-episode thriller became a literal overnight success. A hit all over the world, the series is more than just the proverbial game changer for Amazon – it’s helping to redefine German TV’s image. Thanks to video streaming, suddenly there’s no telling how far a German show can go.
By Mark Tompkins
Joining the ranks of other German hit series is Amazon Prime Video’s You Are Wanted, the breakout techno-thriller starring Matthias Schweighöfer. The six-episode first season launched in 2017 and in just one weekend set a record as Amazon’s most-viewed series in Germany and Austria. Even more notably, the show became an instant hit for Amazon in France, Italy, Spain and Canada – finding audiences as far abroad as Mexico and Brazil.
Small wonder a second season was green-lit just five days after Season 1 went live. The six-episode second season debuted in May 2018.
Run, Lukas, RunWhat is this Berlin-based thriller that has become must-binge TV for viewers in so many countries? You Are Wanted stars Schweighöfer as Lukas Franke, a nice-guy hotel manager and family man who is framed by hackers for causing a citywide blackout.
With all of his personal data at their command, the hackers blackmail Lukas to do their bidding while the local police pursue him as a suspected terrorist. When Germany’s national security agency, the BND, joins the hunt, Lukas’ predicament becomes even more dangerous. He soon discovers that the villains have infiltrated his personal life, and he, his wife Hanna (Alexandra Maria Lara) and their young son Leon (Franz Hagn) aren’t safe anywhere.
In this all-too-timely scenario, every smart device is a surveillance tool or a potential weapon. The storyline taps into the widespread suspicion of the United States that arose in Germany after the Edward Snowden revelations. Especially after the NSA scandal when it came out that the US intelligence agencies had been eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone. The mistrust escalates into full-fledged paranoia in Season 2 when the CIA steps in to chase Lukas Franke down, and even the BND can’t protect him.
Family meeting: the Franke family wants to leave Germany
Ominous: Lukas sees his ex-mentor Case (Aleksandar Jovanovic) everywhere. But he's actually dead...
Uncompromising: Admiral Bruce Gardner (Michael Landes) on the hunt for Lukas Franke
Going berserk: Lukas threatens the BND agent Wakura
Hacker at work: Angel (Hannah Hoekstra) helps Lukas
In danger: Lukas needs to protect his son Leon
No mercy: Lukas is tortured to give up “Burning Man”
Big Brother is watching: in the cyber-command headquarters, USA
A question of trust: who works with whom?
In a crisis: will Lukas and Hanna stick together?
It’s the classic Hitchcock scenario of an innocent man on the run, updated for the 21st century: identity theft poses as much of a threat to Lukas as the many attempted shootings and stabbings. The breakneck pace also recalls the Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon, but instead of a ruthlessly competent secret agent, here the hero is an average Joe who can only survive by his wits.
You Are Wanted benefits from location shooting: viewers can travel vicariously through Lukas as he zigzags all across Berlin. There are plenty of glimpses of Alexanderplatz, and if you watch enough episodes, your favorite U-Bahn station is bound to show up. There’s also a detour to Frankfurt where Lukas first encounters Lena (Karoline Herfurth), a mystery woman who will grab anyone who has been pining for Lisbeth Salander to return to their screens. Clad in black leather from head to toe, Lena rides to the rescue on her motorcycle more than once, and she’s as handy with a laptop as a gun. Just the kind of ally that Lukas needs. Or is she? Everyone here has hidden sides to reveal, even Lukas himself.
Germany’s Got TalentPreviously best known as a star of hit rom-coms, Matthias Schweighöfer turns out to be well suited for the role of the Everyman under siege. Clean-cut and boyish even at age 36, he still looks like someone your grandmother would make a fuss over – the viewer can’t help but wonder: how will this guy possibly survive in an underworld of hackers?
Thanks to Til Schweiger and Florian David Fitz, it’s now customary for German stars to seize the reins of their careers by writing and directing their own films; with You Are Wanted, Schweighöfer takes creative participation to a new level by co-directing every episode (alongside the series’ cinematographer Bernhard Jasper), co-writing and contributing to the score, which at times brings Tangerine Dream to mind.
But the series is no mere vehicle to stardom for Schweighöfer, thanks to a supporting cast who get their own storylines rife with paranoia. Is there a clause in German Basic Law that says every German TV drama has to feature a male and female pair of police detectives? Here those roles are filled by Catrin Striebeck and Edin Hasanovic, two actors who get plenty of dramatic moments as the series steadily intensifies. But the biggest surprise among the supporting cast is Louis Hofmann as a teenage hacktivist. Hofmann is now known around the world as the lead of Netflix’s Dark, so this may be the last time he plays anyone’s sidekick.
Like Dark and Babylon Berlin, Season 1 of You Are Wanted features the kind of striking title sequence that’s essential for a show to be taken seriously in today’s serial-drama competition (the title designers clearly admired the opening of HBO’s True Detective). The icy blue images of the opening credits give off a chill that extends into the series: Bernhard Jasper’s visuals are sleek but rarely warm, the better to capture the mood of all-encompassing paranoia. In keeping with the show’s focus on cutting-edge technology, most of the locations Lukas hurtles through are up-to-the-minute modern but impersonal, more corporate than gemütlich. This isn’t a welcoming world. It’s appropriate that this tech-heavy thriller is the first TV series worldwide to be filmed in Ultra HD, which boasts a remarkable resolution of 2160 pixels. (The bad news is that fans who want to marvel at the technical upgrade will probably have to buy the Ultra HD Blu-ray and own an all-region player.)
If You Stream It, They Will ComeYou Are Wanted was the first non-English-language series Amazon launched globally – in more than 200 countries. Audiences have the option of selecting subtitles in English, French, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. (An English dubbed version is also available, but no one should go near that; the dubbing receives harsh reviews in the customer comments on Amazon.)
No less than 22 percent of the audience for Season 1 hailed from North America – a head-spinning turn of events for a German television series, and a result no one would have imagined possible a few years ago.
In honor of the show’s international appeal, the May 2018 premiere for Season 2 took place in Hollywood with Schweighöfer and his fellow cast members in attendance.
The record number of five-star ratings for You Are Wanted on Amazon speaks to how enthusiastic German audiences are for homegrown content with the sort of stellar production values once considered exclusive to the province of Hollywood. But the show’s worldwide success also testifies to how the right content transcends borders. And Hollywood has taken notice. The German division of Warner Bros. co-produces You Are Wanted in partnership with Pantaleon Films GmbH, a production company with offices in Berlin, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt. Given the success of Amazon’s flagship German series, it’s not surprising that more co-productions are on the way; no one is dismissing German TV as a backwater anymore.
Amazon’s other German-language titles include the forthcoming Deutschland 86, the much-anticipated follow-up to the Stasi spy drama Deutschland 83. Released in 2015, that show was the first of the new wave of German series to draw acclaim and audiences internationally (it aired with subtitles on Channel 4 in England and Sundance TV in the US). And yet its weekly ratings on Germany’s RTL broadcast network were so modest that the network opted not to finance a second season. Enter Amazon, which sensed the potential for an international hit made to be binge-watched and picked up the rights for the series. The brave new world of streaming services where audiences can watch as many episodes as they want on demand is proving to be a more natural home for intricate serial dramas than old-school “free” or “linear” TV.
They Are Wanted: The Cast of You Are WantedMatthias Schweighöfer (Lukas Franke)
An actor, director, producer and singer, Matthias Schweighöfer has been one of Germany’s biggest stars for the past decade. After co-starring with Til Schweiger in Rabbit Without Ears (2007), he went on to take the lead in a streak of popular romantic comedies. Prior to You Are Wanted, international audiences saw him appear alongside Tom Cruise in the WWII thriller Valkyrie (2008).
Alexandra Maria Lara (Hanna Franke)
Romanian-German actress Alexandra Maria Lara has starred in films by noted directors such as Doris Dörrie and Wolfgang Petersen. Her breakthrough role came as Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge, in the Oscar-nominated Downfall (2004), and she appeared in The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008) alongside many of the other leading German actors of her generation.
Her international credits are extensive: in 2007, she played Annik Honore, mistress of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, in Control and appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth. A year later, she was featured in The Reader, and in 2013, she starred opposite Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard’s Rush.
Karoline Herfurth (Lena Arandt, Season 1)
In Germany, Karoline Herfurth is best known for co-starring in the irreverent box-office smash Fack ju Göhte (2013) and its sequels. US audiences are more likely to have seen her in The Reader (2008), the vampire thriller We Are the Night (2010) and Brian De Palma’s Passion (2012).
In 2016, she made her directing debut with the romantic comedy SMS für Dich and can now be seen co-starring in Amazon Video’s new German crime drama Beats, set in the Berlin club scene.
Louis Hofmann (Dalton, Season 1)
In just a few years, Louis Hoffman has become internationally recognized, first in Land of Mine (2015), an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, then as the lead in the Netflix series Dark (2017). Early this year, Variety selected him as one of “10 Europeans to Watch.”