Why can’t more shows be like Kleo, the new German series on Netflix? It’s a spy revenge thriller, with a skilled protagonist looking to do harm to the people who did her wrong. That’s basically it. But how it gets through that simple premise is the key to whether it works or not.
KLEO: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. NONE OF THIS EVER HAPPENED,” says a confusing graphic before the opening shot, an alleyway not far from the Berlin Wall. “EAST BERLIN, 1987”.
The Gist: Kleo Straub (Jella Haase) is an undocumented agent for Stasi, East Germany’s Ministry for State Security. We first see her taking a secret tunnel into West Germany, under the supervision of Andi Wolf (Vladimir Burlakov) and the volatile Uwe Mittig (Vincent Redetzki), put on a wig and dress, and go the West Berlin club Big Eden. There, she takes very little time to attract and then eliminate her target, via tainted blow snorted in the men’s room. Another agent grabs a key to a locker containing a mysterious red suitcase
Also at the club is Sven Petzold (Dimitrij Schaad), a cop in the police department’s fraud division, saw Kleo come out of the bathroom before finding her target dead on the floor and remembers her from when she came to the bar and he hit on her. He draws a rough sketch that the homicide cops laugh at. But he insists that she’s the killer, even though she can’t be found and the coroner judged that the man died of an accidental overdose.
Despite warnings from his boss, Wolf and Kleo are in a relationship, and they’re both overjoyed that she’s pregnant. But when the sketch created from Sven’s eyewitness report reaches her Stasi boss, a series of events is set in motion that sends her to prison for life on treason charges. Everyone she knows in the Stasi testifies against her, as well as her grandfather Otto (Jürgen Heinrich), a high-up commandant in the military who raised her after her parents died. She loses the baby in a prison fight.
But things change in Berlin while she’s in prison; the Wall falls and all political prisoners are being released. It’s now 1990 and East Berlin is starting to change — for the worse, in her opinion. But she’s got other things on her mind, namely revenge against the people who turned in her, starting with her grandfather. Sven, rifling through now-irrelevant files of GDR political prisoners, spies Kleo’s mugshot and remembers her from the incident at Big Eden. Meanwhile, the suitcase is still circulating, as it’s passed between people in Chile, of all places.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Kleo reminds us of Soviet-era espionage series like The Americans combined with revenge series like, well, Revenge.
Our Take: Kleo promises to be a stylish and slick series which will take its title character from Europe to South America and back again, in pursuit of both the red suitcase and the people who set her up to go to prison. Created by Hanno Hackfort, Richard Kropf, and Bob Konrad, the show isn’t looking to be anything but a spy thriller with lots of set pieces, creative ways to kill people, and Haase in various wigs and early-’90s fashions.
While we tend to want more from shows than just slickness and action, we’re not expecting that from Kleo, mainly because we’re not given any indication that it’s going to be anything but what it is. It’s not trying to be deep, or make a commentary on post-communism Germany. It’s about a Stasi spy chasing down people and likely killing them because they sent her away and essentially killed her dreams of a normalish life with Wolf.
Haase is great as Kleo, because she can shift from hardened killer to overjoyed at her pregnancy to angry about being sent away even though she’s innocent. It’ll be fun to watch her move around in various disguises to get to the people she’s seeking out, and it’ll also be fun to figure out how the contents of the red suitcase play into it.
Schaad is also fun to watch as Sven, mainly because he’s a trying-too-hard cop who thinks he’s got an in with the ladies despite the fact that he has a family to come home to. But once he realizes that the woman he saw at that club in 1987 wasn’t a mirage, his pursuit of Kleo will be a central conflict for the entire first season. Even if they join forces at some point, it should make for a funny combination.
Sex and Skin: We see Wolf and Kleo pre- and post-coitus, but both are strategically covered up.
Parting Shot: The suitcase is exchanged on a bridge in Chile. “Kleo is out and making trouble,” the man handing off the case says to the recipient. “Make sure she doesn’t get her hands on it.”
Sleeper Star: We hope to see more of Vincent Redetzki as Uwe, who seems to explode at anyone who doubts him, including a cop that knocked on the car he and Wolf were in when they were waiting for Kleo.
Most Pilot-y Line: Kleo goes back to her old apartment to retrieve her gun and sees the slovenly Thilo (Julius Feldmeier), a squatter from the West. She holds the gun to his head and all he can say is “A friend of mine, Klaus, drilled a hole in his forehead there, with a pedal drill, like a third eye.” How friggin’ high is he at that point?
Our Call: STREAM IT. Kleo isn’t trying to be anything more than a fast-paced spy thriller, and it definitely has the makings of a pretty darn good one.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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