‘Berlin’ Series Review: A Spinoff That Believes In Style Over Substance

Money Heist is a cultural phenomenon of this decade. This Spanish Netflix Original show happens to be one of the most watched and discussed. Money Heist was based on a robbery, but it may have glorified this act of crime and managed to captivate the audience for the longest time. The highlight of the show must be the identity of the characters, as they were named after cities around the world. To a whole lot of people, Berlin stood out, which is what brings us to the spin-off show on Netflix. Berlin is a Spanish Netflix original show that chronicles the life of the lead character of the same name and was released on December 29, 2023. There is a lot to say about this new eight-episodic miniseries directed by Esther Martínez Lobato and Lex Pina.

The show takes place a few years before Berlin became a part of the Professor’s group and was still resorting to high-scale robberies. Berlin, along with his group of five, was in the city of Paris to loot jewelry worth 44 million euros from an underground auction house by hatching an elaborate plan. With meticulous planning and making sure there was no room for error on anyone’s part, the robbery was executed. The six of them, including Berlin, have a distinct character, and none in his group are professional thieves.

Berlin had reasons to hire people with high intelligence, and it begins to make sense as the plot progresses. Berlin was obsessed with a woman he met whose husband was employed by the auction house they were planning to rob. The team was joined by a new member for the Paris heist. The team members had fake names but they were not associated with global cities like in Money Heist. Was the team successful in robbing the auction house? Was there a threat to them after the robbery?

The creators of the show made sure to place a lot of emphasis on the style and structure of the screenplay instead of the actual plot line based on which the entire show was directed. The substance is missing most of the time as the narrative is stretched until the last episode. The main plot of the show was done halfway through the show, and it is the second half that moves along slower than a snail’s pace as the writers added plenty of subplots to increase the run time. The forty-to-forty-five-minute runtime of each episode suddenly ramped up to an hour-long season finale. This was the case with Money Heist as well, until the series finale. Berlin was purely created based on the popularity, likeability, and fan following of Money Heist. Keeping that in mind, Berlin has no substance and a bunch of predictable subplots that were stretched to the point where there is nothing to look forward to as the end of season one approaches.

Many subplots involving men in the group having feelings for the women they hang out with from the same batch ended up following predictable arcs, and there is nothing new to offer from the maker’s perspective. The original show’s massive scale allowed the makers to provide a fresh take on the story of a character that was ‘mucho’ loved in Money Heist, but sadly, there was nothing that could salvage Berlin. The well-educated young woman with social anxiety falls for a hunk, followed by another female member who happens to have a tragic past and has a man come to her rescue and offer her some guidance. None of them grow as people but require another human being to pull them out of their trauma and insecurity, which is nothing new in terms of storytelling. The absence of chemistry between Berlin and the woman he claims to be in love with hampered the show. Affairs are supposed to be steamy and evoke a sense of forbidden desires. There was a lack of passion between the characters and the scene leading up to their lovemaking lacked intimacy and chemistry.

The makers should have made the subplots far more complex and layered instead of keeping them shallow and wafer-thin. Berlin’s obsession with a woman started as a character flaw in him, but soon the makers resorted to justifying his act of manipulation and gaslighting. This was not acceptable. Many Spanish and Latin shows that have been released on Netflix lately tackle subjects mentioned right above this sentence. Berlin’s charming demeanor coupled with his ruthlessness make him a manipulative man who tends to cross boundaries to fulfill his desires.

Berlin’s style of narrative and the screenplay were eerily like Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” series. It is hard to overlook the influence and execution of this style of narrative as the narrator explains how they plan to steal the jewels from the auction house. Several scenes would be reminiscent of the “Ocean” series, which set a benchmark when it comes to heist films. Steven Soderbergh’s style of filmmaking in the Ocean series was a game changer. This style of narration worked for Berlin and it retains the engagement quality. The drawback must be the actual contents of the screenplay.

Unexpected twists, affairs, romance, fights, frictions, situations blown out of proportion, and glitches in the plan are some of the expected fare from Berlin, and there is not a lot to take away from these subplots. A thriller drama must have an edge-of-your-seat kind of storytelling where no one can predict the outcome of any incident. Sadly, there are multiple narratives being added right from the first episode and  almost all are disjointed. The tying up of the threads and joining of the dots takes a lot of time. There were some logical loopholes, convenient plot points, and obvious flaws overlooked by the makers. This sets a bad precedent, as the show ends on a note that indicates season two.

Berlin probably has a weak climax thanks to the formulaic storytelling and the lazy attempt to present an end to a show that could have been interesting if only there was any intent shown by the makers. Associating Berlin with Money Heist, a lot of it was to pander to the audience rather than invest time in the story and the screenplay, which made no sense from the start until the end.

The style quotient is appreciated, but it cannot be the only selling point of the show. The direction and the editing must be applauded for allowing the audience to remain hooked on Berlin despite issues with the storytelling and the length of the show. The editing by Miguel Burgos and Luismi Glez Bedmar was brilliant and a standout aspect. The scenes are stitched well as per the director’s ambition to make them look different from the usual sketches we get to watch in other shows of the same genre.

Paris is beautifully shot by the cinematography team. The scenes are beautifully choreographed, and most of the show was eye-pleasing. The chase sequences were brilliantly shot, and they gave the show much-needed adrenaline, which was otherwise missing from the rest of it. The dialogues were wonderful as they elevated the viewing experience. Sadly, the use of CGI was awkward, and the de-aging of Berlin is subpar work at best.

Pedro Alonso is the star of the show Berlin. His performance as the ruthless, stubborn man with a penchant for romance has been given layers to work on. His performance was like a well-choreographed dance, which is entertaining to look at. Even though the overall screenplay is just plain boring, Pedro Alonso as “Berlin” makes the show highly watchable as he can emote a lot of feelings, which ranges from being a man on a mission to a pathetic person. Pedro Alonso’s malicious smile itself deserves awards. Another standout performer was Tristán Ulloa as Damian, the mastermind behind the jewelry heist, and Julio Peña as Roi, who is struggling to break away from the shackles of Berlin. Overall, Berlin is a decent watch, but not in its entirety. If only there was more substance in that style in this spinoff.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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Overall, Berlin is a decent watch, but not in its entirety. If only there was more substance in that style in this spinoff.'Berlin' Series Review: A Spinoff That Believes In Style Over Substance