8 Days (German, 2019)

3 out of 5

Written by: Peter Kocyla, Rafael Parente, Benjamin Seiler

covers season 1

I kind of respect a show that puts its most reprehensible and idiotic behaviors up front, especially a show with a plot like 8 Days – the amount of time until doom hits, here represented by a population-decimating meteor throttling toward Germany – in which all the stuff apocalypse movies and shows would generally build toward, like families and friends squabbling violently with one another for survival, and moral degradation leading to rapey caveman behavior, is all tossed in to the first episode. That’s either a sign that that’s all you can expect for the remaining slog of episodes, or… maybe… it’s a bit of subversion, giving the audience what they’d expect right off the bat, so more interesting things can be done…?

Of course, there’s no way to know which one of these things it is initially, and unless you check your viewing queue and determine you have the time to find out, you’re likely to tune out after one dumb episode, which I certainly almost did with 8 Days. Like, as Germany closes its borders and a mother-father-two children family tries to sneak its way through, the youngest daughter is subjected to leery groping from hicks, the mother commits murder, and the family is separated by a poorly thought out bit of a train taking off at an inopportune time. Elsewhere, kids are acting absolutely vile, all drugged up and sexed out, and a man is forcefully keeping a woman in his bunker and forcing her to cook and whatnot, because that’s what men do. There are political and business shmucks lying to the public about their safety, and a particular business shmuck ready to do anything to get his pregnant girlfriend and himself in to the limited-space government-constructed shelters, and later that aforementioned mother will smartly decide to bone her boyfriend in front of her daughter, and then there’s this oddball dude who you just know is going to be set up as some kind of creepy cult leader…

Yeah, all that happens, and it’s like a checklist of cliched panic mode stuff – not necessarily unrealistic human behaviors, but also a shorthand way to add “drama” when we haven’t built up any characters or story yet – and then only thing that kept me going was, honestly, the thought that I was being trolled: the ‘next episode’ preview that’s jammed into the credits seemed happy to spoil plot points, shamelessly. So I just sort of continued on in wonder – what are we going to be doing for 8 episodes?

To backpedal a bit, I defined those two possible paths: that the series might be extremist crap the whole way through, or it might be something a bit tricksier. 8 Days, indeed, does not take the former avenue, and starts to add in more compelling elements right after that first episode, but… it’s also definitely not on the second path. It is not a “smart” show. Characters still act selfishly and shallowly, and nothing exactly deviates from the direction in which we started: ultimately, the show finds its way back around to all of the more flagrant stuff from the beginning. But the difference is that it’s then spent the time inbetween filling out the characters and circumstances more, and has added – with appreciably minimal use of flashback – interesting diversions into the calamity that don’t feel cheapened by false hope. So instead of exactly being about what hedonistic craziness people might get up to in their last days, it’s a little more grim, which juxtaposingly allows in some brightness: while everyone hasn’t given up on looking for ways to survive, there’s an underbeat of acceptance of what’s to come, and thus some humanity pokes through.

I mean, you still get all the hedonistic stuff, but it’s doled out amidst more directly relatable behaviors. That the series ends up doing this without any ridiculous about-faces for any of its characters – how we initially know them tends to hold true – is interesting, and keeps the series much, much more watchable than its first episode indicates.

One last criticism, though: the show is occasionally pretty male gaze-y. There’s an episode where a woman is uncomfortably undressing in front of someone, and the camera pulls back to pause on her in her underwear. It’s not a “sexy” shot, but it’s also a pointless one – we understand the emotional context without it – and there are some other instances of this spotted here and there. It’s not omnipresent by any means, but it exists, kind of as a reminder that the show wasn’t ever planning to break free from its more cliched elements to become something more original or intelligent.