Parfum

1 out of 5

Produced by: Oliver Berben, Sarah Kirkegaard

Almost unbelievably out of touch for a 2018 production, and stocked with fully unsympathetic and unlikable and uninteresting characters – please take note that that is the first instance of my using bold in a review – Parfum, a German six-part television series that uses Patrick Süskind’s novel, Perfume, as well as Tom Tykwer’s film adaptation of that as inspiration, is… watchable.  With teeth grit.  Which I began doing pretty early on, when it was clear that all of its lead characters would continue to be as despicable and one-dimensional as presented.

The show spins up a “murder mystery” regarding a mutilated body, for which sex crimes specialist Nadja (Friederike Becht) is brought in – whose specialization apparently allows her to only take any decisive action in the case when it can be used against her secret boyfriend, tear up when any forcefully relevant dialogue with suspects reminds her of her relationship woes, and then otherwise have mundane aspects of criminality and the case explained to her – and for which five “friends” of the deceased, who had their own special little perfume making club as teens, are suspected.  These friends (four men, one woman) then form most of our narrative focus.  One beats his wife; one is abusive towards women in general and runs a brothel, but oh!, doth our heart melt when he bonds with a child; the woman – much like our detective Nadja, and pretty much every female in the script – gets written up as a spin on the Madonna / whore or saint / sinner complex.  One is the runt of the group, always picked on, and perhaps intended to incite our sympathies.  Alas, he’s solely motivated by sex.  Lastly, there’s one interesting guy, who has turned the perfume-making obsession into a career, but the script – loving to wallow in the horrible behaviors of the wife-abuser and brothel owner – seems to gloss over how this character’s very association with the group makes him complicit in their various abuses, past and present.

I put “murder mystery” in quotes because you don’t give a single fig about it.  This was not a case of my continuing to watch just to find out whodunnit, because it’s all clearly wrapped up in the perfume angle (the source material being an external clue, but the way the body is mutilated is soon tied to this as well), and the victims aren’t all that sympathetic either.  Do they deserve to be mutilated?  Well, no, but in a fictional world in which these characters are so flimsy – with the type of script that has someone being interviewed by the police respond with a metaphor about her garden instead of answering a straightforward question – the victims hardly qualify as ‘people.’  They’re all just points on a page, hacked up by the plot, one bulbous bolus at a time.

So, eh, why did I continue to watch?  Partial disbelief that it was going to continue to be this bad; partially that it was only six episodes, so after you’ve recognized that it’s not going to get any better, you’re likely halfway through; partial – yeah – hate watch.

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