We’re still a few days away from the US and Canada premiere of German legal drama Berlin Legal, but this show is so awesome, I want you to know more about it right now!
Berlin Legal is off. the. chain. It’s fast-paced and hard-hitting, stylish and addictive; its stories juicy and maddening and the stuff of today’s headlines. I absolutely love it after watching the screeners for the first two episodes, and I am pretty confident that the back six will be just as good, if not better. Please let there be another season!
The series centers on Leo Roth, a chic, savvy, and self-assured media attorney who’s part law pro, part PR guru, part celeb. Leo heads up her own law firm, Leonie Roth – Rechtsanwälte (lawyers), with a talented and dedicated team working alongside her, and a client roster that includes celebrities from actors to sports stars. Leo’s focus is on serving the best interests of the firm’s clients — and the firm itself. It’s all about the “perception is reality” of things in today’s world of 24/7 digital connectivity, social media ubiquity, viral videos, deep fakes, online security and privacy concerns, hacking, and more.
The series opens with a horrific accident that, according to news reports, has killed the driver of a Nightbuzzz bus and at least sixteen of the passengers. A call to Leo about it forces her to leave a movie premiere and meet her team at the office; the owner of Nightbuzzz’s parent company wants Leo’s firm to handle all of the PR related to the accident. Crisis management is a big-ticket assignment, so it’s a no-brainer; of course they’ll represent the company. Except they have a request from someone without deep pockets to keep the driver’s family out of the media, as press people, including skeevy tabloid reporter Goëtz Althaus, are already laying siege at the hospital.
“Greedy corporation versus mourning, low-income family? Of course I’ll take the family. The reputation is worth it for us. We couldn’t wish for a better story.”
Tragedy and dead people aside, that’s Leo for you. If you think that’s cold, just wait.
But Leo isn’t all hard-hearted mercenary; she can be quite loving, considerate, and supportive. To wit: her close relationship with her sister Ulli, brother-in-law Kai, and their daughter Mia, and her willingness to help Kai get out of a bind, lest a scandal ruin his marriage and family, not to mention his political career. Only her tactic to get him out of a sticky entanglement ends up causing a kind of damage that no one could have seen coming.
Just writing the above has gotten me all excited about Berlin Legal all over again. I love everything about it — the writing, the acting, the production values, even the characters I can’t stand, like Goëtz. Everything except one: the camerawork. BUT I completely get why certain scenes are shot in a frenetic manner and/or out of focus. It’s reflecting the story, the characters, the energy of what’s happening, and feeding all of that at the same time, transforming one’s viewing of the show into a kind of experiential activity. (And turning me into a gushy fan girl of the series.)
Lavinia Wilson (The Billion Dollar Code, Deutschland 86/89) is superb as Leo Roth, an utterly delicious character whose propensity to dress monochromatically in white or cream both implies and belies “pure” and “angelic”; Leo might have noble intentions, but she also has no qualms whatsoever about doing her worst to get the best results. She also hasn’t gotten over the breakup with her ex, and here too we see her with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Regardless of which side of her ends up winning, Leo goes all in from the off; this woman does not do things by halves. A style-conscious taskmaster, she does not tolerate tardiness or shabbiness. That Leo’s character is so fleshed out so early in the eight-episode series is, I believe, another reason (in addition to the stories) why I’ve taken to this show so much. Kudos to the writers, because while Leo is fiction, she shows up as real.
And in a sense, she is real, because the character of Leo Roth is inspired by Christian Schertz, Germany’s best-known media lawyer, who helped bring the series to life and served as an advisor and an executive producer on the production from UFA Fiction.
The storylines in Berlin Legal also land as believable; what goes down in the first two episodes, “Witch Hunt” and “The Prophecy,” is not fat-fetched — from the media stories (or the promise/threat thereof) based on leaked or unprotected information, to the spinning or massaging of details to make a media target appear in the best light in the court of public opinion. We’ve read articles, watched news segments and programs, and listened to podcasts based on this kind of stuff. What we don’t know about are the stories that media lawyers like Leo got killed before a word could be written.
In addition to Lavinia Wilson, the main cast is likewise terrific, including Maryam Zaree (4 Blocks) as Leo’s lawyer colleague Elena Caspari, Niels Bormann (Deutschland 89) as attorney Graf Cecil von Carlsburg, Aaron Altaras (Unorthodox) as legal intern Adrian Beshira, and Michaela Caspar (Luna & Sophie) as private investigator Mimi Tahar.
The cast also features Annika Kuhl (Shades of Guilt) as Leo’s sister Ulli, Rainer Sellien (Baltic Crimes) as her brother-in-law Kai Fontaine, Amelie Klein (Tatort) as her niece Mia, Sebastian Hülk (All Quiet on the Western Front) as her ex Thilo Hinrichs, and Stefan Kurt (Allmen) as tabloid reporter Goëtz Althaus.
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