There’s a lot of television out there and my monthly bank statements present an unwelcome reminder of that. As we take out yet another subscription (which we pledge to cancel), a whole new plethora of shows is made readily available at our fingertips. This year, some of the offerings, namely Mélanie Laurent’s Wingwomen, the long-awaited All the Light We Cannot See and Virginie Brac’s Liaison, fell short. Then there are those that hit the small screen’s sweet spot, tempting us into delaying the cancellation of subscriptions for one more month.
Directed by Soleen Yusef (House Without Roof and Deutschland 89) and Sarah Blaßkiewitz (Precious Ivie), Sam – A Saxon was a one-of-a-kind. Disney+’s first German-language production, the show captured the story of Samuel Meffire, East Germany’s first black policeman who started the 1990s as a national media icon and ended the decade as a jailed criminal. Make no mistake, while Meffire (played by Malick Bauer) is an underdog, this is not Disney-esque feel-good watching. It’s bleak, delves into both political and personal traumas and, as Priscilla Dionne Layne, who translated Meffire’s memoir that inspired the show, told me, it digs deep into the immigrant identity battle.
Then there was Infamy, Netflix’s Polish series that had its own unlikely spin on the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon. Seventeen-year-old Gita, played exquisitely by Zofia Jastrzębska, has her life uprooted by her parents when they announce they are moving back to Poland as their exile in Wales is, at last, over. Unbeknown to her, this comes at a cost, as her father has agreed to marry off his daughter to “strengthen family business”. Its final episode opens with Gita shaving her head in defiance, accompanied by a choral version of Aqua’s Barbie Girl. If her family won’t call off her wedding, she’ll take matters into her own hands as Roma brides must have luscious long locks. The cost is infamy, but for watchers, the scene makes it worth it.
It wouldn’t be an ordinary year without being treated to the latest instalment of Nordic noir. Enter A Nearly Normal Family. Based on MT Edvardsson’s novel of the same name, the Swedish series follows the lives of Adam, a priest, Ulrika, a law professor, and Stella, their daughter, as they navigate life in Lund. At first glance, they’re the picture-perfect family – until Stella gets arrested for murder. Between court dates and evidence tampering, the show asks a poignant question that is, sadly, utterly normal for today’s audience: when it comes to sexual assault, why don’t we believe women?
But, for me, it was Disney+’s A Small Light that stole the show this year. With The Diary of a Young Girl selling over 30 million copies in more than 70 different languages, the story of Anne Frank is known far and wide. But less well known is the life of the woman who hid her and her family, Miep Gies. Consisting of eight episodes and starring Bel Powley, Liev Schreiber and Joe Cole, it was a fresh look at an already well-examined period of history.
Yet, the reason the series stayed with me was in large part due to my late grandmother who, in 1939, fled to Britain with her five children. Except, travelling as a six was too risky so she made the journey back and forth five times. Like Gies, my great-grandmother must’ve been terrified. Like Anne and Margot, my grandmother must’ve been desperately trying to make sense of the world around her. A Small Light proved that those stories live on through generations.