There was a time when it was enough to say that you watched "Masterpiece Theater" or, a decade later, that you considered "The Wire" the best show ever. Now, identifying yourself as a television smarty pants -- er, connoisseur -- has become a bit tougher.
Are you a late-adopting but very enthusiastic fan of "Schitt's Creek"? Is "Peaky Blinders" your safe place when cocktail conversation turns to "what's everyone watching?" Documentaries are always a good bet, as is elegiac praise for "The Americans." But if you're name-dropping to impress, you still can't beat foreign titles.
So it is with a certain amount of chagrined self-awareness that I find myself demanding to know why the German cave-in-forest thriller "Dark" is getting so much attention when the French-Belgian ravine-in-forest thriller "Black Spot" is so much better.
Both are Netflix shows that neatly check the "it's smarter if it has subtitles" box that the streaming service has been pushing along with (what a coincidence) its increased global reach.
Both are set in small, deceptively peaceful rural towns where terrible things happen with alarming regularity. Both are also part of a subgenre I like to think of, with apologies to Stephen Sondheim, as Into the Woods TV -- see also "Grimm" (NBC, now on Amazon), "The Forest" (Netflix), "The Kettering Incident" (Amazon) and, of course, "Stranger Things" (Netflix).
These shows are characterized by swooping aerial images of vast woodlands, after which the camera, pursued by strings, drums or an increasingly agitated bassoon, burrows down to find some spooking, singular image. Themes include the idea of nature as a sentient life force; the existence of fantastic, shape-shifting creatures; and, of course, the definition of reality and human consciousness.
Not surprisingly, both "Dark" and "Black Spot" were offered up by many as a stop-gap before the third season of "Stranger Things" dropped on the Fourth of July. (Warning: The highly adult content of "Dark" and "Black Spot," like many Into the Woods shows, makes them unsuitable for younger "Stranger Things" fans.)
Indeed, my Netflix account became so determined that I watch "Dark," repeatedly headlining it in the "New" and "Recommended" lists, that I stubbornly refused for months.
After it began showing up on so many people's "but you have to watch" lists, I finally succumbed, bingeing it in a matter of days, from the intriguing first season through the satisfying beginning of the second to the bitter end, which is to say the Season 2 finale.
By the middle of the second season, "Dark" was pretty tough going, but fueled by early goodwill, I forced myself forward. Somehow, even after years of watching television as a professional, I managed to maintain a willfully naive hope that the pile-on of gratuitous complications, not to mention the increasingly pretentious and repetitive philosophical intonations of the villain (hero?), would resolve themselves into some sort of payoff.