Picks and Pans Review: Great Performances: Buddenbrooks
PBS (Monday, June 18, 9 p.m. ET)
Here's some good news for the people of Britain: They are not the only ones who come off as pompous on TV. The Germans do too. At least they do in this nine-part TV adaptation of Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks. This is yet another long family saga, one that follows four generations of a merchant clan in the 19th century. All that really sets it apart from, say, Nancy Astor is the locale (Lübeck, on Germany's northern coast) and the language: German dubbed into English. The dubbing makes the players sound even more stuck-up and silly than they probably do in their native tongue. Dubbing also causes severe eye-ear coordination problems for viewers. Subtitles would have been much better. This is, after all, PBS, a network whose viewers actually pay to go to foreign films and read them. On second thought, subtitles could present a problem: They could make this miniseries as long and ponderous to read as the book is, for the characters and their dialogue are as stiff and lifeless as a wurst. When the workers in the city-state of Lübeck choose to riot at dusk—gently, just breaking a few windows—a local senator complains to them: "The street lights aren't lit yet, and that's going too far with your revolution." The fretting senators suddenly stop worrying about their safety when their beer and sandwiches arrive. And the revolution ends when the starring senator, Herr Buddenbrook, faces the angry mob. "We want a republic!" one of the workers demands. "You imbecile," the good Herr says, "you've already got one." The ill-informed rioters go home. It is not a flattering portrait of a people. Senator Johann Buddenbrook's daughter, Antonie, is the real star. She marries an insufferable fop for the good of the Buddenbrook family's finances, only to find that he arranged the wedding just to get Antonie's dowry and save his business, which eventually fails anyway. Greedy Antonie says then that her hubby has "always been repulsive to me," and he admits that "I only married you for your money." Here, for once, there's some juice, some meat, something captivating. But there's a problem with even this bit of plot: The fop comes off as such a world-class wimp that it's impossible to believe that any father would force him on a daughter. Of course, neither the Germans nor the English are as pompous and boring as their miniseries portray them. It's not the nationalities that are the problem; it's class. Old money is old news. Nouveau riche Dallas is much more fun. (The series airs on Mondays through Aug. 13.)
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