Netflix’s first Polish Original series 1983 has all the ingredients to be a very good show. The dystopian setting mixed with the well paced noir thriller at the heart of the plot make this a really interesting alternate take on history. Unfortunately a contrived, weak script lets 1983 down, dragging the show back from being the great alternate thriller it could have been.
1983 imagines a world where the Cold War never ended, thanks in part due to a series of terrorist attacks that prevented the Iron Curtain from falling, pushing Poland into becoming a totalitarian state and an Orwellian nightmare.
Skip forward 20 years and it’s here where the story predominantly takes place, in 2003. A law student, Kajetan (Maciej Musiał), and police investigator Anatol (Robert Więckiewicz) find out about a conspiracy that could lead to a revolution and quickly uncover more than they should. While the two men try and piece together the nation-wide puzzle, forces in the shadows move to liberate Poland and end this dystopian nightmare.
For the most part the story is well paced, split across 8 episodes with around an hour run time for each. Bursts of action are peppered through the episodes to help keep the pacing consistent with answers revealed late on to the mystery encapsulating the show’s early episodes. The finale then sees all the pieces come together and a secret Operation undertaken to try and liberate Poland.
Generally when I watch a European series like this, I prefer listening to the native tongue while reading the subtitles. It helps with authenticity while reviewing but in 1983’s case, this bizarrely makes the show less watchable. The dialogue feels awkward and contrived, stifled at times by some unnatural exchanges between characters. When you switch it back to English however, the writing is vastly improved, embellished in parts and other lines have been almost completely changed. As with many dubs of its kind, it also means the lip syncing is going to be way off and at times the emphasis on words doesn’t match what’s actually happening on screen. The result is something that isn’t quite effective enough to watch in Polish, given the unnatural dialogue, and something that has better audio but isn’t much better in English.
Visually at least 1983 certainly holds true to its premise. Poland is dark, dreary and bathed in shades of grey for much of its run time. It does help sell the dystopian future and parts of Poland are suitably splashed in propaganda posters and aesthetically jarring futuristic imagery. It’s clear from the start that 1983 draws a lot of inspiration from George Orwell’s 1984, and to a lesser extent Man In The High Castle. These visuals delights really help keep the show ticking over, dragging the questionably written dialogue forward.
Still, despite the good work done with the plot and visual style of the show, it’s hard to look past the issues with the script. The fact you’re likely to get a completely different experience with 1983 depending on how you watch this is something that feels amateurish and not what you’d expect from Poland’s first Netflix Original. It should be great, and parts of the show most certainly are. If you can look past the script and the questionable dialogue you’re sure to have a good time with this one but it consistently let’s the show down from being a better title.