Netflix bills this eight-parter centred on Sigmund Freud as a “historical thriller”, but don’t expect anything resembling a biopic. Directed and co-written by Austrian horror specialist Marvin Kren, the German-language series – dubbed pretty rubbishly into English – reimagines the father of psychoanalysis as a Sherlock Holmes-style detective on the hunt for a violent serial killer in 19th Century Vienna. Except Kren actually shot it in Prague, which says a lot about Freud’s wilful lack of authenticity.
In fairness, episode one begins with a scene that at least feels realistic: we see Freud (Robert Finster) appearing to hone his hypnosis skills with an elderly woman who once lost a daughter in tragic circumstances. But it turns out to be an act: Freud is convinced that hypnosis is the key into our unconscious, but he can’t actually manage to hypnotise anyone, so he’s training his housekeeper Lenore (Brigitte Kren) to give a bravura performance in front of his medical colleagues. We learn in a clumsy subsequent scene that Freud isn’t just ostracised for his far out scientific beliefs; he’s also distrusted because he’s a Jew.
The episode then almost joyously jumps the shark when Freud is interrupted by police officers who dump a slashed-up young woman on his desk. She dies moments later, leading to tuts of disapproval from the officers and a not-so-subtle hint that Freud might become motivated to catch her killer. From this moment on, Freud is pure gothic nonsense. In one especially preposterous scene, we see a stressed military man who knows he’s about to become a murder suspect given what can only be described as a ‘consoling blowjob’. As Madonna once said in her 2002 James Bond theme ‘Die Another Day’, “Sigmund Freud: analyse this!”
It’s hardly the only shameless titillation in a series that packs in séances, sex, lots of blood, even more cocaine – Freud is portrayed as a proper cokehead – and love interest Fleur (Ella Rumpf) frothing at the mouth as she has a hysterical episode. Within the show’s equally hysterical context, even Sigmund Freud being referred to as “Ziggy” doesn’t feel jarring. Though Kren’s eight-parter is too lacking in humour to qualify as kitsch, it’s a long way from unwatchable. At a time when the news cycle is almost too much to bear, its unashamedly silly X-rated escapism might find an audience.