How many amoral, bloody-minded bankers does it take to ruin an entire country’s economy?
Well, according to the very fine new melodrama Bad Banks (streams on CBC Gem from Friday) it only takes one. That solo figure is a young woman with ambitions and a bitter heart, one Jana Liekam (Paula Beer). When the series opens in Germany (it’s in German with English subtitles) the ATM machines are running out of money, riots are flaring in the streets and the TV news is saying that a bank collapse, bigger than the crash of Lehman Brothers, is under way.
A shadowy figure in a hoodie walks the streets. That’s Jana. Then the series flips back to eight weeks earlier. Jana is working at a different bank in a different city, as an assistant to her boss Luc (Marc Limpach, who also stars in the fine thriller Capitani on Netflix), a guy who is related to the bank’s owners. She makes the mistake of upstaging him in financial prowess at a meeting, and is fired.
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What happens next is the key step in this gripping, no-nonsense mini-series. A top executive, another of the few women at the company, one Madame Leblanc (Désirée Nosbusch) suggests she can have Jana hired at a rival bank, but the favour means Jana has to feed her secrets and, with luck, help bring the rival bank to its knees.
What we get then is a thriller, as much about espionage as banking, in which a seemingly sensitive and whip-smart young woman turns amoral rogue banker, working secretly to destroy her colleagues and, perhaps, upend the whole German economy. As such, Bad Banks fits into the batch of shows such as Billions and HBO’s Industry. But there is little of the dark humour of those shows here. Yes, nasty, integrity-challenged men do drugs and explode in male rage. But the story barely pauses to dwell on that. It’s about Jana the spy working inside the investment-banking business to do a spy’s work.
The mystery involved isn’t really the matter of Jana succeeding. We know from the opening scene that a crisis has erupted. The mystery is, what motivates Jana and Madame Leblanc to destroy? Is it women taking revenge against the macho culture of high-risk banking? And, is Jana even more enraged and vengeful than Leblanc? Fast-paced, tart and unsentimental, Bad Banks is intriguing, a bloody good bet for complicated thrills, and Paula Beer is phenomenal as Jana, queen of misrule.
Also airing this weekend
The Last Walrus (Saturday 8 p.m., CBC NN on The Nature of Things and CBC Gem) is a companion piece to the award-winning feature The Walrus and the Whistleblower. As such, it’s a more intimate and personal look by filmmaker Nathalie Bibeau at the topic and the key character. The character is Phil Demers, who spent years working at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., and then became the guy who blew the whistle on the treatment of the creatures held captive in the park for public amusement. He’s a friend of the filmmaker’s brother, and she’s from the Niagara region where Marineland is both a big attraction and a big employer.
Phil was at one time famous for his almost father-and-child relationship with a walrus named Smooshi. He was talked about on CBC’s The National and on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. Then he turned against the practice of keeping marine mammals in pools, and joined the protestors outside the gates. It’s a terrific program, with shocking descriptions of how a walrus is captured – the mothers are slaughtered and the babies abducted. It also has a very frank and open discussion with Demers about what changed in him. He can be blunt: “I know the animals at Marineland are medicated because I was the one doing the medicating.” And rueful, too, about the lawsuit that Marineland launched against him, and his wish to adopt Smooshi. A must-see this weekend.
Finally, Trevor Noah has the unenviable task of hosting the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards (Sunday, CBS, City TV, 8 p.m.) which is sort-of live. It “celebrates the music that unites us” according to CBS. The lineup of big-shot artists who will perform, live or prerecorded, during the event includes Netflix-hater Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, BTS, Dua Lipa and Harry Styles. Others booked to perform are Bad Bunny, Cardi B, Black Pumas, Doja Cat, DaBaby and Haim. Beyoncé, who leads the race with nine nominations, has not been announced to perform. The Weeknd is not scheduled either, or nominated. “The Grammys remain corrupt,” he wrote on Twitter. “You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” Hear, hear.
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