Casino banking has returned to Frankfurt in Bad Banks, the hit crime show that swept Germany last year, and you’ll be able to watch it on Channel 4 and Walter Presents from 4 April. Even if you’re skeptical as to how white collar crime can make for a good crime show, check it out. It’s surprisingly gripping for a programme that focusses on bonds, insurance and wheeler dealing.
Gabriel Fenger (Barry Atsma) is the new man in charge at Deutsch Global Invest and he wants risk takers, closers and deal breakers to lead the charge, selling financial products such as… um… catastrophe bonds. Unapologetic about the role banks played in the financial crisis, he’s the wolf of the Bankenviertel and his latest recruit is Jana Liekam (Paula Beer). She’s just had her dreams crushed after losing her job at Credit International in Luxembourg. Jana is a financial whizz and is ambitious too, but she embarrassed her boss Luc Jacoby (Marc Limpach) – the coke-snorting son of a board member – by knowing more about the products than he did.
Pulling the strings behind Jana’s big move to Germany is Christelle Leblanc (Désirée Nosbusch), another senior executive at Credit International. She can see the younger woman’s potential and appears to have done Jana a massive favour by getting her a place at DGI. Now all Jana has to do is impress Fenger and she’ll get a lovely glass cube apartment overlooking the city and a high-powered, high-salary position. There’s just the small matter of her boyfriend and his daughter back in Luxembourg, but why let family get in the way of catastrophe bonds?
Tension in the first episode ramps up when Jana and her team bring a new bond to the market and start targeting Luc’s client list. It’s strangely involving watching ambitious young bankers getting hyper about risk indices and pretty unnerving watching them cheer when an earthquake goes over 5.5 on the Richter scale and kills 57 people. Jana uses her insider knowledge to undercut her old boss, and in his desperation to outsell her Luc commits fraud. She lands the job at DGI.
But at what cost? There’s more to Christelle Leblanc than meets the eye and as the six-episode series deepens out we learn that having a mole inside DGI is just what the wily Luxembourger wanted. Now Jana is embedded in Fenger’s organisation, Leblanc can track and sabotage their future deals – such as the finance deal they’re putting towards a shaky property developer in Leipzig. And, it will get far worse. We know this because the prologue to episode one depicts financial collapse in the heart of Frankfurt, with rioters in the streets, empty cash machines and DGI on total security lockdown.
Bad Banks is exciting and slick, and it manages this by playing on ambitions, hopes, vanity and fear. Jana is in the middle of a titanic clash in the world of finance and, like the protagonist in one of Grisham’s cleverest novels, she needs to outsmart some very powerful and well-connected people if she’s to survive. What’s funny is that while the big players – Jana, Fenger and Leblanc – seem quite obvious, the surrounding characters have little backstories. Luc, for instance, privileged and vain as he is, works in a soup kitchen, describing derivatives to derelicts.
It will be interesting to see how the moral side of Jana’s predicament pans out as well. One of the first questions posed is why she wants to do any of this in the first place. Let’s see if there’s a believable answer.
Bad Banks has won 13 awards at various ceremonies in Germany, including the Best Actress Bambi for Paula Beer and Best Series at the German Television Awards. Series two is in the making. You’ll have seen Barry Atsma (Fenger) previously in the Dutch production, Black Widow. After airing the full series will be available on Walter Presents.