The Act of Selling Drugs
By Guest Contributor Esther Louise
If you are looking for a coming-of-age series with lots of pop culture references and fast storytelling, How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) might be your new favorite show. Another bonus: you can binge-watch it within one day. At least that’s what I did because the mixture of fun, tension and “relatable-moments” I experienced while watching as a woman in her mid 20s had me hooked.
How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) has six episodes which are between 25-35 minutes long. The series has an easy feel to it, even though it is dealing with social issues and, of course, drug culture. Throughout the series, the multiple story arcs show how drugs are circulated, consumed and what effects they (can) have.
I would like to start by pointing out the following, which serves as the basis of my critique: the series was produced mainly by men, which is abundantly clear from the way the story is told. The plot focuses on the main male characters, what they are going through, their feelings and actions.
Moritz (Maximilian Mundt) is waiting for his girlfriend Lisa (Lena Klenke) to get back from her year abroad in the U.S. While he can’t wait to give her his welcome back present, she wants a break from their relationship. She feels like something inside her has changed after being away from home for so long. Moreover, Lisa started to experiment with drugs while studying abroad. Moritz, however, portrays the “classic nerd,” as in not too popular, being socially awkward and in contrast to almost all the other characters, he is not too enthusiastic about social media. But by trying to win Lisa back he gets out of his comfort zone and does a lot of things which do not seem like him. Long story short: Moritz gets into the drug business hoping to win his girlfriend back by supplying her with ecstasy. One could argue that he changes from being a nerd to being a drug lord, also because the first episode is called, “Nerd Today, Boss Tomorrow.” But since most of his classmates and family do not know about his double life, he is still the nerd he was before.
The male viewpoint becomes even clearer when looking at the way the relationship between Lisa and Moritz is portrayed. His reaction to their break results in selling drugs through an online shop. Moritz tries everything possible to win her back. We see him sitting in his room overthinking their relationship and looking at old pictures again and again. Meanwhile Lisa is partying and trying to avoid her parents, who are going through a divorce. We do not get to know much about her, but know exactly what is going on in Moritz’ mind.
Moritz wouldn't be able to do any of those things without his best friend Lenny (Danilo Kamperidis). They are both into computer science and wanted to start a business since they were kids. With “my Drugs”, their online shop through which Lenny and Moritz sell their goods, they finally seem to have found a successful enterprise.
A pivotal part of this success is their supplier Buba (Bjarne Mädel, of Der Tatortreiniger fame). The three men have a bizarre codependent vibe. Every conversation between them ping-pongs between laugh-out-loud jokes and the violence and seriousness of being involved in the drug business. For example, Buba hurls death threats at Moritz and Lenny right before giving them health advice on diabetes after he took a sip from Moritz’ energy drink. This unsettling way of communication confuses the viewer about what’s going to happen next.
This all-male threesome, which is one of the fundamental bases for the story, is definitely an important point of critique and also one of the reasons why I was not surprised by an almost all-male film crew. We get a lot of male perspectives and just a few female voices that are not as present compared to their male colleagues. Proof of this is shown especially at the moment when Moritz and Daniel (Damian Hardung), who both vie for Lisa’s attention, join forces to bring down their common enemy Buba. Meanwhile Lisa has no idea what’s going on and is expected to stay at home and leave it to the men.
Even though the series would fail the Bechdel Test, there is one positive: I would argue that Lisa portrays a young woman some teenagers might be able to relate and/or look up to. She takes some time figuring out who she is, without having a boyfriend and explaining or defending every decision that she makes. While choosing herself first, she is very mature about their breakup as well. Lisa still gets along with Moritz and treats him like a friend with respect and kindness - an equality with which her parents seem to struggle. Her parents are constantly fighting and finally decide to get divorced because of their poor communication skills. Lisa also shows that a woman can have casual intimate relationships without directly falling for the other person or being slutshamed for having those casual relationships. One could argue that her experimentation with drugs liberates her from adhering to cliché gender roles. Rather than reassuming the role of the good, loyal girlfriend, she follows her own path and breaks from the constraints of heteronormative, monogamous relationships.
Apart from the storyline, the special effects department came up with creative ways to outline the show’s intentions, namely to reveal the entanglement of violence and criminality that accompanies dealing drugs. Even though Moritz and Lenny might not be ready to use violence themselves and they are not aware of their own contribution to it, they are part of the issue. Furthermore one of Lisa’s best friends, Fritzi (Leonie Wesselow), argues that nothing they do really has an impact or consequences. That mindset combined with the consumption of drugs, but also other relevant life decisions, like where to go after high school, show another misconception concerning the power their decisions (can) actually have, which might not be too far away from teenagers’ realities.
Another bonus is Moritz breaking through the fourth wall and explaining to the audience how he got into selling drugs in the first place (FYI: the story is based on a true event). In addition, the series provides definitions and explanations of drugs and their consumption within its storytelling. What caught my attention as well were very briefly discussed social issues such as working conditions for letter carriers and responsible usage of social media platforms.
Since the first season ended with a cliffhanger I am crossing fingers to see more social issues discussed embedded in a comedy-series that will serve us a variety of complex female characters in the second season.