The Sheik: Series by Dani Levy on Paramount+ media

“First it was the money. And then I just couldn’t bring myself to disappoint him anymore. You know, I can’t say no,” Ringo Babbels answers when asked by his partner why he pretends to be a sheikh and one operates a front company with 20 employees in Switzerland. Ringo (Björn Meyer) is a lovable, somewhat clumsy and illiterate diabetic from the Black Forest who lives with his partner Carla (Petra Schmidt-Schaller). As he often repeats, he simply cannot say no. That’s why he accepted a bag from two crooks a while ago. Its content – 100,000 euros, of which Ringo has no idea – brings the events of Dani Levy’s new series the sheikh to roll. For the first German in-house production by the streaming provider Paramount+, the Swiss director was inspired by the “true lies” of the imposter Volker Eckel. In 2008/09, as a false sheikh, he cheated Swiss business people out of large sums.

A wild spectacle: there are dancing federal councilors and singing building contractors

In the sheikh the protagonists “only” have to return the 100,000 euros. The problem: Ringo doesn’t have her anymore. When he bumps into the real estate agent Urs (Philippe Graber) at an event in Zurich, which he accidentally stumbles upon during a family outing, he introduces himself to him as the son of the Emir of Qatar.

This lie turns into a big scam: Ringo buys a villa on Lake Zurich, hires people for his front company and almost becomes an investor in the oldest, most traditional football club in the city without ever putting a cent on the table. Everyone is courting the bogus sheikh: construction investors, sports officials, politicians. And everyone is reminded that it is customary to give gifts of money when doing business in the Arab world. The story culminates in a speech in the Swiss Federal Council, which ends with the Federal Councilors swaying their hips to the sounds of Arabic music.

Meanwhile, in the Black Forest, the police are investigating several murder cases, and a feud is raging in Carla’s family. the sheikh varies between social satire, thriller and slapstick, sometimes even musical. A wild spectacle, but the different genres and narrative strands don’t always intertwine in a meaningful way.

A naïve scammer is nice, but also a little unreliable

The real problem, however, is the character of the sheikh. The initial money problem is solved very soon. From then on, Ringo acts in a motivational vacuum where everything only happens because he can’t say no. He doesn’t particularly enjoy his role as a sheikh, nor is he particularly greedy or ambitious.

Björn Meyer plays Ringo, who wears box glasses, is overweight and has multiple disabilities, very convincingly and inspires genuine sympathy for the character, but where the chutzpah and callousness come from with which the sheikh draws his lies remains open. There is something fundamentally refreshing about an imposter character who does not shine through smoothness, great skill and cold calculation, but rather binds the viewer to himself through sympathetic inexperience. At no point, however, is it convincingly conveyed to the viewers why so many people believe this very pale and non-Arabic-speaking Ringo in his role as a sheikh. You watch him put on a good face at bad game, say yes to everything and stumble through his own story. In the end, the feeling that it would be important to tell an incredible story believably even if it is based on real events prevails.

The Sheikh, eight episodes on Paramount+.

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