Mini-review: Sebastian Bergman (BBC4) 1×1

Not The Bridge or Wallander, but still pretty good Nordic noire

In the UK: Saturdays, 9pm, BBC4

Well, The Bridge has come and gone, so BBC4 has had to try to fill the hole in its schedule and our lives with a new Nordic crime drama. Since the whole craze in the UK started with Wallander – albeit the Kenneth Branagh and Krister Henriksson versions – it only seems appropriate to turn to another Wallander: Rolf Lassgård. Lassgård was the original Kurt Wallander in the Swedish series movie based on the Henning Mankell novels, and it’s the creators of those movies who have clubbed together to give him a new role: the eponymous Sebastian Bergman, a bitter, misogynistic, misanthropic psychological profiler who lost his family in the 2004 tsunami, something from which he hasn’t recovered.

Anyway, this two-part trial run for the character sees him returning to work after a long absence. To avoid spoilers, let’s talk after the jump. The best embedded video I can give you is this and it’s in Swedish (sorry) and is the authors discussing the book the series is based on, not the actual TV series. But there’s a much better English language trailer over here that actually features Rolf Lassgård.

So, on the whole, this was a far more subdued, far more naturalistic affair than The Bridge. With hand-held camerawork and none of the more preposterous elements of The Bridge, it was resultingly blander.

The whole show is based around Bergman, who, it has to be said, is a dick who gets perilously close to raping someone at one point. Few of the supporting characters get much to do beyond spiral around Bergman and his antics, although no one is an idiot and everyone gets to contribute something. Unlike Wallander, there’s also extensive emphasis on proper police procedures, and as always, it’s interesting to note the differences between the UK and Swedish laws.

Thankfully, there was an actual mystery to solve here, with clues to be picked up on, and no master criminal behind it all, simply people with normal motivations. But it’s not a great mystery: virtually all of it was signposted and obvious, beyond the killer’s final identity, which was only hard to guess because he’d not been in it much at all (did I blink and miss him? I know he’s mentioned a couple of times, but I don’t remember seeing him). If you’re a big fan of crime dramas, particularly ones with psychological profilers, you wouldn’t have learnt much here, but at least, as the story went on, they went below the obvious surface stuff to look at deeper issues.

There was the twist at the end (spoiler: the female detective who hates him is a long-lost daughter he never knew about) that makes the whole thing a lot more Wallander-esque. What they’ll do with that next week remains to be seen, but after a reassuringly uncontrived mystery story, it was a shame to see the episode devolve into a pretty improbable coincidence. A necessary coincidence for the sake of dramatic tension, but a contrived one nevertheless.

On the whole though, I enjoyed it and I’ll be tuning into BBC4 next Saturday to watch part two (why only two parts? I don’t know). It’s nothing extraordinary, but it’s still good.

PS I noticed yesterday that both the Krister Henriksson Wallander series are now available on Netflix, as is the Kenneth Branagh version. No sign of Borgen, The Bridge or The Killing yet, but that’s at least a promising sign that Netflix is going to be getting some decent content soon.

  • Lisa Rullsenberg

    Everytime I see a Netflix ad I keep thinking of your comments about actually finding something you'd wnat to watch.�

    We watched this and found it to be a Swedish Cracker.� But that's fine and it was still watchable.� He is a bit of a dick though isn't he?

  • I've come to the realisation that Netflix will never ever have the thing you want to watch but it will have something else you didn't know about or had forgotten about that you wouldn't mind watching instead.

    Bergman is a colossal dick. The show works despite his dickishness, not because of. And is anyone else getting tired of protagonists who are colossal dicks? The exception being Saga on The Bridge because she doesn't realise she's a dick and changes her behaviour when she's told she's being a dick.

  • Lisa Rullsenberg

    Agreed about Bergman.� I'd like less arseholery from characters; more moral compass people (I'm thinking of Foyle here, which is an interesting one in light of you pointing up Kitchen's equally excellent but morally opposite performance in Brimstone and Treacle.� Though then again… the moral compass thing is double-edged…)

  • Svensk-talande

    This was very much a-le-Frost than Morse. Rather ITV-esque than BBC4. I suppose they had to move quickly with only 90 minutes, but it was all rather signposted stuff with little room or thought for plot expansion.

    The swearing is badly translated as well in parts. Sometimes it's overblown, other times it's understated, and it does have an impact on the drama of it all.

    I shan't be recording any more, if there are any to follow.

  • I think the problem with swearing you describe is pretty common with all the BBC4 imports – certainly, Spiral/Engrenages has some creative attempts to tone down the language at times, whereas at other times they'll let through quite serious swearing, with no apparent consistency. And yes, it does affect the drama, since some characters come out of it quite clean-mouthed (e.g. Karlsson) when their characters are surprisingly potty-mouthed, that contrast between expectations and actuality being part of the intended contrast.

    Still watching the second part but Bergman is being really annoying at the moment.

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  • ianrussell

    I'd like to see a protaganist who starts out with a moral compass and gradually over the course of the plot turns into an utter dick. Like Foyle, yeah, morphing into, say, Jack Regan – the swearing could get worse as well as being badly translated – and if they make her Scandinavian, I'll record it.

    Bergman filled the hole admirably. To be honest, anything from over there would be better than anything presently produced over here. I bet even Sweden's Got Talent is better than ours. I bet their Simon Cowell is blonde and she doesn't need oxygen.

  • ianrussell

    Rolf Lassgard. It's good to see a fat, middle-aged bloke get it on with the chicks. Mind you, didn't he get it on with the chicks a bit as Wallander too? More so than Henriksson and Branagh. Nothing to do with the character then; I expect it's written into his contract. A fine actor.