In Norway: TV2. Aired from October 2015
In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Sky Arts
What is science-fiction? It’s a harder question than you might think. As soon as you think you know what it is – it’s set in outer space, it involves some non-existent technology or science, it involves aliens – you can think of some counter-example, such as The Man In The High Castle that doesn’t fit your rules. Often, it boils down to a definition like that of pornography: you know it when you see it.
Even then, there are disagreements. Think back to 1987 and you’ll remember the BBC’s Star Cops. Set in the then far-off year of 2027, it simply tried to imagine what life would be like in that year, particularly when it comes to investigating crime. No aliens, yet clearly science-fiction, with its imagined new technologies (computer viruses! Personal digital assistants!), moon bases and space stations.
Star Cops, for all its ambitions at future reality, suffered from the fact that like most future-set science-fiction, it was an extrapolation of the then present. Like 2010, The Terminator and other 80s sci-fi shows, it assumed that the USSR and an aggressive Russia would be intact in the future and antagonistic to the West. My, how we laughed at their naivety when the Berlin Wall fell, and even Terminator 2 had to revise the franchise’s predicted 1997 to take account of the fact the “Russians are our friends now”.
My, how we laugh at our naivety now. Who predicted the rise of Valdimir Putin and the return of an antagonistic Russia? Who foresaw the return of Russian jets probing Norway‘s airspace? Apparently, Chris Boucher did in Star Cops. Sorry for laughing at you in the 90s, Chris.
All of which takes us to Occupied (Okkupert), a thriller based on an idea by noted Scandi author Jo Nesbø that could be described as science-fiction or political thriller, depending where you sit in the whole ‘what is science fiction?’ debate. Set in the ‘near future’, it predicts the US achieving energy self-sufficiency and withdrawing from NATO, leaving the EU and other nations in the West to try to get by on dwindling oil reserves, largely produced by Norway.
Then in the wake of a climate change-induced hurricane that devastates Norway, along comes a new Norwegian prime minister (Henrik Mestad) with a strong green agenda. He shuts down oil production and instead offers the world nuclear-generated electricity powered by Norway’s Thorium reserves. Except the EU and other neighbouring countries aren’t too impressed by the instant move to green power – how exactly do you run existing petrol-powered cars on nuclear energy? – and in a somewhat radical move, team up with the Russians to force Norway to start up oil production.
The Russians kidnap Mestad, make it clear what’s going to happen next, and before you know it, Russia’s doing a ‘US in Vietnam’ and sending in teams of ‘advisors’ (with Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships) to help Norway crank up oil production again. Yes, Russia has invaded Norway – although Mestad tries to convince everyone that it’s all very peaceful – and there’s seemingly nothing anyone can or will do about repelling the former superpower.
Or is there? Because Norway has its own Jack Bauer – security service guard Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar) – and he’s going to do his upmost to deal with the Russians, in his own way.
Here’s the original Norwegian trailer for the show or you can watch the unembeddable English-language one over on Sky Arts.
Okkupert (Occupied) is a Norwegian political thriller TV-series in 10 episodes that premiered on TV 2 on 5 October 2015. Based on an original idea by Jo Nesbø, the series is directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg.
With a budget of kr 90 million (USD 11 million), the series is the most expensive Norwegian production to date, and is so far confirmed sold to the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Poland and all the Benelux countries.
Is it any good?
Although some of the production values are a little wobbly at times and the show takes a somewhat radical choice in having a car chase that stops every minute so the hero can check his SatNav because it’s lost its signal, it’s actually a cracking bit of work, a sort of Norwegian A Very British Coup meets 24, that’s head and shoulders above our last Norwegian import, Mammon.
The show has a couple of big asks: The first is that Norwegian oil production would be of such importance in the near future that other countries would invade it à la Iraq to ensure its continuation: if North Sea oil is petering down in the near future, so’s Norway’s, and with Iran about to add 500,000 barrels of oil a day to world oil production, taking the price down to US$28 a barrel, it’s hard to imagine the EU running out of oil any time soon. Or that Russia would be anything but happy that Norway had quit the oil game, given that the EU is one of the biggest importers of its oil.
The second is that the EU could not only sufficiently get its act together and change its entire raison d’être (the avoidance of war in Europe) that it would agree on a secret strategy to invade Norway, but that it would collaborate with the Russians and the Swedes to do this.
These asks probably tell you more about Norwegian attitudes towards the world and themselves, than about any realistic projection of the future.
But once you get over these two big asks, the general idea – Russia secretly invading another country for its own reasons, particularly one that’s no longer protected by NATO – is not such a big ask. Or indeed any ask.
From that basis, we then have what’s a reasonably interesting, action-packed political thriller. Skar’s a rugged enough lead to do all the action stuff and we have a scruffy journalist (Vegar Hoel) doing some investigating, too. There’s also a whole bunch of little people, who are no doubt going to be surprised when they discover in episode two that they’ve been covertly invaded. Whether they’ll end up doing anything or whether the once fierce but currently oil-rich Norwegians will just accept it will be one of the show’s big questions.
Either way, it’s a bold, exciting show with a fascinating central concept that’s already annoyed the right people, so I’m definitely tuning in for episode two.