Nordic TV

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

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.

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How much more Scandinavian content is there to remake?

The Bridge

So today’s news brings us not one but two Scandinavian crime remakes. First, we have the US’s Lifetime channel remaking Denmark’s Lulu and Leon, which sees a woman take over her husband’s criminal empire when he is put behind bars.

We also now have Sky Atlantic co-producing a remake [subscription required] with Kudos and France’s Canal+ of Sweden and Denmark’s The Bridge. Presumably it’s going to be The Chunnel/Le tunnel sous la Manche) and have exciting cultural clashes in both French and English between the reserved, rules-bound English detective and the more rules-free, salt of the earth French detective (Jean-Hugues Anglade from Canal+’s Braquo gets my vote).

There’s already quite a platter of English-language remakes of Scandinavian shows now, particularly in the US, what with The Killing already on its second season on AMC, Those Who Kill being remade by A&E, NBC remaking Borgen and so on.

Is there much left? Does anyone know? Any predictions on what the next remake will be, those who know?

Nordic TV

Review: The Bridge (Bron/Broen) 1×1-1×2

The Bridge

In the UK: Saturdays, 9pm, BBC4. Available on the iPlayer
In Sweden and Denmark: Aired last September on SVT1 and DR1. Second series commissioned for broadcast in 2013

It can’t have escaped your notice that the world is falling in love with Scandinavian darkness. As I’ve previously remarked, British TV certainly has, with BBC1 and BBC4 taking the lead with shows like Denmark’s The Killing, The Killing 2 and Borgen and Sweden’s Wallander (as well as the home-grown Kenneth Branagh version), and ITV3 making a stab at it with Denmark’s Den Som Dræber (Those Who Kill). But even the US has spotted the trend and as well as remaking Sweden’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movies, it’s adapted Denmark’s The Killing, now in its second season.

Do you know who else has noticed this trend? Scandinavians, that’s who. Spotting a golden opportunity to finally export a few shows rather than having to buy in 24 and Friends to fill the airwaves, Scandinavia is seizing it with both hands. Now Danish and Swedish TV have got together to create something that while entirely Scandinavian in character still has an eye on the worldwide market: The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen depending on whether you’re Swedish or Danish).

The story is seemingly simple: on the Øresun bridge between Copenhagen in Denmark (ooh, where The Killing is set!) and Malmö in Sweden (ooh, where Wallander is set!), someone leaves a body precisely halfway of the border between the two countries. This means that both Swedish and Danish police have to investigate, forcing an uneasy alliance between two apparent stereotypes who quickly reveal themselves to be a lot more than merely the Swedes and the Danes’ mutual national images: an icy female Swedish detective with Asperger’s (ooh, Dragon Tattoo!) and a salt-of-the-earth male Danish detective. But before investigations have gotten very far, it soon becomes obvious that this is just the tip of a very elaborate plan, one designed to change both countries and their ideas of justice.

And despite the fact it doesn’t have the emotional depth of The Killing, that it’s a little bit unrealistic and there is that slight hint to everything of a global market being eyed, this is actually really good television. So good, in fact, that despite it airing two episodes a week on BBC4 and my PVR actually recording Girls of the 90s on Viva the first time it aired, I actually found time to buck my normal trend and watch it before the next two episodes air tonight. Isn’t that amazing?

Here’s a trailer in Danish, because the BBC, in their infinite wisdom, haven’t put anything up on YouTube in English – although it’s worth remembering that when the show aired in both Sweden and Denmark it had to be subtitled whenever the other country’s characters spoke, so we’re all in it together, here. There’s also a little snippet from the beginning of the first episode as well, because it has a lovely opening sequence that I thought I’d share with you.

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Nordic TV

Review: Those Who Kill (Den Som Dræber) (ITV3) 1×1

Those Who Kill

In the UK: Thursdays, 10pm, ITV3. Available on the ITV Player
In Denmark: Aired last March. Cancelled after the first series

Foreign TV is a funny old thing. What you get to see of another country’s TV is usually the cream of the crop, some nice purchasing person at your local TV network having viewed it all and decided what’s good and what isn’t. So it’s easy to think as a result, based just on what you see on TV of it, that another country’s television output must be great.

French TV looks good thanks to Engrenages. Canadian TV looks good thanks to Being Erica and The Border. Danish TV looks awesome thanks to The Killing and Borgen. UK TV looks good because of Downton Abbey and Doctor Who. US TV just looks good all round. Israeli TV looks amazing thanks to all the adaptations like In Treatment and Homeland.

Italian TV, thanks to Inspector Montalbano, just looks silly. Some things I guess you just can’t polish.

But if you have to wade through it and start delving into the lower reaches of TF1, CTV, Sky Living, TBS, et al, you soon start to realise that not all foreign TV is good. Equally, you start to realise that other countries watch other countries’ TV and try to emulate that.

Now, here in the UK, we’ve had something of a Scandinavian TV love-in thanks to BBC4 and the rise of the ‘Nordic noir’ genre of books and movies. The Killing, Wallander and Borgen have convinced people that Scandinavian TV is universally brilliant. So ITV3, the home of old crime shows, has been trying to get in on that action and has bought in Danish TV network TV2’s Den Som Dræber aka Those Who Kill.

On paper, this should be cracking. It’s written by bestselling crime-author Elsebeth Egholm and Stefan Jaworsk, the writer of several award-winning and critically acclaimed features and TV series. The show stars, among others, Lars Mikkelsen from The Killing, and comes from the producers of several of the Wallander movies, and when it aired in Denmark last year, was watched by a record-breaking 50% of the adult population.

Yet, unfortunately, Those Who Kill is laughable old toss. Here’s a trailer:

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US TV

What have you been watching this week (w/e May 14)?

The Apprentice

Coming to you, live from my sickbed (sneeze, sneeze, cough, cough), it’s “What have you been watching this week?”, my chance to tell you what I’ve been watching this week and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case we’ve missed them.

My usual recommendations for maximum viewing pleasure this week: Community, Cougar Town, The Daily Show, Doctor Who, Endgame, Happy Endings, House, Modern Family and Stargate Universe. Watch them (and keep an eye on The Stage‘s TV Today Square Eyes feature as well) or you’ll be missing out on the good stuff.

However, just to give you an idea of their relative merits, this is the order I actually prefer the regulars on the list: Community, Happy Endings, Endgame, Modern Family, Doctor Who, The Daily Show, House, Cougar Town and Stargate Universe. Make of that what you will.

I should also add I’m now adding Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle to the list, since it’s absolutely brilliant, practically perfect. Watch it.

Now to the irregulars and new things, as well as a few thoughts on some of those regulars:

  • The Apprentice: Well, it’s back with a slightly saner prize and teams that aren’t quite so hateful. Episode two gave me a chance to put on one of my other journalistic hats and nerd out (“Of course, you notice they’re not producing any iPhone apps because of the time it would take to get the app on the App Store”), as did all the tech journos I know on Twitter. Not sure why they went for Wired and TechCrunch, which aren’t the most obvious online sites for new app news, but perhaps no one else want to be involved. My money’s on Jim for the final, since he seems really good. No obvious female leader at the moment, since they’re all quite irritating at the moment. Let’s wait and see. Also, have you noticed that Karren Brady has started to become more Margarety?
  • Business Nightmares with Evan Davis: quite an entertaining business documentary, with Evan Davis running through some of the worst design mistakes in business history with some of the people involved, including “New Coke” and the release of the original Mini at a price that was less that it was actually possible to make it for. Well shot, well directed and Evan Davis actually made some good points. Will be watching the next episode.
  • Chuck: the best episode in ages, full of numerous Star Wars, Terminator and other pop culture references, it still didn’t have as much bite as I’d have liked, but it was a decent hour of TV with a good ending.
  • Cougar Town: Lovely bits with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame – she happens to be married to the guy who plays Andy.
  • Endgame: Peter Wingfield has even worse Russian accent than the star, but good to see him getting work. Quite a good episode, too.
  • Happy Endings: ridiculously funny, especially the final tattooing scene. Nice that they’re slowly slipping in details about each of the friends (we learn Elisha Cuthbert runs her own business this week) and that they’re keeping it real (money and rent came up, too), while they’re simultaneously being silly.
  • Night Shift: the first Icelandic comedy – if not TV programme – broadcast on British television, this is comedy in the same way that Ibsen is comedy. Set in a Shell petrol station, it’s largely about three not especially interesting, introverted blokes and the customers who come in during the night shift. Not especially funny, but oddly compelling. I’ve only tried the first episode, but I’ll give the next episode a try.
  • Running Wilde: Kind of lolloping along on FX now. Not actually very funny any more though.
  • Sex and the British Sitcom: something I recorded a while back, a BBC4 documentary about the changing attitude towards sex of British sitcoms. A very decent piece of work, full of both expected and unexpected sitcoms, as well as a very valid comparison with US sitcoms. Worth watching if it comes round again.
  • The Shadow Line: much better than the first episode, with some really tense scenes and Ralph Spall’s psychopath character being extremely creepy and Stephen Rea just being awesome. But it still feels like someone’s done this marvellous thriller then tried to stick the dialogue from Marion & Geoff into it. Still, as long as you keep thinking, “Pretend it’s David Lynch”, it’s worth watching, I think.
  • Smallville: the season and series finale. Surprising dull and underpowered for the conclusion of 10 years of TV and full of some of the dumbest moments imaginable, it still was suitably reverential, finally had some iconic moments we’ve all been waiting for, and was so lovely in its mimicking of the movies right at the end, I’m actually now watching Superman. Great to see Michael Rosenbaum back in action, too.
  • Stargate Universe: And after all that, it ends with a whimper. Clearly designed to leave the door open in case the production team were able to convince anyone to continue the show in some other form – they didn’t – it was a little unsatisfying, answering none of the questions raised during the series, but had just enough of the “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” ethos that differentiated it from its predecessors. I don’t think I enjoyed season two as much as I did the far bleaker first season, although the characterisation was a lot better – there were just too many unfinished plot threads, too many new weaker plot threads to deal with instead, and things just started to get too nice. But it was still a whole lot better than the likes of Warehouse 13, which gets to live, so I think the wrong decision was made there. This also means that for the first time in what must be nearly a decade and a half, even two decades, there’s no Stargate-related TV show airing – it’s the end of an era.
  • The Untold Battle of Trafalgar: a slight lie in that the supposed untold story was of about how many foreign sailors took part on the English side at the Battle of Trafalgar – and that was actually what is known as a ‘told story’ – the actual untold story was new research into what the Bellerophon did at Trafalgar. Wonderfully recreated, very detailed, actually a pretty decent documentary. Go and watch it.

But what have you been watching?

“What have you been watching this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched this week. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?