It’s that time of year when two things happened. It gets cold out (or coldish in the case of Texas) and there isn’t anything to watch on tv. The dreaded winter network television hiatus. What better way to combat the doldrums than with with cold, dreary, Scandinavian television?
Lilyhammer (Amazon/Netflix Streaming)
It’s like the Ballykissangel of mobster shows. An American gangster testifies against a Mob boss and goes into witness protection. A random memory of a winter Olympics leads him to pick Norway as his refuge. Snowy, isolated Lillehammer welcomes in a mysterious immigrant who quickly has to adapt his mob ways to Norway’s liberal culture while avoiding attracting the curiosity of the local police or the mobsters out looking for him. The show is a mix of English and Norwegian (Norweglish at times too) with subtitles scattered around. Two seasons are out on Netflix Streaming.
Forbrydelsen/The Killing: Series 1 (Amazon)
Forbrydelsen is a near claustrophobic 20 episode account of the days following the murder of a teenager, the family’s downward spiral, the maze of suspects that reaches the highest levels of Copenhagen society, and the Alice in Wonderland like hole the lead investigator falls down in her search for justice. It’s an interesting look at society, personal responsibility, and the illusive and sometimes inconvenient thing which is justice. There was an American version of this show which aired on AMC. This is the original Danish. The real gem with the award winning performance by Sofie Grabol, the cold Scandinavian scenery which becomes almost a character itself, and a runaway train pace that doesn’t end until the climax at the last episode. Yes, the original series resolves the mystery at the end of each season. None of this pace killing wait til next season to find out who the killer was garbage.
Vikings has every bit as much character goodness and grittiness as Game of Thrones without the bloated mess that a book translated to television unfortunately has. Instead of having a cast of thousands it has a small cast but very clear story goals. All I ask of my shows is that they do what they set out to do and Vikings succeeds at the scope it was targeting. It is an explorers narrative. It is a family story. Brother against brother. It’s a story about a bamf shield maiden. It’s a power struggle between houses. It manages to pull off making two religions feel like living religions. That last doesn’t always translate on tv well. I think the only other show I’ve seen do similar is HBOs Rome. The scope of the show is both micro and macro in that it revolves around one family, but the context is within the framework of viking expansion and growing influence as explorers. It also does a great job at showing early egalitarianism in Viking culture that shows the early seeds of a superior egalitarian society in the region today.