Shining a light on Nordic Noir
It started with Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo etc). They brought a dark, world-weary, minimalist vibe to TV drama that’s become known as Nordic or Scandi Noir.
The genre is crime-driven, often with political overtones and moral uncertainty. The crimes are often monstrous (weird serial killers are a favourite), hinting at a hellish darkness below the Ikea veneer of Scandinavia.
Another signature is strong female leads, often quirky, and often mothers whose work impacts on their ability to have normal relationships with their children and families.
So, what are the best Scandi-noir series to get into, assuming you’re OK with subtitles because the best are always the originals.
Forbrydelsen (The Killing) (Netflix)
The most obvious place to start is Forbrydelsen (The Killing) (Netflix) with misfit detective Sarah Lund (she’s Sarah Linden in the US version) and her bad jumpers. There will always be arguments as to whether the Danish or the American version is better – the plot development and pace are the same in both – and the setting (Copenhagen versus Seattle) is similarly damp and dreary. The difference comes with the political intrigue element and the feeling that what unfolds in the Danish version is more real. Both are engrossing and the lead actresses are like sisters across the two.
Detective Sofia Karppi has just returned to Finland from Germany following the death of her husband. She has a young son and an angry, grieving step-daughter. Her investigative partner has transferred from financial crimes but appears to have a darker side. They investigate the murder of a woman found in a shallow grave at the site of a construction project that’s designed to utilize a new form of wind energy. It’s an edgy thriller that’s drawn strong comparisons with The Killing.
Midnight Sun (Lightbox)
The theme of the female detective with her share of life problems is continued in Midnight Sun (not to be confused with the insipid movie of the same name). This is a French-Swedish collaboration and is also a cross-border crime story. The opening sequence leading to the Frenchman’s death in northern Sweden is one of the more unusual and memorably horrific starts to a TV series. French cop Kahina Zadi arrives from Paris burdened by problems with her son. And then she’s troubled by sun in the small town near the Arctic circle, struggling to sleep in the endless daylight (it’s reminiscent of the movie Insomnia in this regard). She works with a bumbling local offsider in a town defined by a race hate towards the indigenous Sami people. A deepening plot makes this one-and-done series well worth staying up for.
Not all Scandi Noir is hung on edgy female protagonists and gruesome murders. The Norwegian series Occupied is a startlingly believable political drama that imagines what happens when oil and gas-rich Norway decides to go green, explore alternative energy and effectively shut the pipeline fueling wider Europe. The disgruntled Russians decide Norway needs a hand keeping the fuel flowing and effectively invades the country. It’s like a neighbour who comes to borrow your lawnmower and doesn’t leave, but in the meantime takes over the running of your household, all the while saying “I’ll go once we sort out this lawnmower thing”. Compelling, real and not too far into the distant future, it’s based on an idea by writer Jo Nesbo.
Below The Surface (Lightbox)
The team behind the Danish version of The Killing (who also created the strong political drama Borgen) are also the force that drives Below The Surface – a ticking-clock terrorist-political drama. A Copenhagen subway train is hijacked by unknown perpetrators and 15 people are held hostage underground until the hijackers’ unusual demands are met. There’s a hint of Homeland about this one but don’t go thinking you know how it ends. One of the best shows on Lightbox.
Greyzone (TVNZ Ondemand)
The hostage/terrorism thriller is also the territory of Greyzone – another collaboration, this time Swedish-Danish-German. This is high-powered drama with all the tension of a broken electrical cable dangling in the wind. High-paced, clever and with twist upon twist it’s rewarding viewing. This is the new wave of Scandi noir – moving from the dead girl, dysfunctional detective, grim setting that made cool climate productions so hot.
Scandi for the family...
Not exactly the Swedish Brady Bunch
Bonus Family [Netflix], captures the messiness and tension of a blended family.
Nordic Twin Peaks
Angelby [Lightbox], a dark fantasy where nothing is as it seems.
Don't want subtitles?
Try The Fall [Netflix], where Gillian Anderson as a British Cop chasing a serial killer in Belfast is compelling.
Less noir more laughs
Fallet [Netflix], – a very funny spoof on the whole Scandi-crime wave.
Tips on how to watch
Your ultimate setup for streaming the content you love looks like this:
Fibre + unlimited data + a Smart TV plugged into your modem.
There are heaps of ways to watch Netflix, Lightbox and other streaming services. The easiest is through an app on your Smart TV but you can also stream shows through your laptop or PC. However you watch, it’s best to make sure your devices are using the best broadband connection so you don’t get the dreaded mid-episode pause while your device “buffers”.
Go to www.chorus.co.nz/tips for advice from Chorus on how to set-up streaming at home and tips on getting the most out of your broadband connection.