So… there's been sitting at the lake, lots of reading and in the evening, I’ve been completely and utterly obsessed with the Danish series Forbrydelsen (The New York Times has a good article about it). In English, it's called The Killing and if that sounds familiar, it's because there is an American remake airing on AMC. The remake has gotten a lot of good press, but from what I can see in the various episode guides, the 13 episodes only take you through part of the case, and not to completion as in the 20 episodes of the Danish series. Maybe that's left for season two? Every review I have read of the remake has mentioned that despite its excellence, you owe it to yourself to (also) watch the original.
Having just spent the last week or so watching two or three episodes a night, I wholeheartedly second that recommendation.
Forbrydelsen starts with the murder of a teenage girl and follows the investigation, the impact on her family and the municipal election campaign that becomes tangled up in the case. Each 55-minute episode builds within itself, ending in a nailbiter - sometimes just warranting gentle gnawing, sometimes leaving you without anything resembling a nail left on any of your fingers (or whatever else you do when watching engrossing, tense TV). It is a fantastic slow burn, both within each episode and over the entire season, as well. The main character is Sarah Lund, the lead investigator, but to call her the main character is to ignore that this is an ensemble piece. The show is populated by three-dimensional characters played by excellent, subtle actors who get under your skin and into your head and draw you completely into the story. A story about which I will say very little else because you also owe it to yourself to discover the magic without any knowledge of what happens. It’s more fun that way.
One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed about this series (other than the story) is that each episode is 55 minutes. You get so used to an episode of a TV show being the 41 minutes that the major networks believe is sufficient time to tell a story, because it's essential to have 20 min. of commercial every hour. Being able to disappear into a story that takes its time is so much more effective in terms of making the story come alive. I also loved that it took 20 episodes to tell it - again, this slow burn, take-it's-time storytelling pulls you in so much deeper, makes you feel more and get your mind moving in terms of trying to figure out who did it. You’re actively engaged in the process, not just passively watching. The other day, I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the American remake of Primes Suspect. Never mind the argument that remaking it is a crime in itself, but instead of each season being about one crime, this one is going to feature the "solve it all in 41 minutes" that is so characteristic of network television. And - forgive me for my moment of being a Euro snob - I think it’s also the difference between European and North American television. Because heaven forbid you should take a while. Have character development. Nope. Let's rush through it, skimming along the surface of the characters and the story in 41 minutes. No wonder so much of it is junk food for the mind.
Another thing I enjoyed thoroughly about Forbrydelsen was the visit to Denmark. For the past week, Danish has been at the forefront of my language center and it's been quite a trip to feel as if speaking English isn't quite right. I also learned much about present-day Denmark and in so many ways, it hasn't changed at all. They still address everyone with the informal 'you,' even politicians in high places. The only exception is the elderly, who are still addressed using the formal 'you.' Everything - not just the language - is wonderfully informal. The lead investigator, Sarah Lund, comes to work every day in a pair of well-worn, comfortable jeans and a handknit sweater - which has fans - and carries not a briefcase, but an amazing leather bag very similar to the ones my teachers carried way back in high school. High school girls still wear overalls and scarves, everyone is still on a first name basis (again, with the exception of the elderly) and yes, that includes your boss, your teacher, your mayor. And speaking of handknit - watching this series is a treat for knitters. I'm pretty sure you can invent a drinking game about "spot the handknit sweater" and if you combine it with taking a drink every time somebody lights a cigarette in a public space, such as a police station, you could get quite inebriated by the end of each episode!
I will say this: 20 episodes was stretching it a bit - I think it could have been just a bit tighter if it was two or three episodes shorter than that. Still, it didn't take away from the overall experience which was compelling. I keep reading about people "marathoning” the first season and completely understand. There were times when I was grateful that I have an attendant coming at a specific time to help me get into bed because otherwise, I would have stayed up all night watching episode after episode after episode.
The DVD set is unbelievably expensive in North America ($249), but if your local video rental store (or mail equivalent) doesn't have the series, there's a way around it. Get it from Amazon UK at a mere £38. Well worth it - you won't regret the purchase. And best of all, there's a season two – released on DVD in Decemeber - and they’re in the middle of filming season three!