I’m a Scandi TV addict. Ok? I am. Everything Nordic, no matter what the topic—and let’s face it, it’s usually the topic of crime—I’m on it. I watched Midnight Sun, smorgasbord-style, all I could eat, back-to-back episodes, could not help myself, in one sitting. I will gorge myself, without a shred of guilt, and also without a shred of regard for how badly written some of this stuff is.
Take Anno 1790, which I recently feasted on like some battle-crazed Viking in the Great Hall in Valhalla. This Swedish show, as the title suggests is set in the year 1790 in Stockholm, and follows the grim crime mysteries of one Johan Gustav Dåådh, a doctor turned police commissioner, who secretly harbours a seditious political agenda. Everything’s very grubby and nasty in Dr.Dåådh’s world, more than enough to qualify this as Swedish Noir, and the ideas have everything going for it—politcal machination, murder, espionage, mystery, a love story, and the generally miserable nature of actually just being alive in 18th century Sweden. And, like a fool, I lapped it up. Slurp.
But after ten episodes and ten hours I will never get back, I noticed something odd about Anno 1790—the story allows opportunity after opportunity to slip by in a passing parade of story developments. Huge themes are constructed in the early episodes: themes of infidelity and loyalty, gender equality, class equality, and religious freedom. I’m talking deeply interesting and current ideas. Gone. Storylines just buried under a sludge of writer’s negligence.
Doctor Dåådh is made to share a modest apartment with a man called Freund, who is the tutor to the children of the local District Attorney. Freund is deeply religious, but he’s also deeply alcoholic. In contrast, Dåådh is an atheist and quite the teetotaller by comparison. You’d think this difference of opinions would cause fireworks. It doesn’t. They barely have a harsh word to say to each other. Best mates.
Dåådh falls instantly in love with the District Attorney’s pretty wife, Magdalena Wahlstedt. That’s the whole reason he decides to accept the police commissioner job in the first place; to be close to this chick. She seems to think Dåådh’s a bit of all right, too, as they sneak admiring glances at each other. It’s made abundantly clear early in the series that the consequences for extra-marital affairs in this society are severe and humiliating. You’d think that a growing passion for each other would cause more fireworks and be the stuff of drama. It doesn’t. You’d expect tense scenes where the air could be spliced with a butterknife. Nope. Fizzle. Dramatic tension thoughtlessly squandered.
The worst problem? Dåådh was established as a Voltaire-reading, anti-aristocratic, card-carrying member of a planned revolution against Swedish King. Yet for the love of this Magdalena, he decided to follow his loins and sign up for the police commissioner’s job—making him a compromised, tortured and torn individual. Did we notice this much? nope. As the story progressed the whole dramatic complexity of a revolutionary having thrown in the musket for the love of an unattainable woman, just left to lie around like a food scrap. Useless.
It’s astonishing how easily this mistake is made. And Anno 1790 made the mistake over and over on all possible story points. This is a big lesson. Don’t squander dramatic opportunities. Look for the rising tension. Plant the seeds and make them grow. Take advantage of dramatic tension. Setting things up with dramatic promise but not delivering is a killer. After ten episodes, approximately seven more than it should have been given leave for, Anno 1790 was cancelled.
I feel much the same about the recent series Midnight Sun, which our national multicultural channel is flogging at every opportunity. Even though I watched the whole damn lot of its excruciating 8 episodes, I simply cannot agree with the verdict widely pressed that Midnight Sun is ‘the best crime drama of 2016’. The acting let it down a little, but the far-fetched script was a screaming mess. For similar reasons to Anno 1790, it failed to capitalise effectively on human drama.
But is this stopping me from watching Scandi TV? Hell no. Because there are many more thumbs up than thumbs down shows in the available cannon.
But, just for something different, I’m currently absolutely snagged on watching an American Noir series, The Man in The High Castle. It has begun brilliantly. I’m gulping it down. Well, it’s based on a book by one of my favourite authors, Philip K. Dick. How can I resist?