Streaming This Week, a Short History of Scandinavian TV
Posted May 2, 2018 4:59 p.m. EDT
Netflix's colonization of international television continues with the debut Friday of the eco-thriller “The Rain,” the first Netflix-financed series made in Denmark. Other streaming services have strong footholds in the wide territory of Scandinavian TV, too, and “The Rain” is one of three premieres in a four-day stretch that offer a short historical primer in Nordic drama.
If you’ve watched a 2015 Icelandic mystery called “Case” on Netflix, you probably wondered what the deal was with Logi (Magnus Jonsson), the burned-out lawyer whose background was barely sketched in. It was as if we were already supposed to know his story.
It turns out we were, and now we can watch it thanks to Walter Presents, which offers the first season of the legal drama “The Court” (“Rettur”) — the landmark Icelandic series later rebooted as “Case” — beginning Thursday.
Released in January 2009, just a few months into the small nation’s great financial crash, “The Court” appears to have some of the energy and melodramatic verve of the David E. Kelley courtroom shows that came just before it, like “Boston Legal” and “The Practice.” (Walter Presents made only one of the season’s six episodes available.)
Jonsson, shaggy and shapeless in “Case,” sports close-cropped hair and form-fitting suits as the younger Logi, who’s a consummate egotist — he answers the phone “Iceland’s lawyer here.” His aggressiveness comes out of a checkered past that includes a manslaughter conviction and a bankruptcy, and in the pilot, he jumps to a new, smaller firm in search of partner status.
“The Court,” with its case-of-the-week structure and focus on the lawyers’ personal lives, feels very early 21st-century American, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that the name of Logi’s new firm is Law & Order.
There’s no one in “Arne Dahl” named Arne Dahl. It’s the pen name of Jan Arnald, the writer whose series of 10 crime novels was turned into the two seasons of this Swedish cop drama. All 20 episodes — two per mystery — will soon be available on MHz Choice, which began a weekly release of Season 2 on Tuesday.
“Arne Dahl” and the excellent Swedish-Danish series “The Bridge” both came out in 2011 and shared a production company, Filmlance International. But they’re like two sides of the police-procedural coin. “The Bridge” (available on Hulu) was thoroughly up-to-date, devoted to deep psychology and complicated season-long plots. “Arne Dahl,” about a six-person team called (perhaps with a touch of mordant Swedish humor) the A unit, is a throwback, with its large, chatty ensemble and its old-school self-contained, movie-length mysteries.
There was a four-year gap between seasons, and Season 2 of “Arne Dahl” is more polished — brighter and tighter — but offers the same rewards of copious investigative detail, numerous bloody deaths and lightly clichéd but pleasantly performed personal drama. Most of the original team is reassembled under the no-nonsense leadership of Kerstin Holm (Malin Arvidsson).
The grim cases are leavened with humor that’s a little sharper than team-cop dramas usually provide. In one running joke, every time the chief drops by Holm’s apartment with a congratulatory loaf of walnut bread, she’s in bed with a different colleague. And when a character can’t find something to watch, a friend asks, “'The Bridge’ Season 2, have you seen that?”
Netflix’s new Scandi-drama brings us to the present in more ways than one. It’s engineered for current TV trends and specifically for what appear to be Netflix’s appetites: a postapocalyptic sci-fi-and-horror blend with an environmental theme and a cast of attractive teenage and twentysomething survivors.
The eight-episode first season (three were available) gets off to a breathless start. A pair of scientists snatch their daughter, Simone, from high school and take her and her young brother, Rasmus, to a bunker in the forest just before a virus-carrying rain starts to fall over Denmark. The parents know what’s up, but they’re gone before they can provide answers.
This cues the passage-of-time montage — lonely birthday parties, indoor plants growing and dying, isolation as an excuse for Simone (Alba August) to walk around in her underwear, Rasmus suddenly played by an older actor (Lucas Lynggaard Tonnesen). Six years quickly pass, then events force the siblings out of the bunker and on a long walk toward Sweden.
“The Rain” is like a lot of contagion-thriller and teenage-survival shows, but more than anything, it’s a young-adult version of “The Walking Dead.” The siblings fall in with a twitchy, disparate band of alternately friendly and distrusting fellow travelers, and they confront starving survivors who aren’t a whole lot more human than the “Walking Dead” zombies. Artfully piled trash and strategically abandoned cars simulate urban desolation, here in Copenhagen rather than Atlanta. Simone is obsessed with her responsibility to protect Rasmus, as if she were a younger, gentler Rick Grimes.
“The Rain” is lighter in every way than “The Walking Dead,” though — more lightweight but also more easygoing and humorous. It’s not gripping, as either an adventure or an intellectual exercise. But it’s entertaining, and the narrative pull toward the answers that may lie near Stockholm is strong. And as a Scandi-drama bonus, getting there will probably require crossing the Oresund bridge, the hulking, silent star of “The Bridge.”