One day, BBC4 is going to stretch its Nordic Noir cloth too thin and the whole thing will unravel on them in an alarming threadbare mess. The channel keeps going back to the same well, going deeper and deeper in the hope of coming up with still-more hidden treasures. So far they’ve actually managed to pull it off with the likes of Wallander, Forbrydelsen, Sebastian Bergman, The Bridge and Borgen, but it can’t last. I approached the latest Scandinavian gambit with some wariness, half expecting this to be the moment when the spell by which Swedish and Danish TV has us in thrall of late would finally be broken.
Well, not this week it turns out. “The Blinded Man”, part one of a crime thriller in two 90 minute parts, was pretty impressive and certainly enjoyable, and I’ll certainly be tuning in again for part two next week. Moreover, it wasn’t just ‘more of the same’ but was a definite evolution of the Nordic Noir brand with some genuinely interesting potential.
This one is based on the Intercrime novels by Arne Dahl, the pen name of respected Swedish novelist and literary critic Jan Arnald. Unlike most crime series there’s no central lone maverick detective like Wallander, Martin Beck, Sebastian Bergman, Taggart, Rebus or Sherlock and so the makers of the TV adaptations have chosen to name the series after the author’s nom de plume rather than any of his characters, which is a little odd but does no harm.
Instead of one lone maverick, there are seven: senior officer Jenny Hultin (Irene Lindh) is given leave to create a specialist team of six officers of her choosing to tackle the most serious crimes, starting with the high-profile serial killings of a number of wealthy financiers. She chooses a bunch of misfits who individually are quite deficient – Paul Hjelm (Shanti Roney) is on the verge of being thrown out of the force for racism after shooting an immigrant in a botched hostage rescue situation – but which when combined make for a potent investigative force.
The expanded cast is a welcome change after years of series with a claustrophobic focus on one troubled detective, and you’ll soon have your favourite: whether it’s over-the-hill Viggo Norlander (Claes Ljungmark) going to absurd lengths to prove he’s still got it, or know-all intelectual Aarto Söderstedt (Niklas Åkerfelt), second-generation Chilean Jorge Chavez (Matias Varela), man-mountain chorister Gunnar Nyberg (Magnus Samuelsson) or the only other woman on the team, Kerstin Holm (Malin Arvidsson).
Watching the seven circle each other warily as they get to know each other in the first outing, adapted from Dahl’s Swedish-language novel “Misterioso”, is at least half the fun of the opening instalment. As for the mystery, the sheer lack of clues and leads is an interesting twist sending them down many blind alleys in the hope of hitting upon the right one sooner or later, giving all the cast something to get their teeth into. So far we’ve touched on secret societies, local sex crimes and organised crime gangs in Estonia, and who’s to say that any of them will figure in the actual denouement? Again, this breadth is quite different and refreshing from the other Nordic Noir shows we’ve seen, which have been laser-focused in their intended direction almost from the very first scene, recently almost to the point of cliché.
Arne Dahl feels more recognisably mainstream and less distinctively Swedish than some of the other shows we’ve seen, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – no country’s artistic output should stay in any one box too long and outstay its welcome. Visually, too, things are different: instead of the dark, gloomy monochrome Sweden we’ve seen in previous series, here is a colourful, bright and vibrant modern country, gleaming and modern as if waiting to be used as the location for a Bourne movie.
Some Nordic Noir fans might not like this change, and could see it as a case of the TV production company making too many concessions to the international market in light of the success of Forbrydelsen. But for me at least, the show retains enough distinctive Scandinavian DNA in it to work while providing something new, fresh and distinct from the shows we’ve become familiar with. As one mark of the show’s modernity, it was a lovely surprise to see the author himself take to Twitter last night to interact with BBC4 viewers during and after the show.
I look forward to seeing how the series develops and getting to know the new characters over time. Whether they prove to be equal to Wallander, Lund, Norén and Rodhe et al remains to be seen, but I’m along for the ride to find out.
The Arne Dahl TV movies air on BBC4 on Saturdays for ten weeks from April 6 at 9pm, with a midweek repeat. They will also be available on BBC iPlayer for seven days after airing. The complete first season will be released on DVD on June 17 2013.