I think at this point I may watch more Scandinavian television series than I do British ones. I think my fondness for them is at least partly related to the fact that the subtitles override my natural tendency towards a short attention span, there’s no such thing as ‘half watching’ because without being completely focussed you miss all the dialogue. Many shows (independent of production location) don’t stand up to that level of scrutiny, but given how much I enjoyed The Killing and Borgen I’m now far more likely to give a subtitled BBC 4 show a chance than I am anything on the main channels. It also helps that at 10 episodes long, The bridge isn’t too large a commitment and two episodes a week keeps things moving along (although this review is written after watching just the first episode).
The Bridge is a joint production between the Danish and Swedish public broadcasters, and that theme runs through absolutely everything the show does, from the title card which gives the series name in both languages through to the details of the case. A body is found in the middle of the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo, and the Danish and Swedish police have to work together on the case which very rapidly turns into something a great deal more complex than just a ‘simple’ murder.
The set-up alone is enough reason to watch. I was instantly intrigued to find out more about how two countries so physically close might be the same or different in process and culture. The fact that I know very little about either country makes it even more interesting. Investigating that issue through the kind of complex murder mystery that I enjoy unravelling just puts the icing on the cake really.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the reality of the first episode as a whole quite delivers to the same level as the concept. One issue was that the characters seem pretty unimaginative at the moment, just taken from the various ranks of police drama archetypes. The lead Danish detective appears to be good natured, rather shabby womaniser with an aura of laid back experience. The lead Swedish detective meanwhile is the ‘kooky’ loner who’s a good investigator but has terrible people skills. It’s a classic case of unlikely partners being thrown together against their will.
There are a few more tedious characters, mostly in the random subplots that currently have no connection to the main plot at all. There’s one involving a successful business man suffering heart failure who’s overbearing wife will do anything money can buy to get her husband a new heart. Then there’s a weird storyline that sees a bloke with unclear motives who looks like he walked straight out of the 70s take pity on the beaten wife of a thug. I assume all these storylines will come together at some point, but in the pilot they were just a somewhat dull distraction.
The production was beautiful, as I’ve come to expect following The Killing and Borgen, every shot beautifully framed and lit. The only thing that let the production down I felt was the subtitling. I think I was missing out on a lot, the subtitles never seemed long enough to correspond to the actual dialogue. Also I think there was a lot of subtlety in language that’s missing; I was frustrated to not know who was speaking in what language for example. I’d hoped for a little more help from the writing and subtitles to highlight the cultural differences etc, but I had enough trouble just keeping track of which country we were in. I realise that this will be more obvious for the ‘home’ audiences of the show and it’s not really fair of me to expect them to cater for overseas viewers, but it did impact my enjoyment of the show.
I will stick with the show, cliché characters are hardly the biggest crime a pilot episode has ever committed, and there’s still plenty of time for development to round them out. I also rather enjoy the process of watching a show like this, discussing it with friends and colleagues and seeing it develop and resolve within a nicely manageable time span. It may not be the breathless praise I heaped on The Killing or Borgen, but it’s not a bad start, and now that I’ve written this, I can finally go and watch the second episode.
The Bridge is broadcast on BBC4 on Saturday evenings and is available on iplayer.
The Huffington Post – How wonderful – Saturday night, 9pm, BBC4 and another Nordic thriller. We’ve had The Killing, then a burst of coalition politics in Borgen, what could The Bridge do?
It could take everything The Killing did so well, and expand on it, that’s what.
The Guardian – It wasn’t as gripping as The Killing, but it was handsomely mounted, well acted and reassuringly deprived of natural light and colour.
The Guardian also do a weekly recap and analysis for obsessives.