Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Best TV show ever? Adam Price's Danish series BORGEN has a good shot at that title

Not only does TrustMovies not cover television -- let alone television in Denmark -- he doesn't even watch much television, cable or otherwise. So how can he be touting a TV series that began back in 2010, in Denmark yet, and has grown more popular ever since, prompting the celebrity/writer Stephen King to hail it his favorite TV Series of 2012 and BAFTA to honor it as Best Interna-tional TV Series of the Year. How? He watched four hours of the first season and was blown away by the subject matter, plot, writing, direction and performances. He will definitely finish that first season (there are six more episodes), but as it arrived last week on DVD in a classy boxed set, he figures he should alert you about it now. (Two weeks later, he has finished that entire first season, and everything he says below still goes -- except that the series, to its credit, turns darker by the finale than it appeared at the outset.)

BORGEN's the name, and politics is the game. The series' title, I am told, is the nickname of Christiansborg, the home of the Danish parliament and the prime minister's office, and from the first we are  tossed into the world of Danish politics. Surprise: It does not seem that different from American politics -- only smaller, more humane and with definitely more left-wing clout. The brain-child of a fellow named Adam Price, shown at right, who has done a number of series for Danish TV, this program has built up more international oomph than anything else he has done.

Even the best cable/streaming stuff I have seen (which would lately include Netflix's House of Cards, which I found very fine) can't hold a candle to Borgen in terms of clever plotting, intense drama, and writing that is on-the-nose in terms of smart dialog yet able simultaneously to sweep the plot along like wildfire. The performances are also aces, especially that of Sidse Babett Knudsen (below), who plays what appears to be the leading role (so far, at least).

What makes the show particularly wonderful for an intelligent American audience is that it introduces us to Danish government, politics and media in a way that we're able to follow. Yes, you may have to occasionally backtrack a bit to make sure you understood it all, but that's a small price to pay for such grand entertainment. And Borgen is, above all, spectacularly entertaining.

It combines several plots so far (I'm sure there are more to come): the rise of a smart and decent woman politician (Ms Knudsen again, above) trying hard to balance work with her husband and kids; an ambitious, young, very pretty TV reporter (below) and her love affairs, past and present, and a hot, maybe deadly story that falls into her lap; and politicians from various parties (Denmark, as does most of Europe and Scandinavia has more than two major parties fighting for the spoils), vying for their piece of the Danish pastry.

We also learn about Greenland, over whom (I did not know this going into the show) Denmark has some kind of sovereignty. If this is beginning to sound like too much work, trust me, it is not. You will be swept up so fast by this series, you'll won't want to stop watching for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even sleep. You'll also meet a savvy older journalist, below, who provides a lot of fun and smarts, and a bevy of PR people, secretaries, children and more.

The way in which Mr. Price has woven all this together is exemplary and seamless. Even in these first four episodes, we can see how changeable the characters surely are -- most of all perhaps the smart "spin doctor" (below) who has come full circle by the time we reach episode four. Borgen certainly demands concentration, so thank god for that "back" button on the remote.

I am forcing myself to hit the sack tonight, but I would not be at all surprised were I to rise sometime around 3 or 4am and pop a disc back in the player to watch another episode. Borgen's first season, from MHz Networks, in Danish with English subtitles, is available now in a 4-disc box set bearing a $50 suggested retail price. (Amazon has it for 5 bucks less, and Barnes & Noble for just $44.) You might also find it at some point broadcast on MHz Networks, if you live in an area the channel serves. (We don't get MHz here in NYC and environs.) Good luck, as this is a series to savor!

No comments: