Crime on TV: ciao Salvo, hi Saga, hi …..Saga……….

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Denmark, Italy, notes, review, Sicily, Sweden, tv crime fiction

Is it possible for a woman who cannot relate in an adult manner to other human beings to be involved in law enforcement? But enough about British Home Secretary Theresa May.

I watched my recordings of the new Saturday night foreign TV crime series import, The Bridge, last night and I have avoided reading other reviews so I may be in a very small minority with my opinion. 

Firstly I will definitely miss Montalbano which I found watching to be as pleasurable an experience as reading the books. The scripts seemed true to the books, the casting was spot on, the setting beautiful, and the television captured the essence of Andrea Camilleri’s writing which is all about the wonderful characters and less about clever plots. I do hope we get more Montalbanos on TV in the future. 

Mark Lawson recently wrote in The Guardian an article with the suggestion that we accept flawed foreign TV imports, and they receive gushing praise which would not be forthcoming if they were British. This theory has been touted for some time with regard to books by Mike Ripley at Shots magazine. I can envisage the scene in a dimly lit Copenhagen restaurant.

Sven Svensson [a Swedish TV executive] searching for minute portions of  food on his well designed plate: Thank you for buying me lunch Merethe.

Merethe Knibling [a Danish TV excutive] having eaten her main course in one delicate mouthful: We have a problem Sven that last series we made is no good. We have tried everything detectives in wooly jumpers, detectives in satiny tops, detectives doing the murders, detectives getting killed, detectives sleeping with serial killers, and even forensic psychologists getting blown up, but your latest idea was a flop.

Sven: You mean a detective without a brain, and with the social skills of a rhinoceros.

Merethe: Yes, we have had it rejected by Montenegrin and Moldovan television. But I have been monitoring the BBC website and according to them  Mike Wallace one of the original hosts of 60 minutes, when it began in 1968, went on to interview John F Kennedy. And as the BBC also thought Vidkun Quisling was Swedish, perhaps we can sell this eccentric detective to them. 

Sven: Simples.

There have been some brilliant crime series imports on British TV.

The Wire [USA] was a quasi-Dickensian saga covering various aspects of the problems of inner city Baltimore, a series which had great acting and intelligent story lines. 

Spiral [France] for the first two series had a Gallic flair, some neat plot twists, as well as attractive actors to keep the viewers interest. Braquo [France] was superb television, and showed what a difficult task is faced by an elite task force whose enemies include both criminals, and their own colleagues. 

The Killing [series one] [Denmark] was of course outstanding, and although Sofie Grabol [Sarah Lund] and her jumpers became the big star, it was the superb acting of the supporting cast especially Anna Leonora Jorgensen and Bjarne Henriksen as the distraught parents of the victim that made that series. The blending of three plot strands, a police investigation, the family reaction, and a political intrigue  was something new for British television.

When The Killing was televised I can see the BBC and other television companies thinking all this foreign stuff is great. But this reaction is like reading Sjowall and Wahloo, Karin Fossum, or Arnaldur Indridason and expecting every Nordic book to be of similar quality.

The Danish series, Those Who Kill, was standard stuff with rather predictable plots. But the last program in that series did at least raise the question about whether those countries that let murderers out of prison after six years are in fact more civilized than those who sentence murderers to life without parole.

Viewers who think foreign TV crime series are superior may well have stumbled across the ludicrous, and probably very expensive to make Kidnap and Ransom with Trevor Eve stunned into actually dropping his three mobile phones by the death of his colleague. But there is at least one shining example of a good solid well acted British TV crime series on at the moment; Scott and Bailey, a gritty police procedural set in Manchester. This features Suranne Jones as Rachel Bailey, and Lesley Sharp as Janet Scott; but Amelia Bullimore [2012’s Head of Sustainability] as their boss DCI Gill Murray is the star for me. 

I have digressed so back on to The Bridge-Bron-Broen I wondered how long would Saga Noren, the strange Swedish woman detective, last if working for our DCI Gill “Godzilla” Murray? Not  long I suspect.

Saga goes way beyond the pill popping, bed hopping Carrie in Homeland, and is totally unable to relate to colleagues, victims and the general public in a normal way. She has the social graces of a spoilt child, and appears completely bonkers. Luckily her boss Hans also seems to be on another planet. Her Danish colleague, Martin Rohde seems fairly normal, but has a son who stays up all night playing computer games, but then this might be normal nowadays.

There are three strands to the plot, rather like The Killing, with a police investigation of a brutal murder, a rich woman attempting to get a heart transplant for her elderly husband, and a battered mother with her children being sheltered by a social worker from her abusive drug addict husband. Throw in to the mixture some kind of campaign to show the obvious fact that we are not all equal under the law, and that rich people have a better life than the homeless. Toss in a revolting journalist and make Stefan, the social worker, look like something out the 1970s, and perhaps viewers will stick around to see how it all comes together. 

To stick with a crime fiction series on television or in a book you have to like the characters. Sarah Lund, Salvo Montalbano, Gill Murray, Morse, Foyle, Andy Dalziel are all very varied characters but in their different ways they are likeable. Saga Noren is very weird, and despite some clever touches in the plot I doubt whether when the dust has settled The Bridge will repeat the success of The Killing. But then there is always a novelization.  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Thanks for this witty and thoughtful review. I really do hope the Montalbano series becomes available here in the States. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. As to The Bridge, I’m intrigued. As you say, quirky, even weird, doesn’t necessarily mean a character is likeable or memorable or can carry a series. But I do respect innovation.

  2. Norm, I think we be on the same lines here. Much as I enjoyed it overall, I felt Saga crossed the line of credibility. Also missing Montalbano…

  3. PS great opening line there Norm!

  4. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Margot and Rhian.

  5. Philip says:

    Stick with Saga! Although some of the plotlines are a bit far fetched, The Bridge gets better with each episode and the Saga/Martin relationship becomes really compelling. OK, it’s not as good as Killing 1, but how many series are?

  6. Norman Price says:

    Sorry about the brief reply I was collecting together VAT receipts!
    My first job was Assistant House Surgeon [Unpaid] and now I am ending my career as Office Boy/Clerk/Assistant PA/Secretary [Very unpaid] for my son. He may be the NOEA Event Organizer of the Year, and brilliant at his job, but when it comes to collecting tax records. 😦

    The whole idea of a detective who exhibits so little empathy with people is quite ridiculous. Even the detectives of the Holmes era, and the Golden Age had more understanding of ordinary people. The scene where she goes to the bar, and the subsequent one night stand was interesting.
    I wonder how many men would risk going home with someone so clearly a bit strange.
    Every crime series perhaps should have one quirky character, but The Bridge has at least four from way out in left field and Saga completely out of the stadium.

    I will miss Montalbano. 😉

  7. Norman Price says:

    Philip,OK I will stick with it on your recommendation; but as you say Saga Noren is no Sarah Lund.

  8. Maxine says:

    I haven’t watched the Bridge yet so haven’t read your post, but I admit I am looking forward to it.
    here is my personal poll 😉 :

    Killing 1 5*
    Killing 2 4*
    Spiral 1 5*
    Spiral 2 4*
    Spiral 3 3*
    Spiral 4 1*
    Montalbano 5*
    Braquo 0*
    Thse w kill 0*
    Borgen 5*

  9. Maxine says:

    Romanzo Criminale 0*

  10. Norman Price says:

    Maxine, was there a Spiral 4? I can’t remember it. 😦
    We agree on everything except I liked Braquo, which may have been because it reminded me of the police in SE London in the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps it was a series for excitable boys. 😉

  11. Maxine says:

    Spiral 4 was on TV recently (unless I have gone mad which is quite likely). It is where Laure totally changes character and falls for a slimy detective and then her colleague….it got very cliched – we need the Laure of series 1 in my view!
    I could see the appeal of Braquo and Romanzo C, but just not for me.

  12. Norman Price says:

    Maxine, but all the male characters are slimy in Spiral. 😉 “Slithly toads” as Mrs C calls them. Braquo 2 started last night and was a disappointing shoot em up.

    I totally agree the Laure of Spiral 1 was very interesting. 🙂

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