In a world in which the third series of The Bridge has been broadcasting on Scandinavian TV since September 27, BBC4 has chosen this moment to sign up for the second series of Arne Dahl, adapting the sixth to tenth Intercrime novels by the popular Swedish crimewriter, Arne Dahl (pen-name of writer and critic Jan Arnald).
The first series was broadcast about two and a half years ago, in hour-long episodes, each of the first five adaptations broadcast over two Saturdays. The basic idea is that six top police detectives from all over Scandinavia, with different backgrounds, talents, experiences, are brought together into a prestige unit, variously A-Gruppe (in the original), Intercrime (in the original English translations of the books) and A-Unit in the television series.
Frankly, when set against The Killing and The Bridge (of which season 1 of the former and season 2 of the latter have set a permanent high bar for Scandinavian crime series) Arne Dahl was not much cop. I mean, it says something when the cop team that stars in the series has such a boring name, they had to resort to the author as the title.
For all that this was supposedly a team of mavericks, the action was frequently ponderous and slow, the ‘leading’ character a stupid, rude boor and the female character had a nightmare in the fourth series, contravening every possible regulation, convention, shibboleth and principle of policing to the extent that they ought to have been re-hiring her over and again just so she could be dismissed in disgrace sufficient times. But no, not even a tap on a pinkie knuckle.
But it’s back, and we have something of a tradition to live up to in the Saturday ScandiCrime slot. At least they’re showing both halves back to back this time, so the whole thing will be over in five weeks. If I could sit through six weeks of Crimes of Passion, I can blog this.
So series two starts with A-Group being called back together, but with a difference. Former boss Hultin has retired, and Norlander’s out of the country so that gets rid of the two old, unphotogenic farts. Surprisingly, there’s no room for Paul Hjelm, who’s now in Internal Affairs, not that that keeps him from clogging up the place like a bad memory.
No, A-Group’s new head is Kerstin Holm, and to keep the numbers up to six, there’s a new recruit, fresh out of college, petite and blonde-fit polyglot, Ida Jankowicz. As for Kerstin, at first I thought they’d changed the actress for a considerably hotter looking one, but actually it’s all down to a new hair-style, all long and forward brushed, face-framing.
And there’s a genuine sense of an updating. Everybody looks as if their clothing and hairstyles belong in the Twenty-first Century, not the Twentieth. It’s the New Millennium A-Group.
Unfortunately, all of this upgrade is cosmetic because the programme’s still as slow as a hearse and as unfocussed as a very unfocussed thing when it’s not focussing. The story involves the Polish Mafia protecting its interest in the funeral business by coercing nursing home nurses to murder their charges. Seven nurses have fled to Sweden, hiding out from both Police and Mafia hitman, Ozz Balinn, only Ozz is doing a far better job of tracking them down than the Cops. Hence the reformation of A-Group.
The story is larded out with two or three secondary strands. The one about Chavez busting some kids for smoking weed, toking it himself, then facing a complaint that would end his career, is the main justification for having Hjelm around, though since he’s been shagging Kerstin this past year, it’s not like we need an excuse (it’s strictly American-style shagging – she doesn’t take her bra off).
So, after much putting off of things, so as not to have the closing credits hit the scene too soon, Hjelm is hero in one subplot – who’d have thought that he’d switch Chavez’s skunked out urine for his own, clean, piddle? (Certainly not anyone who watched them use that exact same ploy in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? forty years ago).
But when Kerstin suggests seeing more of each other, living together, acting like a couple, Paul’s on the defensive so fast: what’s wrong with just shagging secretively when we feel like it, and I don’t have to get nagged about the laundry?
The third subplot is a truly weird one, about brother Danne trying to help sister Jeanette get herself clean, off drugs, in the face of an indifferent Social Services that doesn’t have the faith in her he does, and who are sadly justified when she OD’s. What the hell has this got to do with the story?
Actually, there is a connection, albeit a tenuous one, to be brought out in a coda that exists at a strange tangent to the main plot. Ozz is captured, though we’re down to one last nurse by now, and as the first half credits approached, the novice Ida, going all Lund in a mad solo stunt, gets a predictable two Ballin bullets to the chest.
And as predictably, given that she’s second in the credits, the first thing we learn in the second part is that she’s wearing a bullet-proof vest.
When the programme speeds up, as in coming to the showdown with Ballin, it can be quite entertaining, but it spends most of its time dragging along. Not because it’s building tension, or being realistically procedural, but because it’s just dragging. Cut the whole thing down to one sixty minute episode, and it would work quite well, if not exceptionally. Over two, it’s like mogadon.
And Ozz gets captured with nearly a half hour to go so there’s clearly something else, and that something is Danne. Ozz has spent the entire episode killing people, and not just nurses, but he didn’t kill Elzbieta. That was Danne. Turns out she’d seen him kill Jeanette’s druggy boyfriend in self-defence, tried to blackmail him, and then been killed by him when she pulled a knife and he took it off her. In self-defence, again. And for Jeanette.
Is this really worth watching for the next four weeks? Well, Kerstin does look pretty fit with her hair like that, and I’ve nothing better to watch, and there’s the prospect of good snarking to be had, so here’s to it.
And who knows? There may be another good line in it like this week, though it almost got lost in the sub-titles. The point of A-Gruppe is that they come from all over Scandinavia, though they’re all based in Stockholm. Soderstadt’s a Finn, for instance. Ida’s a polyglot, remember. At one point, he asks her to go make a cup of coffee, in Finnish (not that that’s apparent), to which she replies ‘Go stick your nose in dog shit!’ Which has Soderstadt looking at her and saying ‘you speak Finnish?’
‘You didn’t hear that’, Ida replies.
Made I larf.