In this column, I want to provide short descriptions of a particular genre of television series, the foreign detective series available on Netflix. The series I watch are both in English and in English-speaking places, and in foreign languages with subtitles. I watch foreign detective series for the pleasure of seeing a crime solved, the intellectual, emotional, and sometimes, personal toll the process demands of the detective. But, foreign series offer a glimpse, albeit fictional, into the lives of people in different cultures and geographies, for while the stories are fictional, the locations are, in the main, real. There are some programs that are set in fictional places, of course, and a few that are set in the past.
First of all, there are two Wallander series on Netflix. There is the one called “Wallander” with Kenneth Branagh as a producer, director, and lead character. This is in English and is a BBC production. In the United States, we saw it first on Masterpiece Theatre. The other one is called “Henning Mankell’s Wallander”, and this is in Swedish with subtitles. The two series are based on Henning Manskell’s character Kurt Wallander, a detective in the southern city of Malmö. The portrayals are different, but a great deal is recognizable between the two. The Branagh production tends to portray Sweden as a windswept barren land, but the Swedish production shows a vibrant European country with plenty of the old and new.
Season 1 consists of the Swedish series is available only on DVD.com, the Netflix DVD service; there are 13 episodes. Season 2 is a complete series of 13 episodes and Season 3 is 6 episodes long. Season 2 carries with it several ongoing subplots. The Swedish series stars Krister Henrikson as Detective Kurt Wallender and Lena Endre as Katarina Ahlsell, the local prosecuting attorney. Lena Endre you will probably remember from the Swedish version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. One of the subplots is the potential for romance to bloom between Wallender and Katrina. The series also introduces two rookie police cadets whose progress is another subplot.
You’ll get to learn early on that the roles of government attorneys are quite different from in the United States. For one, the prosecuting attorney is involved from the beginning of an investigation; sometimes they are even present for crime scenes.
The stories are complete in one episode and are very well crafted. You get an impression of what Sweden is like, even, in one episode, it’s blisteringly hot summer complete with mosquitos and other flying things.
Viewers take away their own observations, but I am impressed with the apparent formality of Swedish society. They say “hej” (hi) so easily and between superiors and subordinates, there is a little ceremony. Contrast this with the obligatory “sir” or “ma’am” that British police underlings use to address their superiors, who respond by calling their assistants by their first names. Kurt Wallander is “Kurt” to nearly everyone. The character of Kurt Wallander is complex, sometimes bumbling, slightly disheveled and unshaven. He has a complex past, and in the books that are the basis of the series, he comes back from Africa, where he had been working.
You do get a lot of geography. You realize who the neighbors of Sweden are, and several episodes involve travel to countries in the neighborhood, including the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).
You won’t get much social or political commentary, but the issue of immigration (including from Africa and Asia) does come up, and it is treated sensitively. There are right-wing types who are ready to blame crime on immigrants and who oppose the police in their efforts to protect them. One thing that is amusing is that when Swedes speak, they speak Swedish, but when foreigners speak, no matter what their language, the conversation shifts to English.
In one episode, a right-winger attempts to create an incident to further his group’s goal of militarizing the function of the police and of harassing non-native Swedes. Wallander is resolutely against this, and the crime committed
I wholeheartedly recommend this series.