In the past, when Scandinavia was mentioned to most English speaking people, the first things that came to mind were usually IKEA, good looking blonds, and Swedish meatballs. Indeed, with national healthcare, state subsidies of working parents and welfare programs, the Nordic people are often ranked the happiest in the world. However, all that changed when Stieg Larsson's crime novel "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" hit bookstores. It seems the Swedish exercised their demons by writing crime fiction with world-weary police detectives investigating their cultural underbelly. Then came a wave of Swedish and Danish TV crime dramas that eventually were exported and remade in the UK and US.
One of these crime dramas was Forbrydelsen, a 20 episode show about a Danish police investigation into a girls murder. See my post. It was made into a pale US imitation last year. The other export is Henning Mankell's Wallander, which has been made into two Swedish tv shows and a BBC show starring Kenneth Branaugh. Having watched most of the British Wallander, a friend told me about Netflix streaming episodes of the Swedish Wallander series starring Krister Henricksson. I must admit after watching the British version, I was afraid that the Swedish version would be just as dark and gloomy, the only difference being the language.
How wrong I was for Henning Mankel's Wallander has to be the best crime drama I've seen since Forbrydelsen. Henricksson's Kurt is taciturn, often stressed and sometimes withdrawn. Unlike the Branaugh version, he doesn't seem to be on the verge of a breakdown every episode, socializes with his work colleagues and has something of a relationship with the female public prosecutor of Ystad. In fact, the actor slips effortlessly into Wallander's skin without missing a beat. Another positive is that over the 13 episode season, the viewer gets to know and care about the rest of the police team including two rookies. All the actors involved are so natural and understated. Which is probably the best overall description of this series. Each story is about murder, extortion, and/or arson yet retains a unique understated simplicity. It's rare to see any OTT fights or crazy car chases and yet the plots are coherent tense and satisfying in a way that the British series, with it's focus on style and Sir Kenneth's acting, is not. Put this series in your instant queue and hopefully Netflix will eventually stream the first season. Highly recommended for anyone who likes Masterpiece Mysteries, mystery stories or just good television that makes you think.