People have been getting very excited about this new euro drama, picked up by MHz Choice in America, Walter Presents of Channel 4 and out now on DVD in the UK. It’s designed very much with the new and surprisingly ravenous appetite for Euro drama in mind, bringing us together like happy clappy Eurovision. It’s supported by about 9 production companies and the ‘with thanks’ list is in big letters at the very start, and is very long. It’s an entire European industrial zone.
The Team of the title is the Europol network, bringing detectives together from Denmark, Belgium, Germany. The lead is Harald Bjorn, played by Lars Mikkelsen who is familiar to viewers as mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann in The Killing, and a sinister villain in a pretty poor Sherlock episode.
Right-wing losers the UK Independence Party don’t like it, which is reason enough for me to give it a try. Also, who knew UKIP had a culture spokesman? You would have thought they were very anti-culture, what with so many foreigners mixed up in it. Wasn’t culture invented in ancient Greece? It’s enough to make a racist shudder.
Well The Team ought to suit those who distrust foreigners; when it comes to language skills it’s not exactly taxing. It’s entry-level subtitles with plenty of spoken English to break up all that reading. Everyone we come across, from brothels to board rooms, speaks an enviable variety of European languages.
This show is not organic in anyway. It’s set up to be a multilingual drama and in this especially it feels way too contrived. Even the sex workers, who I’m guessing probably didn’t have the greatest home life and education, all seem to speak at least three languages. And so we begin, bouncing around all over Europe, like a budget James Bond, visiting three countries before the opening credits. People enjoy these ‘foreign’ dramas because of their international identity, set in firmly in the ‘other’, like a noir city break. Because of its jet-setting The Team really struggles for a sense of place and identity.
The case itself is, sadly, a classic dead whore motif with lots of grizzly blood splatter and stolen body parts. Unusually, these killings which all share the same nasty MO have happened all over Europe in one murderous weekend. Women have been murdered in Berlin, Antwerp and Copenhagen. Harald is teamed up with Alicia Verbeeck (Veerle Baetens) on behalf of the Belgian police, and Jackie Muller (Jasmin Gerat) represents the Germans.
Harald is called back to head up his team from a climbing holiday. There’s unbelievably good phone reception in the Swiss mountains. That’s Europeans for you, even their phone masts are more efficient. Harald’s lovely clipped extremely posh English accent makes me laugh, especially when it occasionally dips into South London. Speaking of the English, it’s funny that the top and bottom of the criminal food chain are Brits – the chief Europol fella and the heavies who put the frighteners on suspect number one Jean-Louis. The classic TV trope of British bad guys is alive and well .(Shout out to Harald’s assistant Kit in Copenhagen, who looks like comedian Roisin Conaty.)
Harald and Jackie from Berlin have a romantic past. Well of course they do. We can’t have a crime drama where the police simply get on with their job, can we? Of all the investigations in all of Europe, you had to walk into this one. Handy that the current (and very pregnant) Mrs Harald is a forensic psychologist, who he can chat to about the case. Quite some romantic pillow-talk there.
The angry Belgian rookie Alicia is the most interesting of the three. Her boss says she’s got to be kept on a “short leash”. She’s generally righteous and furious, but kind to children and illegal Chinese workers. She’s fighting for the underdog in the system. Frank, her bitter colleague is trying at every turn to undermine and embarrass her.
The Team is mainly made up of effortless police work. All the leads and insights are down to facial recognition and old footage of their suspected killer. It feels like anyone with the right software could do the job from the comfort of their bedroom. The same goes for their meetings – is this just going to be a series of Skype calls? “Hello, can you hear me?” “Yes, we can hear you but we can’t see you” “Go into system settings, can you see the right tab?”. There’s zero excitement to be had.
The brooding Jean-Louis is driving around mainland Europe trying to exonerate himself. He’s the prime suspect early on but as we know from the rules of tv cop shows, the first suspect is never the real killer, especially if he’s shifty-looking ex-con with a gold tooth. He’s being framed by powerful men and these new crimes against women are set against the backdrop of organised crime, human trafficking and prostitution. The writers have certainly picked global concerns that often cross borders.
It’s so disappointing that everything about the show is stilted. There’s a distinct lack of peril. The real work remains at least one step removed, distanced via tech and TV screens. “Nice to see you in real life” the team say, when they finally meet up in episode 2, and get to play in the snow together.
Escape from the office goes to Harald’s head. He’s keen to fulfill his boyhood dreams of being an action hero. Here he goes rappelling off a bridge to follow gangsters, chasing around the scenery totally unarmed after two extremely armed mercenaries. Maybe he’s suffering a mid-life crisis, frightened about becoming a father. Either that or he’s got a serious death-wish.
I really hope people don’t get put off foreign language dramas because of The Team. This production is a Simon Cowell style pop group, put together by a svengali, concentrating on the big bucks and how they’ll play to the internal market rather than the story or the characters. There’s very little here that feels organic, authentic or sincere.
Oh Troels, what have you got yourself into now?
The Team is available to watch on Walter Presents, if you feel you must!