Is it really that time of year already? Tonight I’ll take my seat with about 200 million viewers worldwide and watch the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal. The £18 million show will see 26 countries go head-to-head with a diverse set of songs, and the vote will split between the public phone vote and their regional juries of pop-music experts. It’s three and a half hours of joyful silliness, amazing sets, outlandish costumes and dark mutterings about politics and the future of Europe. It’s a like a lavish wedding with all your strange and estranged relatives turning up in their most fabulous clothes, ready to get drunk, have a dance and air all those techy grievances. This powder keg is going to explode into a massive argument. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just enjoy the party.
It’s been a long while since I started a new Scandi thriller. I’ve been struggling with some pretty serious health problems. Turns out concentrating on anything when you’re really ill is extremely bloody difficult. I guess it’s why mindless daytime tv does so well. And concentrating on high-quality drama with subtitles is completely out of the question. My top tip for sickies is fairly short YouTube content, but avoid ones that make you laugh too hard, so you don’t bust any stitches, or ones about eating nasty things, so you don’t start puking again.
But the wonderful Walter Presents peaked my interest in Norwegian drama series Acquitted. Aksel Nilsen is a very successful Kuala Lumpur based businessman who returns home to little Lifjord after 20 years away to finally confront his unhappy past. Aksel is pouty and good looking, extremely well-groomed and manicured to a shine. In his beautiful bespoke suits he looks like a Ken doll crossed with a perfume advert (pour homme, pour femme, pour Norway). He’s done alright for himself in KL, with a corner office, a beautiful successful wife and a bolshy teenage son. His colleagues all have perfect English spoken in English accents; Nicolai Cleve Broch as Aksel does very well, but it’s his swearing that lets him down. He gets a call for help from Lifjord’s major employer, drops everything and chases off to the other side of the globe to try and save the town.
There’s a new Swedish thriller in the all-important Saturday night BBC4 slot which launched our national obsession with all things dark and Scandi, but this is Scandi with a twist, as, if you’ll pardon the pun, all the detective stuff has been done to death. This is Black Lake originally released as Svartsjön in Sweden and Denmark in October 2016. We’re in creepy territory from the start with the classic X-Files text wipe and tappity-tap keyboard noise. We see confused events in a cellar in 1996, just enough to pique our interest, but in no way giving us any plot points, other than it all looks pretty scary.
So 20 years later we have a bunch of wealthy-looking young people in very nice 4x4s drive off into the mountains for a ski trip. Johan (Filip Berg) is thinking of buying this abandoned ski lodge and running it as a business. His gang of mates are his guinea pigs to check it out and see if it’s worth buying. These kids are not short of cash and this is reflected in the opening sequences. It looks like an expensive car advert, with staggeringly beautiful cinematic wide shots of the perfect christmas card landscape.
The Norwegian crime drama Eyewitness is a tricksy little fiend before we even start. I’ve been looking forward to this for literally months. Walter Iuzzolino (of Channel 4 Walter Presents fame) mentioned it as one to watch back at the end of last year at the live event in Birmingham Literary Festival in October. I might have been writing this blog for 18 months now, but I still have much to learn about what ‘coming soon’ means in the world of television. Soon wasn’t soon enough, and while constantly refreshing the Walter Presents schedule I was getting antsy. Surely lovely Walter wouldn’t fail me. The days and weeks ticked by and winter became spring. It wasn’t in any listings for shows coming soon until suddenly I saw an advert for it two weeks before the air date. Unfortunately for me, three weeks before the air date I’d bought it. In a dark moment of desperation I gave up on Walter and got the DVD. Lesson being, trust Walter and don’t worry. He’ll see you right.
Looking for a stocking filler for a telly fan. How about an Arctic Circle sleigh ride from the comfort and warmth of your own home? Yes please! Straight away you know this is going to be a proper seasonal treat.
All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride is the happy union of Slow TV and hygge. You may have seen the word hygge in bookshops (there’s at least a dozen books out about it this year alone) and on department stores shelves selling blankets, slippers and candles. It’s a new UK obsession with the old Danish term, meaning to live comfortably in a warm cosy atmosphere.
This calm cosiness incorporates the Slow TV craze from Norway. These are long programmes where, really, nothing much happens. Examples include the four hour National Knitting Evening, the six hour National Firewood Night and the Train Ride: Bergen to Oslo. British tv got in on the act with All Aboard! The Canal Trip and All Aboard! The Country Bus. The Daily Beast calls Slow TV “the mesmerising antidote to the madness of 2016”.
I was excited to see that the purity of the Birmingham Literary Festival has been infiltrated this year by the lowly gogglebox. In amongst the bearded academics and the beat-boxing poets we find Walter Iuzzolino, the driving force behind the staggeringly successful world drama mission on Channel 4 and their streaming service All4. In just 9 months they’ve taken a chance on 24 series from around the globe and been rewarded with 15 million streams. That’s a lot of viewers.