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Three to See: The Best Recent Nordic Noir on Netflix
June 27, 2019  | By Alex Strachan  | 12 comments
 


Nordic noir is an acquired taste, and Netflix doesn’t make it any easier for the discerning viewer by releasing shows in a steady stream, with little information and no warning.

Every so often, though, a Nordic noir series comes along that’s so compelling and emotionally wrenching, it almost takes the breath away.

Here are three that caught my eye in recent weeks.

One of them — the third and final one here — just might be the most unforgettable, heartbreaking television dramas I’ve ever seen in a long, long while — and, yes, I’m including HBO’sChernobyl in that. It features one of the single best performances, cumulatively speaking, I’ve seen in any drama, anywhere, on the big screen or small.

Undercover

Technically not Nordic noir — Undercover is a Belgian-Dutch co-production — this slow-burning then suddenly fast-paced thriller has all the trappings of Scandinoir drama and shows how the genre has morphed from it’s Swedish-Danish roots to neighboring countries in Europe, to Finland, Iceland, Germany, Norway, and now Belgium and Holland.

Undercover is a somewhat boring title for a really clever premise, that shows just how inspired Europe’s crime writers can be. Think of Tony Soprano from The Sopranos, give him an equally difficult family, move him to the city suburbs of a mid-sized city in Holland and make him the XTC ecstasy king of northern Europe.

So far, this sounds like any number of other pale imitations of US crime dramas — including The Sopranos— but like that David Chase drama, creators Piet Matthys, Nico Moolenaar and Bart Uytdenhouwen have given their tale a twist. Undercover opens with drug baron Ferry Bouman (Frank Lammers, above) taking his much-needed family getaway — not to the French Riviera but to a summer cottage, basically an upscale trailer park, in the countryside. Business is not to be discussed; the vacation is just that, a chance to relax, decompress, fire up the barbecue, and talk about the weather with family and friends.

There’s just one catch. Belgian police have assigned undercover agents Peter Bogaert (Tom Waes, above) and Anouk Janssens (Anna Drijver, above) to pretend to be a married couple who rent the summer cabin next door, intending to befriend the crime boss, win his confidence, and get evidence on him.

Just another quiet summer getaway, in other words.

And in the grand tradition of compelling crime fiction everywhere, everything that can go wrong does. Ferry’s wife Danielle (Elise Schaap) is needy and clueless, but at heart, a decent person; Ferry has kept her deliberately in the dark about what he does for a living, and yet it’s clear they love each other.

Meanwhile Peter and Anouk have their own issues: He’s happily married, but his wife is increasingly stressed by his long, unexplained absences, and Anouk, juggling her fake — at first — friendship with Danielle on the one hand and fretting over her own unhappy single life on the other, is headed for a crisis of her own.

Like Tony Soprano, Ferry Bouman is ruthless but oddly endearing, a tirelessly loyal family man capable of moments of shocking violence, but who follows a moral code.

When things go wrong, they go very wrong, indeed. Can’t a man, even a notorious drug dealer, have a quiet family get-together in a country cottage without everyone having a nervous breakdown? You know things are getting bad when there isn’t a single male member of the family who can barbecue a steak without charring it blacker than the remains of a meth lab explosion.

Undercover proved a hit for Netflix in Europe. A second season is in production.

Trapped

Netflix recently uploaded new episodes of this compelling Icelandic crime drama that, once again, belies its somewhat ordinary, prosaic title.

The original, first season of Trapped revolved around a ferry trapped by a howling blizzard in the harbor of a small, coastal town in the north of Iceland. The town’s residents have little choice but to take the crew and passengers into their care until the weather clears. The small-town cop in charge — and towns don’t get much smaller than a town precariously situated on the north coast of Iceland in midwinter — quickly finds himself in over his head, as the ferry’s crew appear to be involved in all manner of illicit, illegal activities on the ship, none of which have anything to do with ferrying passengers from one seaside town to another.

The new episodes pick up a year later with a new mystery. (The first season’s core mystery was neatly resolved in the final episode, with no loose ends.) 

Small-town police chief Andri Olafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, above) has been promoted to a police detective job in Reykjavik, Iceland’s closest equivalent to a big city. A murder attempt on a prominent lawyer with political connections is traced back to Olafsson’s hometown, and he finds himself returning home to track down missing leads, and reconnecting with his ex-wife and estranged teenage daughter.

Like many recent Nordic noir dramas — Deadwind, for example — the mystery involves a dodgy development project that is looking for deep-pocketed investors — basically, Americans with money.

What’s remarkable about Trapped, created by Everest director Baltasar Kormákur, who also directed many of the episodes, is how it touches on many of the big issues of the day — climate change, inequality, the migrant crisis, political machinations, the financial markets, corruption in high places, etc. — but manages to tell a compelling story besides.

Iceland is a tiny country, with a land mass smaller than the state of Colorado, and yet it has managed to produce a TV thriller as compelling as anything on one of the major US cable networks.

It must have done some good: Netflix has already ordered a third season.

Quicksand

And now for the must-see.

Timely, terrifying, urgent, heartbreaking, compassionate, deeply disturbing and featuring one of the most unforgettable performances I can recall seeing in a long, long time, this Swedish psychodrama about a 17-year-old girl caught in the middle of a high-school shooting is, quite literally, unforgettable.

And harrowing. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t still find myself thinking about it.

Quicksand — again with the prosaic one-word titles that, by themselves, aren’t going to convince anyone to watch — is told in flashback.

The first (of six) episodes finds high-school senior Maja Norberg (Hanna Ardéhn, top, a relatively unknown Stockholm actor who’s 23 but plays a naive 17-year-old as convincingly as if she was 15), covered in blood, shaken and silent, being checked into a police station and then into jail, in slow, almost excruciating detail, in what seems like real time. There has been a horrific shooting at the local high school, we learn, and Maja is somehow involved. The people around her — police, paramedics, doctors, forensic crime scene investigators — are not treating her roughly, but it’s obvious from their brusque, by-the-book manner that they believe her to be culpable.

Over the next five hours, we learn — slowly, with details revealed one by one — exactly what happened, how, and why.

The story jumps back and forth in time, through flashbacks and flash-forwards, but I can’t stress this enough: What is an awful cliché in TV storytelling right now, in all too many US cable and network dramas, works seamlessly here. Never annoying, never irritating, never showing off, the story’s threads come together in a tight, carefully thought-out manner. Despite the flashbacks and flash-forwards, by the time Quicksand ends — and it has a definite, definitive ending, no cliffhanger here — the viewer is left in no doubt as to the story’s beginning, middle and end.

I didn’t want to watch a drama about a school shooting. Who does? I found myself watching half of the first episode, and then walking away. I didn’t want to see more.

There was something about it, though — a certain edge, an undeniable realism, and early signs of an understated and yet shattering performance by Ardéhn— that made me come back.

I let several days go by first — thank you, Netflix, for making TV in such a way that the viewer has that option — but when I did come back, I ended up burning through the remaining five episodes in a binge-watch.

I’m glad I did. This isn’t some cheap, gimmicky mystery thriller that has a rushed, ill-thought-out ending tacked on like some obligatory endpoint. No spoilers here, but the ending left me with a tear in my eye.

Quicksand was adapted by PontusEdgren and Martina Håkansson — I know, I haven’t heard of them either — from the novel by Swedish lawyer Malin Persson Giolito, who has worked at various points for the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and the European Commission in Brussels.  

It is, quite simply, one of the most stunning dramas you will see this year.

Give it a chance, at the very least. It makes for hard viewing, but it’s worth it in the end.

 
 
 
 
 
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12 Comments
 
 
MTS
Season 1 and 2 of Trapped are in my Netflix Canada viewing options.
Jul 15, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
MAS
Season 2 of "Trapped" just arrived on Amazon Prime. Yay!
Jul 13, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Angela
I thoroughly enjoyed, Undercover and the first season of Trapped is one of my all time favorite series and I've watched many Nordic Noir shows. I did find it online at one of those online free movie/tv sites awhile ago but the 5th episode was missing English subtitles so I had to bail.
I too watched the first episode of Quicksand and walked away but I will give it another try as I always appreciate Nordic recommendations.

Alex S., I'm curious if when you look for Trapped on Netflix now if it is still available to you. If not then they must have pulled it for some reason? BBC's shows are always very difficult to find until the BBC wants them to be found. But Trapped will pop up somewhere in the US soon. To whomever finds it first: please post where here!
Jul 9, 2019   |  Reply
 
MAS
It's unfortunate, and indicative of the streaming climate getting so fractured (and expensive) -- Acorn used to cover all things Brit which included BBC, but BBC wanted their own, so now you would need both services to watch all this stuff. My guess is a lot of good Brit shows now on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu will go to Brit Box before long. If there's British stuff on those services you want to see watch it now or be prepared to fork over yet another monthly fee.
Jul 10, 2019
 
 
 
MAS
It's only playing on Brit Box in the US. You can get a 7-day free trial.
Jul 4, 2019   |  Reply
 
Angela
I've never tried Brit Box but there's a first time for everything. Thanks for the heads up MAS! Much appreciated!
Jul 9, 2019
 
 
 
MAS
It's now July 3 and I can guarantee that a six-ways-from-Sunday search did not turn up season 2 of Trapped anywhere in the US. So Alex, since you're in the business and we're not could you track this down and find out if and when it's going to be in US on any channel? It was originally listed for Vice Channel back in April or May and I have a series recording set on DVR but then it disappeared. Would really like to know when it's coming.
Jul 4, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Jjoek1
Just watched Quicksand yesterday, and it is great. Great writing and acting, with an ending unforgettable.
Like other viewers, am unable to find Trapped on Netflix.
Jul 1, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Joseph
Thank you to everyone who looked for "Trapped" on Netflix and Amazon -- I thought I was doing something wrong!
Jul 1, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
deborah trounstine
I can only find "Trapped" on Amazon Prime. Your article indicates it's on Netflix.
Jun 30, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
mikeindc
Trapped is on Prime not Netflix, and only season one is available
Jun 29, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Sharon
I too have searched—in vain—for Trapped, Season 2 on Netflix after reading this recommendation. As of 29 June, it is not on Netflix, though research shows it available on Netflix Canada (can’t confirm, since I’m in the US).
Jun 29, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Linda
No sign of Trapped on Netflix - S1 was on Amazon Prime, no sign of a new season there either.
Jun 28, 2019   |  Reply
 
Brendan
It is (or was) on SBS catch up
Jun 29, 2019
 
 
Brendan
It is (or was) on SBS catch up
Jun 29, 2019
 
 
Alex S.
Finished Trapped season2 on Netflix last night. So a little mystified as to why you can't find it. Prhps I'm watching Netflix UK or Netflix Canada? Though, frankly, I have no idea how that might happen. Netflix's US PR/media people are not too easy to reach, and don't seem to reply to queries — on top of everything else, it seems to me thaqt the customers know more about the service than the people running it. Pls. trust me, though: Trapped #2 is out there, and it was/is on Netflix. And, yes, season3 is confirmed. Sorry, but I have no idea what Amazon Prime is doing. Sorry I couldn't be of more help.
Jun 28, 2019
 
 
 
Robin
Thanks for these recommendations. I’m a big fan of Nordic noir books, beginning decades ago with the Martin Beck mysteries by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.
Jun 27, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
 
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