We all love a legal drama. New cases each week, shouting in the courtroom, passions running hot outside the courtroom; it’s a sure-fire formula for success. But with Aber Bergen, the passions have run cold – so cold, in fact, that the two lawyers who run the firm are heading for a divorce.
But if the will-they-or-won’t-they tension has been stripped away, what is the fun in watching the show? It turns out, there's a lot of reasons to give it a look.
The creator of Mammon knows what he is doing here
Mammon was one of Norway’s most successful drama series, a gripping tale of a journalist’s search for the truth no matter what the cost to him or his family. So when UK studio ITV wanted to move into making television in Norway, who better to get on board than one of the creators of that hit show, Gjermund S. Eriksen?
The hook behind this series is simple: two lawyers, once married, are now separated but still working together in the firm they built up. As that set-up suggests, Aber Bergen isn’t quite as dark as Mammon. With its overlapping legal cases and drama both in and out of the courtroom, it’s closer to a Norwegan version of something like Boston Legal (having the lawyers occasionally having a post-work debrief over drinks at the end of an episode definitely has that Boston Legal feel). But there’s still a gritty edge here: sexual harassment, asylum seekers and murder are just some of the confronting cases they deal with.
Erik’s the dumped
Erik Aber (Odd Magnus Williamson, an actor better known for comedy roles) is a man driven by passion. He’s an Oslo native who moved to the mountain city of Bergen (Norway’s second largest city) to be with the woman he loved, despite the negative impact on his career. While the relationship wasn't successful, he’s not going to give up on it.
But there’s more going on with him than just a man trying to win his wife back – for one thing, what’s going on with all those tattoos he has? The one on his hand stands for “paragraph 18”, so it’s presumably some legal reference – but to what?
And when you’re a lawyer who clearly becomes too personally invested in things, is it really a great idea to take on the defence of your best friend who’s just been accused of murder?
Elea the ex
Elea Bergen (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) – yes, she has the same surname as the city she lives in - is the kind of laywer who’s always in control. Having shown Erik the door, the question is: does she love the law more than her husband? It might seem obvious - they split up and she’s still a lawyer – but as the series progresses, it becomes clear there’s still a connection between them that goes deeper than just having a son together.
Her calm, collected manner in the court room is the clear opposite to her ex’s more fiery approach, and back at the office she’s the only one who can put the more free-wheeling Erik back in his box.
In the spirit of Nordic narrative cleverness, If their different personalities reflects the different ways the cities of Oslo and Bergen see themselves, that’s 100% intentional on the part of the series’ creators.
The crack support team
Erik and Elea might be the name partners at Aber Bergen, but they’ve got a crack team supporting them by taking on the cases they don’t have time to handle. There’s the charismatic blind lawyer Magnus Braseth (Torgny Gerhard Aanderaa), who’s often given the more unusual cases the firm deals with. Working beside him is the chilly Diana Drange (Line Verndal). When the firm gets around to hiring Unn Frøynes (Lykke Kristine Moen) as their assistant, she swiftly begins to bear the brunt of Diana’s perfectionism.
It’s not just a case-of-the-week series
While each episode contains its fair share of stand alone cases, there’s also a number of plot strands that run throughout the series. The murder case that sweeps up Erik’s best friend isn’t going away in a hurry, with a number of twists that put Erik in a very difficult spot. An ongoing tax audit provides a steady stream of tension inside the firm, while Bergen’s less-than-perfect Mayor keeps turning up in need of help getting out of one lawsuit or another.
And the struggles of a separated couple trying to raise an increasingly troubled son while stuck in each other’s company aren’t glossed over either: how can you get over a relationship when you see the other person every single day?
Aber Bergen is streaming now on SBS On Demand: