For close to a decade now one particular corner of the globe has been putting out some of the best crime drama in the world and while there are plenty of superlatives to describe these shows “cheery” isn’t really one of them. What is it about Scandinavia that makes them so great at making the kind of glum television you can’t stop watching? It’s never easy to nail down what makes a classic television series, but here a few of the elements Scandinavia crime dramas have that make them so successful – and a look at some of the shows with those elements you might have overlooked.
They’re solid crime stories
You can’t underestimate the appeal of a good murder mystery. Sure, Wallander had all the usual Scandi noir trappings – snow, a glum protagonist, snow, grim killings, snow – but at the heart of the series was always a solid mystery. And if you’re after a solid Scandi mystery, the long running series Beck is the one for you. Based on the series of crime novels by Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö, Beck stars Peter Haber and Mikael Persbrandt as the Stockholm-based, crime-fighting duo of Inspector Martin Beck and Detective Gunvald Larsson, who tackle mysteries ranging from the sniper death of a Stochkholm mobster to a pair of mystery corpses with a link to terrorism to the death of an investigative journalist looking into right-wing groups.
They have great hooks
A strong concept is central to the success of many Scandi noir series. Having a body found on the exact centre of the bridge linking Denmark and Sweden so both countries have to investigate (and then just to make matters worse, discovering that the body is in fact made up of halves of two different women) made The Bridge an instant hit. So if you like that kind of high concept set-up, Trapped is the series for you: In a fjord just outside a small Icelandic town a dismembered body is found – just as a severe storm closes all the roads in and out of town. With the forensics team from the city unable to reach them, it’s up to local Police Chief Andri Ólafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and two of his officers to investigate the murder. Things rapidly become complicated, with a ferry full of suspects, a missing body, and a connection to a fiery tragedy almost a decade ago all playing their part.
They’re not afraid to go deep
One thing that’s made Scandinavia crime drama stand out of the years is their willingness to go deep. The Killing made waves worldwide by devoting an entire series to investigating the ripples cause by a single murder Spring Tide is also focused on a single case - a murder that took place on Sweden’s Nordkoster island where a young pregnant woman was buried in the sand, so that she slowly drowned as the tide rises. But there’s a twist: this murder took place in 1990, and the killer was never found. So when police cadet Olivia Rönning (Julia Ragnarsson) is assigned the cold case as part of her police academy training, she rapidly becomes obsessed – an obsession that only deepens when she learns that her deceased father was the lead investigator on the original investigation.
They put women in prime roles
The Millennium trilogy became a global sensation in large part because it was a crime drama with a strong female protagonist at its heart. That’s no real surprise: Scandinavia itself has a firm commitment to equality, and so a series like Jordskott where the protagonist is a female detective is simply business as usual. Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) lost her daughter Josefine several years ago in the Silver Height woods – at the time it was assumed she drowned in the lake there but her body was never found. So when a boy vanishes in the same area, Julia returns to her home town to join the investigation – not realising that the solution to the mystery might be stranger than she could have imagined.