It’s rare these days for a television series to even have opening titles, let alone ones that capture its style and tone as well as those at the start of Pros and Cons. At first they look like a series of blueprints and schematics – exactly the kind of thing you’d expect people planning a serious crime to have. But then, guns and security cameras turn into baby car seats; a briefcase full of cash doubles as a school lunchbox. It’s a smart and witty introduction, and the series more than lives up to it.
Erik (Lars Ranthe) and Nina (Lene Maria Christensen) are living a quiet, peaceful life in the suburbs of Copenhagen. The occasional fight over the dishes aside, they’re the picture-perfect picture of dull domestic bliss; you’d never suspect that two decades ago they were Denmark’s most notorious scammers and con artists, living life on the run and raking in ill-gotten cash.
When a “friend” from the old days arrives on their doorstep, they’re not exactly overjoyed. Those days are long behind them and they don’t want anyone connecting who they are now to what they did then. Unfortunately, Jacqueline (Lotte Andersen) doesn’t care: she’s got a scam they’d be perfect for, and if they don’t want to get involved, it’s only going to take a few words in the wrong ear to bring their idyllic life crashing down around them.
She’s not there just to trash their lives though. She’s come up with a con too big for her to handle on her own, so why not bring in Denmark’s best? The target is InvoPharama, a major pharmaceutical corporation, and the payday is set to be in the millions – if they can all work together to bring it off.
The genius of Pros and Cons is that, while the blackmail angle is more than enough to get Erik and Nina back doing what they do (well, did) best, their perfect life in the suburbs has a few rough edges to it. The couple quit crime when Nina fell pregnant, and now they have an eight year-old son alongside their teenage daughter Esther (Emma B. Marott). Nina moved on with her life, devoting herself to her career and her family; Erik, on the other hand, never quite managed it. In fact, he’s never quite managed anything since, and it’s Nina who’s the breadwinner now.
They might seem initially reluctant to take up Jacqueline’s offer, but it’s rapidly clear (to us at least) that this is their big chance to put the spark back into their relationship. There’s always a down side though, and while this may improve one part of their home life, it puts another under threat: as her parents’ behaviour becomes increasingly odd, Esther becomes increasingly suspicious. Soon she’s brought her new boyfriend on board to help her do some snooping around on her own.
There’s a long tradition of comedy in con artist stories, and Pros and Cons plays up every angle. Just when you think this is going to be a series that gets its laughs from the contrast between living a suburban life full of parent-teacher nights and school sports and sneaking out to commit a million dollar crime, it’s dress-up time as Erik takes on the role of businessman Frank Zeller (Nina, on the other hand, is more hands-on with a break-and-enter reconnaissance mission).
Throughout the ten episodes this manages to deliver everything you could want from a series about con artists while constantly managing to keep the twists and turns coming. This has everything from bizarrely named cons (one episode is titled “The Belgian Turn!”, which is the kind of big con you’d expect from a David Mamet film) and surprise reveals to lengthy high-tension sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat.
But it’s the way this series combines classic cons with family life that really makes it shine. Nina and Erik are a great couple, and it’s hard not to cheer them on as returning to crime turns out to be just the shot in the arm their marriage needed.
Well, apart from the part where “Frank Zeller” goes on a tinder date.
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Renée Zellweger joins us on this week's show, to talk about how she transformed herself into Hollywood icon Judy Garland, for the film 'Judy'. In her chat with Fiona, Zellweger discusses what she hopes the film will reveal about Garland's legacy, not least the high price she paid for becoming a Movie Star during the dawning Golden Age of Hollywood. In this episode we welcome back special guest host John Beohm (SBS Viceland channel manager) to sit in for Ben (who is away at a TV content market, finding great shows to bring to SBS in the future), and talk about the revelation that is 'Years and Years', a very relatable dystopic family drama that is coming to SBS in November.