Reviews & More: Autumn Sets In

“Van der Valk”

For some reason, the shows I watch lately seem to be set in the colder climes of Europe and are either adapted from or influenced by well-known mystery novelists, namely Nicholas Freeling, Henning Menkel and Jo Nesbro.

“Van der Valk,” a three-parter currently showing on PBS’ “Masterpiece,” is  adapted from the popular Nicholas Freeling police procedural/murder mysteries set in Amsterdam. Marc Warren plays our lead detective, a fierce, cold-eyed, rule-breaking, insubordinate and, of course, brilliant police detective who does not suffer fools gladly or otherwise. Filmed with a mostly British (meaning superb) supporting cast, and thoroughly utilizing the sights, sounds, canals, coffee houses and museums of this great city, I am hooked and hope there will be lots more than the three offered this season. Each episode is self-contained with moody and dark moments interspersed with surprising humor. Freeling wrote 13 Van Der Valk novels in all. Bring them on! 

We’re in Malmo, Sweden for another produced-in-Great Britain police procedural/mystery, “Young Wallander” on Netflix. Henning Mankell wrote the books that featured the aging Wallander, a topnotch detective and loner with a streak of fatalistic sadness all through his character. And Kenneth Branagh skillfully brought the character to life in the 1990s TV adaptations of the novels. The title of this new series led me to believe we would be back in the 1960s, when the fictional Wallander would, indeed, have been young. But the creators have set the show in modern-day Sweden, which means we aren’t watching the original creation’s backstory at all. And, despite feeling somewhat conned by the misleading title, I must say I’m enjoying the series greatly. Adam Palsson, a gifted Swedish actor who speaks excellent British English, embodies a young policeman who simply cares too much. He has a strong sense of right and wrong and will need some hardening at some point. For those who enjoy the eye-candy factor, Palsson looks great without a shirt and the show exploits this fact as often as it can get away with it. The story line—a single, brutal murder opens the door to a potential right-wing conspiracy—parallels a current trend in governments all over the world, so it’s timely. An excellent British supporting cast makes this show work really well.

“Occupied” on Netflix, created from an idea by Jo Nesbro, was actually made in Norway, with Norwegian actors, so it’s subtitled. The idea is a good one: sometime in the near future, despite the fact the new prime minister is a member of the Green Party and is pushing the country toward renewable energy, the Russians decide to take over Norway’s oil-rich resources. How? By strong-arming the PM in order to avoid the awful bloodshed that would ensue if they do it by force. So, in essence, the country becomes “occupied” by an aggressive, take-no-prisoners, foreign power. There are two other main characters apart from the PM: a policeman-turned-secret-service-agent who is (reluctantly) assigned to protect Russians from increasingly angry Norwegians and a reporter for a small, independent newspaper who finds himself right in the middle of the chaos caused by the operation. Here we have yet another series dealing with a current world-wide concern—how can we stop global warming, how can we find solutions to the pollution caused by our dependence on oil? The cast—leads and supporting actors—is uniformly excellent and I must admit I found it pleasing to hear the actual language spoken by the natives for once.

Finally, and on a lighter and non-Scandinavian/Nordic note, I recommend the documentary “The Yorkshire Vet” on Prime Video, an homage to the beloved James Herriot books (“All Creatures Great and Small”) and the fictionalized TV series. In fact, the two highly dedicated veterinarians in these shows took over the practice that was Herriot’s, so much of the landscape and the accents feel familiar. Scenes with animals and their owners are full of warmth, often funny and, of course, sometimes heartbreaking. However, the narrator and the music are obnoxiously chirpy, at least for me. And because it’s shown without the commercial breaks that must have been part of the original run, we are forced to hear the constant catching us up on what we just saw, which feels repetitious and just a tad condescending. If you can get past this part of the production, the people and their animals, all kinds, from birds and chickens to pigs to cows, are a joy indeed.