I’ve recently discovered the Netflix world of European cop shows. All of the tropes you can find in any American cop show are alive and well and using the Euro (Europeans reading this are welcome to make fun of my lack of knowledge; we Americans are getting pretty used to the outside world laughing at us by now. I’ll let you know when we are able to laugh along. About four years from now, maybe).
The Break, from Belgium is a freaky-deaky trip into the messed-up head of a Cop with a Secret Sorrow (do they make them any other way in detective shows?). His dearly and mysteriously departed wife still haunts him and, while he should be taking compassionate leave from his duties, instead has decided to take a job in the smaller “crime-free” town of Heiderfeld in the Belgian Ardennes region, his requisite angry teenaged daughter in tow. Cops with a Secret Sorrow always have an angry teenaged daughter, but of course you already know that. Shit goes down in Mayberry, Belgium and he is quickly the only investigator with a brain working on the case of a well-loved but sadly dead local soccer star who seems to have involved himself in crime. Nothing is as it seems, and as the case heats up, so do various of our CWSS’s mental issues, including rage, drug abuse, and PTSD.
The Break was consistently well-acted and beautifully paced. The main character, Yoann Peeters, portrayed by Yoann Blanc, is all angst and coiled passion. Surprisingly good performances come from Sophie Breyer, as the daughter Camille who did not wish to move to this backwater, and fellow officers in the rural police district. I look forward to the next season.
Hotel Beau- Sejour
Hotel Beau-Sejour feels more like an art house film than a series. Gritty, supernatural, this series is set in the region of Belgium which borders the Netherlands. It follows the heroine/murder victim Kato Hoeven as she returns to her life post-murder. Kato is only visible to five specific people who don’t spend nearly enough time freaking out that their best friend/daughter/ thorn in their side has returned. If this had been an American show, two whole episodes would have been devoted to dealing with that weirdness. Part of the creepy charm of this series is the fact that the people Kato appears to do not flip shit that she is alive again. Kato does what she can to unearth her killer and by extension answers the question of why she can appear only to these select few. She also rides a motorcycle and makes out with a troubled outcast. What ghosts do you know can do that?
While both The Break and Hotel Beau-Sejour take place in Belgium, the first is in French and the second is in Flemish. The rural settings also feel different from each other. Hotel Beau-Sejour, with its plot emphasis on motocross and sport shooting, has a wilder, more masculine feel. The open spaces that surround the town of Dilsen convey a sense of remoteness you don’t feel from the fields and forests of The Break’s Heiderfeld. Let’s just say I’d like to live in Heiderfeld but I’d be scared shitless if my car broke down in Dilsen.
Kato, played by Lynn Van Royen , is a sort of country version of Lisbeth Salander, a tiny, wiry, androgynous teen with her own strict code of behavior and morals. She wouldn’t be much fun, but she’d be a great person to have on your side in a fight. Her father Luc, played by Kris Cuppens, is a melancholy wreck who permanently lives inside a bottle. Luc is thrilled to have his dead daughter back because of his own desperate loneliness. Several scenes are shown of Kato’s anguish that her mother Kristel cannot see her. These were very effective. The mystical elements of the series do not make a whole lot of sense, but I don’t think the writers wished us to dwell on them.
One of the coolest series I have seen is Hinterland, a series filmed in both English and Welsh. Hinterland takes the notion of its title and runs with it. Location is everything in this series. The lands of rural Wales as well as the settings of the murders themselves are filmed in microscopic detail. The camera lingers on all that is decayed, old, forgotten. The viewer can almost smell the mold.
The CWSS (Cop with Secret Sorrow) in this series is the permanently sad-faced Richard Harrington who some of you may have seen in Poldark and Gunpowder, Treason & Plot, where he played a key member of the Gunpowder Conspiracy, funny hat and all.
Hinterland seems to have a story arc that will be explored later, but little of the screen time is spent was spent building this up; I hope to have some things explained later, but it wasn’t a gnawing concern. The detective in this setting has also defected from his job in London in some sort of disgrace. DCI Mathias carries a picture of two small girls, the sight of which little girls makes him drink to excess. Secret Sorrow Time. Oddly enough, the angry teenaged daughter in this series belongs to his partner Mared Rhys, (Mali Harries) rather than the main character. Mared is forced to trudge around in the same parka episode after episode, a mistake they never would have made in an American series; we would have had her properly outfitted in an array of cute parkas that her salary could never justify.
The latest detective series I have enjoyed immensely, albeit with little background knowledge to guide me, has been Bordertown, which premiered only this month. This series comes to us out of Finland, a country most Americans know only as a place of reindeer. The CWSS in this case, Detective Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen) has a) the angry teenaged daughter, the main character has b)moved to a remote small city due to some disgrace suffered in his last jurisdiction (in this case in Helsinki) c) has unusual and eccentric methods of solving crimes and is d) a renegade, a loose cannon whom his fellow team members aren’t sure they can trust. But in this case he has a living breathing wife! Refreshing change of pace.
Much of the crime/story is driven by the town’s proximity to the Russian border, and we have the expected amount of human trafficking, dangerous party drug dealing, and terrifying mobsters to contend with. A welcome addition to this trope-filled series is a string of interesting characters, including Detective Kari Sorjonen’s fellow tactical team members, Katia, the beautiful friend of the angry daughter (a surprisingly level-headed one in this series) who has suffered horrors of her own, and her mother, a former undercover officer who has seen far more of the St. Petersburg underground than any human could and survive. I can’t think of a character who is written badly, or who rings false. Ville Virtanen’s lean, kind face lends this gritty series a huge amount of humanity.
Now that Netflix is using the thumbs instead of the star ratings, I expect more of these series to flood my queue and they are welcome. The familiarity of the genre as well as the tropes might seem to be hackneyed but the settings and characters more than make up for that slight failing.
I didn’t even get to tell you about River, Happy Valley, Marcella, or Luther. Great Britain can wait for another day. It’s possible I watch too much Netflix.