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19 May 2014 @ 05:00 pm
Series review: Real Humans and Borgen  

A little gem from Sweden and one from Denmark:

-Real Humans (Äkta människor), season 1, is set in the near future, at a time when humanoid robots (hubots) have become ubiquitous, fulfilling every job from caretaker for the aged to construction workers or sex toys. The storyline follows several linked individuals: the children of David Eischer are a group of hubots upgraded to have free will, and on the run from the authorities with plans of their own; the Engman family is the recipient of a new hubot, and its members struggle to adjust their attitude to it, from the mother who insists on treating her like a human being to the son who falls in love with her; and their neighbour Roger who, abandoned by his wife for her hubot lover, joins an anti-hubot movement… 

This was a really interesting character-focused thriller, with a nuanced examination of various characters. There were a few stumbles (near the ending, I thought a few too many new-ish motivations came to the fore a little too quickly), but it’s still masterful. The examination of what people do to hubots, and the questions on the nature of free will, are really great; and I loved that the series, in the end, doesn’t take positions but encourages you, the viewer, to decide where you are standing. Also loved that the two competing groups trying to transform/preserve society–the children of David Eischer and the government officials in pursuit of them–are shown as equally ruthless. And, finally, it’s quite nice to see a balanced cast, where everyone has their own contributions to make (in some series I have the feeling there’s, say, three main characters and everyone is playing second fiddle to them to the point of being almost flattened out of existence); and a cast with very strong female roles (the heart of the Engman family is Inger, the fierce lawyer wife–we never even learn what it is that her husband does). Bonus points for the queer pastor who is just awesome.

As I understand, there is a series 2 that recently aired in Sweden. The DVDs are coming out at the end of the month, and the H is already pestering me to buy them. That should tell you how much we’ve both enjoyed it.

-Borgen: I’d watched Season 1 of Borgen earlier, and was surprised to enjoy it much more than The Killing. I’m probably getting a little bored with crime dramas at the moment… We watched season 2 recently, where State Minister (Danish Prime Minister) Birgitte Nyborg struggles to keep her government together amidst political backstabbing and family crises. It’s still pretty good: I love the theme of the series, the troubled relation between the media and the politicians (not exclusive to Denmark, sadly!); and the necessity to make compromises that may not be the best moral choices in order to achieve one’s goal. In many ways, Birgitte’s trajectory mirrors that of Troels Hartmann in the Killing–an idealistic politician who discovers that she can’t always have what she wants–; though she is more experienced than Troy from the outset, and shown as a fierce negotiator and politician even before she accedes to the post. For all its desire to grapple with complex subjects ranging from depression to war crimes, it’s actually a pretty optimistic series about human nature; probably why I prefer it to The Killing, which comes to pretty much the opposite conclusion… (not sure how to feel about the double-parter about Denmark getting involved in a civil war in a fictitious African country which looks a hell of a lot like Sudan: on the one hand, true to what actually happens today: on the other hand, a few too many easy clichés, and I would have liked a little more examination of this interference and its cost. But minor stuff, altogether). Well worth watching.

(I could also easily have done without the French tag line of “A woman in the Spheres of Power”, which implies there is something special and unique about Birgitte. Am not sure it was the tag line in Denmark, because the series most certainly never treat Birgitte’s gender like it’s something special, and indeed a lot of her fellow politicians are also women).

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Kari Sperringla_marquise_de_ on May 19th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
I don't think we've had Real Humans here yet: I shall look out for it. And as far as I can tell. Borgen has no tag in Danish.
We love that series.
Aliette de Bodard: juryaliettedb on May 20th, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
I looked it up on the internet, and I don't think it's made it in English? Apparently you can get fan subs for it, but it hasn't had a DVD release. Which is a shame, because it's well worth it.
And why am I not surprised Borgen has no tag? I love that series too--so much great characterisation.
Kari Sperringla_marquise_de_ on May 20th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
The BBC seem to be convinced that we can only be shown 'noir' crime and political drama from Scandinavia. Sigh. Though Les Revenants did well on Channel 4. I may look for it with French subs, though. (My usual strategy for anime, too.)
trinuviel: pic#116221401trinuviel on May 19th, 2014 08:48 pm (UTC)
I must admit that I'm not a big fan of Borgen - mostly because the dialogue is so stilted and it very much has the whole flavour of "let's explain how the political system works in Denmark", which is boring if you're a Dane but I guess can be interesting if you're not.

I like the way the series handles the gender question, but that might simply be due to the fact that there are many prominent politicians in Denmark that are women. We have a female prime minister and half the cabinet are women as well, inculding some of the really big, and powerful posts. Later, in the series it does address the question of balancing motherhood and career when her daughter becomes ill, but, sadly, it doesn't really go into that in a more in depth manner.

Personally, I prefer The Killing (have only seen the Danish version, season 1) - mainly because it really focusses on the family of the murdered girl, their grief and the way that this violent crime shatters them as a family. It is something rarely seen on crime dramas, where the victioms are silent and their loved ones are an afterthought.
Aliette de Bodard: juryaliettedb on May 20th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
Yup, totally agree! I really like that side of the Killing as well (and it's the same reason why I love Elizabeth George so much); but it's become difficult for me to stomach that kind of series with the rape and murder of a child (teenager). I had much fewer troubles with season 2 (and predictably found season 3 hard to stomach as well). I guess I have a limited capacity for that kind of violence, if it makes sense?
(I also thought season 1 of the Killing was just a touch too long? The 20+ episode format did it a disservice--too many twists, too much intensity. I much preferred the shorter seasons that followed).

I was sorry to see that the storyline on balancing motherhood and career in Borgen wasn't dealt with in much detail. But yeah, I can see why it'd be slightly boring if you're familiar with Danish politics already!