WARNING: This article contains spoilers.
Television is American. It is as American as Apple pie. It may have once been the bastard step-child of the dramatic arts, but god dammit, it was our bastard step-child.
So how did the Danes get so damned good at making it?
For those who haven't noticed, a revolution is underway. That medium which former FCC Chairman Newton Minow famously called a vast wasteland has been evolving. The "land" is more vast today than Chairman Minow could have ever imagined. Therein you will find waste that would have been far, far beyond his 1961 sensibilities.
But as with real oases in real wastelands, there is much beauty to behold. Some of the greatest American art is now taking place on the small screen. It would appear that the same could be said about the greatest Danish art, as well, to wit: The brilliant political drama and cinematic television series Borgen ("The Castle" or "Government").
Borgen does for political dramas what the original Danish series The Killing did for the police procedural. It is centered on Birgette Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babette Knudsen), the charismatic leader of the... ok, less-than-charismatic Moderate Party (you know a show is good when it make the Moderate party look exciting). She is the leader of the number 3 party in the Danish Parliament and anticipates hanging on to the number 3 spot on the eve of elections. As the show opens, She, her avuncular political adviser Bret Sejrø (Lars Knutzon) and her spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) have no greater aspirations than to add a few seats to their total.
That all changes with the pop of a pill.
Incumbent PM Lars Hasselboe's Liberal Party (In the Bizarro world of European politics, Liberals are conservatives) is down in the polls to first-class douchebag Michael Laugenson and his Labor Party. The PM flies to London to meet with some UK political strategists. He decides to take his wife.
Everything is fine until she takes one-too-many of whatever she's hooked on and decides to go on a stumble spree through London's finest shopping district. Credit card: declined. After telling the sales clerk to Fuck off, loudly announcing "he's the Prime Minister", and screaming "why can't you be fucking nice to me?", she forces him to make a fateful decision. He pulls out his government issued expense card and charges a 70,000-Danish-Kroner bunch of goodies to the taxpayers. After a tragedy of errors, this will change the fate of all three major Danish parties.
The political thread is enough to make this series compelling. But the personal stories of Nyborg and Juul--with his on-again, off-again love, Kathrine Fønsmark (Birgette Hjort Sørenson)--make the show nothing short of "Skal-Se TV".
Nyborg struggles, as women continue to everywhere, in balancing her home life with her work. It sounds trite, but to this day women are still held to a different standard when they assume positions of power. The themes from the episode 1 trip to London with Hasselboe and his wife are revisited once Birgette assumes power. She and her own spouse, Philip (Mikael Birkkjær) find themselves under the same stresses.
But the story of Kasper Juul nearly steals the show. Early on, the program hints at a secret. He keeps things from Kathrine. Who is his father? Does he really work for the French Military? Why does he tell people that the woman who shows up at Christiansborg Palace claiming to be his mother is just an old nanny who thinks he's her son?
The truth is so dark, it almost defies watching. The scenes we see of a young Kasper (Ne Kenneth) are truly hard to watch. It deals with a subject so beyond polite conversation that it alone merits kudos for series creator Adam Price.
Sadly, it is an international program, and as such, is going to take extra effort to see. I think it can be ordered from the BBC on DVD. It will also be airing on Link TV on a Memorial Day Weekend marathon May 26-28. If your first response to that is "What is Link TV?" Join the club.
Unfortunately, for most of us, Borgen will remain Never-see TV.