annika 3There has, over the past couple of years, been something of a renaissance when it comes to quality drama from the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden and Denmark. The multiple versions of Wallander and the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo may well be the best known although The Killing and The Bridge, both made into US adaptations, along with Borgen, The Protectors, Sebastian Bergman and The Eagle are well worth your time. Although be forewarned; even with the need for subtitles the shows are very addicting. Added to that list is the Swedish series Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, which is available in six 90-minute mysteries via the streaming portion of the Netflix service.

Created by Swedish author Liza Marklund in 1998 for her novel Bomber, the Annika Bengtzon character has now appeared in nine books that have become international best sellers and are particularly popular, not surprisingly, in the five Scandinavian countries. Bengtzon is a tough and driven crime reporter for a fictitious newspaper, Kvallspressen, in Stockholm who becomes involved in unusual cases while attempting, and often failing, to find balance between her professional and personal life. Interestingly in a week where PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was controversially quoted as saying that women can’t have it all, Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter shows a willingness to address the topic.

Malin Crepin plays the title character and turns in a strong performance to anchor the series. Bengtzon has skeletons in her closet from a first marriage and Crepin is adept at showing the long-term impact, and what drives her to be such an advocate, before we ever hear the specifics later in the series. As with all such shows, our protagonist is ultimately smarter than all of those around her, but Crepin and the script do a good job of not making it obnoxiously so as Bengtzon jumps into her stories with little regard for her personal safety or that of others; some times with tragic consequences. That the show does not shy away from the latter is one of the hallmarks of the production.

Richard Ulfsater is Annika’s husband, Thomas Samuelsson, who has a career of his own and a Mother who heartily disapproves of the emphasis that Bengtzon places on her job over family. A happy couple in the opening episode, Nobel’s Last Will, the trials and tribulations of Annika and Thomas provide a secondary story arc through the entire series. Ulfsater, who I’m looking forward to seeing in the adaptation of Camilla Lackberg’s novel The Hidden Child, is excellent when he and Crepin act at loggerheads, but strangely less so in the earlier episodes. There’s a spark missing, which you could say is an accurate reflection predicating the state of the relationship, however that doesn’t seem to be the intent.

Work at Kvallspressen also brings its trials and tribulations. An understanding publisher, an ornery if generally supportive editor, a young and obnoxious male rival and the best friend fellow journalist, round out the regular cast. The latter, Kajsa Ernst’s middle-aged Berit Hamrin, is the one I would like to have seen fleshed out further as Hamrin is defined as a very competent researcher and writer with useful contacts, but essentially plays the sidekick in the office. How these two women came together and play to each other’s strengths despite the generational difference would have been instructive.

Murder, prostitution, drugs, terrorism and politics all get covered over the half a dozen episodes and for me there’s a self realization that when you start to recognize Swedish character actors in multiple shows you might be watching a little too much Nordic Noir! Still Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter was a pleasant surprise and well worth the time investment.

– Wallace Poulter