DVD Review: Swedish Crime Series 'Annika Bengtzon, Crime Reporter'

Reviews
by Kevin Jagernauth
August 16, 2013 9:56 AM
21 Comments
  • |

Over the past few years, Scandinavian crime fiction has been hot both at home and abroad. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" has obviously been the biggest cultural crossover, but so too have books by folks like Jo NesbøHenning Mankell and Karin Fossum, along with TV shows like "Wallander," "The Killing" and "The Bridge" (the latter two of which have been remade for American television). Generally, the entire genre is seen as darker and smarter than your average crime flick or paperback page turner, and completed with a flair unique to the region. But if you need evidence that not everything from Scandinavia's creative pool brims with freshness and can be just as generic as your average TV show on U.S. primetime, than "Annika Bengtzon, Crime Reporter" has more than ample proof.

To be certain, the premise is not without promise. Based on the best-selling crime novels by Liza Marklund, the show follows the titular Annika (Malin Crépin), a no nonsense reporter for Swedish tabloid Kvällspressen with a dogged drive to get to the truth of any story. The only thing standing in her way tends to be the cops and their careful adherence to troublesome things like procedure, and her bosses at the paper who would prefer to look before they leap. Of course, Annika's devotion to her work throws a wrench into the already wobbling gears of her home life, marriage and involvement with her two young kids. If it sounds fairly boilerplate, that's because it is, and unfortunately even with 90 minutes granted to each entry in the series, little is done to try and elevate the material in either ambition or execution.

The six episodes—if you want to call them that, though they could arguably each work as standalone movies—each find Annika diving into a case, knocking on doors, working the phones and doing all she can to crack the story, but unfortunately the plotting of these tales hardly ever makes the resolutions satisfying. Take for example, the very first entry, "Nobel's Last Will," which is provocatively (at first, anyway) set against the backdrop of Sweden's treasured Nobel prize group. A murder takes place during the prestigious awards banquet, and at first, the narrative sets up no small number of suspects, almost Agatha Christie style, with a variety of different motives presented for slaying the victim. But it seems the writers don't know what to do and any mystery that's presented is quickly snuffed out when every potential candidate for crime is killed off (not to mention that guest star Antje Traue—seen recently snarling in "Man of Steel"—is mostly wasted, besides filling out some rather flattering evening wear).

But this sort of laziness is present through all six episodes to varying degrees, and if it's not the main plot that isn't working, then it's the contrivances used to support it that also prove to be jarring. Among them, Annika has very little journalistic competition—it appears every other paper in Sweden is content with reporting press releases—while the police seem as intelligent or dumb as the scripts require. But perhaps most frustratingly, those around Annika are nothing more than one-dimensional character markers found in almost any standard procedural. She has an inter-office rivalry with a colleague (though it doesn't go beyond shoehorned quips every now and then, and the source of their tension is never revealed), a cop connection who is a friend or roadblock depending on the day, and a hard-nosed boss higher up the chain of command who is sometimes forced to keep her in check. And then there's her husband Thomas (Richard Ulfsäter, who looks like a Swedish Paul Rudd), who spends most of the six episodes exasperated that his wife has a job that takes her away from the house at all hours.

With story threads that deal in shady real estate deals, seedy happenings at strip clubs, celebrity murder and more, "Annika Bengtzon" isn't help either by its overall lack of imagination. You've likely seen better variations of these stories on "Law & Order" years ago, and it's a shame, particularly when the show has much more potential. Crépin is very good as Annika, and while the material isn't always worth her skills, she makes a captivating lead who sells even some of the more preposterous developments that arise through the six episodes (we'd reckon she could have Hollywood potential given the right project and character). And the show also nicely captures the immediacy and fever of covering breaking stories, and in particular, the constantly changing and evolving nature of the news cycle, which adds a pulse to the proceedings when one is often lacking.

But it's not enough to recommend the show. "Annika Bengtzon" is a more than ample example that mediocre ideas can flourish anywhere, even within a burgeoning, popular subgenre. As tastemakers on this side of the pond continue to look overseas for compelling new stories, movies and shows, we can save them the time by letting them know that "Annika Bengtzon" isn't worth investigating. [C-]

"Annika Bengtzon, Crime Reporter" is now available on DVD via MHz Networks.

Reviews
  • |

More: DVD and VOD, Reviews, Review

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

21 Comments

  • Laura Roehrick | April 15, 2014 8:29 PMReply

    KEVIN JAGERNAUTH... how did you land your job. I just now read all the other comments, who agree with me. You seem to be our numbered!!

  • Laura Roehrick | April 15, 2014 8:27 PMReply

    I have to agree.. I think this was a great series and was just checking to see if there was a second season. I consider myself to be a fairly good judge of good entertainment. Now.. it was no BORGEN, but I was thoroughly entertained by this series and was surprised to see this poor review!

  • arrowman | March 21, 2014 7:09 PMReply

    Whoa..... what a series Annika is superb. A crime mystery. drama, human interest story.. Just like Wallwndaer, and Girl With a Dragon Tatoo series, this is riveting story telling at its best. Beautiful actress and supporting cast in real life type story with beautiful locations. I read this in subtitles alas i'm not Swedish (pity?) and I never realize i'm reading subtitles because the performances and story are so engrossing. Whew... hope ther are more seasons to come. PBS Walander series is set to continue (thank you), this needs to do the same. Come to think of it how did PBS miss this??? Just want to see more or else I'm doomed to watching episodes 1-6 over and over.

  • Grageo | March 9, 2014 3:08 AMReply

    I'm so glad to see that I'm not alone in my disagreement with this review. I thoroughly enjoyed virtually every aspect of this series. In fact, I think I'll sit down and watch it again!

  • Thomas | February 24, 2014 4:41 PMReply

    Yes, I agree, this reviewer doesn't even come close to my opinion of this series. Loved it! Loved it, Loved it! But, then, I"m not trying to make a name for myself…, does that make me less reliable?

  • Martin | February 11, 2014 1:49 PMReply

    Wow. Can't believe I'm reading about the same movies. Clearly, no accounting for taste. The acting, writing, and presentation were all well above US standards. "Might be Hollywood ready?" Please.

  • margaret | February 4, 2014 6:04 PMReply

    Wow, this reviewer was so off base. I loved this series~ watched it on Netflix and never would have read this review except I was searching to see if there is a season 2 out. The scenery is fabulous, there is tension in each episode with characters that feel real. I loved that Annika is not perfect, that she and her husband (ex husband by episode 4) are dealing with real issues, that she is beautiful yet not always made up. I like the fact that we meet characters that we can relate to that work in factories or live in apartments. Annika takes chances and is driven but I felt as if from the very first few minutes of the very first episode I could connect to her. That this reviewer claims all this was done in law and Order years ago is way off base. I highly recommend this series and hope that there is a season 2. I felt this reviewer was condescending when he stated that the lead,Malin Crépin, could have Hollywood potential. Please, as if that is the only venue worth pursuing. She's great in this as are most of the others. Enjoy this series.

  • Ace | March 16, 2014 3:28 AM

    Good comment. This series is one of the excellent Scandi crime dramas.

    Law and Order bores me silly. No comparison at all. Shallow American tv fare. Period.

  • suz | February 11, 2014 7:33 PM

    totally agree with everything you've said! thanks for expressing that so well.

  • CD | January 12, 2014 2:49 PMReply

    This series is captivating and entertaining. You would do well to ignore this review. If you enjoy shows such as Inspector Lewis, Prime Suspect and other Masterpiece Mysteries, the intense storylines and acting will surely draw you in. I, too, look forward to more. Here's to more Nordic noir and another season of Annika!

  • Ace | March 16, 2014 3:30 AM

    "Nordic noir." That's great!

  • S.O | January 1, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    Annika Bengtzon -The series is very well written and nicely filmed – enjoyed it very much- It always amazes me that all good stuff (books, movies, music), come from overseas, and not from our continent? Do we lack imagination, or are we simply brained washed by all the low quality shows/movies/books that filter from States?

  • RAJ | December 11, 2013 12:58 PMReply

    Great show, intense acting and decent story lines. Gotta say, a lot better than 95% of the shows currently on Network TV or Cable. I hope there are more seasons to come!

  • Robert Tobys | December 10, 2013 2:06 AMReply

    This review is completely off base. Annika Bengtzon is an excellent series. We just finished the final episode of series one and are looking forward to more. For us, it goes without saying that anything NOT American is going to be good and this series is no exception. If you like real acting and are tired of the same glam American shows with big boobs, glamour shots and bad acting, then check this show out!

  • Ace | March 16, 2014 3:32 AM

    Big boobs can cure many a bad plot.

  • Jim | December 8, 2013 6:24 PMReply

    What a bullshit review from"this side of the pond"!! Having watched "The Girl . . ." trilogy three years ago, I became a fan of Swedish films. Annika Bengtzon is a great character and the storylines are much richer than American fare. I sincerely hope these are not the only six episodes that they produce. I'll follow the series as long as they make it. Malin Crépin looks a lot like Nicole Kidman but has a much more interesting face and talent to match.

  • Stephan A. Schwartz | November 27, 2013 2:40 AMReply

    Completely disregard the "official" review which is wrong in so many ways it would take too long to list them. This is an exciting show, well produced, that has interesting characters and good stories. It also gives Americans an insight into a culture that is both familiar and yet very different. Well worth your time.

  • babs | November 9, 2013 10:44 PMReply

    I also disagree with the review ~ love the show, fresh, great scenery in a beautiful part of the world ~ it's a refreshing break from the CSI's or Law and Order's that seem to run the same route. I gave Netflix a 5 star for the series.

  • Manina | October 4, 2013 1:11 AMReply

    I don't agree with your review, I just watched the six episodes in Netflix and liked them. The cases Annika investigates are very different from what we see in the US, the photography and scenery are fantastic. I don't remember any other show that features a newspaper crime reporter that solves the crimes she investigates and who is adventurous and brave and, also takes care of her children and her handsome and useless husband.

    Something else I like about European movies is that the protagonists don't have perfect make-up, hair, clothes, homes, etc., they look like real people, they live in real houses, or in this case, an apartment, not perfectly organized, and kind of small; it always bothers me and distracts me from the story when they live in places that look too expensive for their salaries and seem to be way above their means, when the make-up and the outfits are perfect and so on. In this series the story lines are very entertaining, some are maybe a little far-fetched, but well done. Maybe you did not appreciate them because the main character is a woman and does not show most men in a very good light?

  • Christopher Schobert | August 16, 2013 10:12 AMReply

    Glad you guys reviewed this -- I noticed it while poking around on Netflix, and considered starting. I think I'll skip ...

  • Nora Johnson | February 6, 2014 3:03 AM

    I completely agree with the previous comments -- this review is completely off base. I've seen many shows in this genre and this is among the best.

Email Updates