Politics is the art of the impossible in America this week, but, in a fictional Denmark, it is still, thankfully, the art of the possible.
“Borgen,” which Newsweek once called “The best TV show you’ve never seen” and the Los Angeles Times has labeled ”compelling,” starts its third season on KCET at 10pm tonight, a week after the second season ended with Denmark’s beleagured female prime minister scheduling an election that may or may not end her reign.
Few drama series can tolerate 30 episodes in a row without fraying a little at the edges. Wasn’t that plot move predictable? And won’t the tangle of health care reform bills and party realignments eventually lose their suspense?
“Borgen” did fray a little toward the end of Season 2 with the psychological toll on two women competing against men in a man’s world turning into a somewhat soapy subplot about a teenager’s mental breakdown. But, from the opening minutes of Season 3, “Borgen,” in all its psychological glory, is back. Those opening minutes take place two-and-a-half years after the election that Nyberg called. Ex-Prime Minister Birgitte Nyberg (the brilliant Sidse Babett Knudsen) is in demand and highly paid as a speaker in countries as far away as Japan. The ambitious television news anchor Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) has the baby she longed for, but her relationship with his father, Nyberg’s emotionally crippled spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek) is over.
How do you keep a series from growing stale in its third season? “Borgen” shocks. Before the second episode is over, Nyberg has decided to do the unthinkable and form a new political party. This audacity, which might be praised if she were a man, brings together the two women who are at the heart of the program and who, because they are women, cannot ever have it all -- success in the outside world and success in the private world of the family. At the end of Season 2, the man who would replace Nyberg as prime minister had asked snidely if the country wanted a “PM who is a good mother.”
KCET offers no statistics about the total viewers who watch this program broadcast in Danish with English subtitles. But “Borgen” has definitely been a blessing for the former PBS station. The Season 2 repeats on Monday night at 10 p.m. jumped 32% in average households and 14% in total viewers over Season 1. And web viewers, who may be less resistant to subtitles than older television watchers, have flocked to KCET’s “Borgen” pages. According to Ayn Allen, senior manager of corporate communications, “’Borgen’ is responsible for roughly a 10% increase in page views for the whole site, and it currently makes up 29% of our total video views.”
One other thing about “Borgen” is clear. The writers have much more of the duplicities, intrigues and occasional idealism of politics to offer.