The Case: Nordic Noir with a Comedic Twist

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A decade since The Killing started airing on screens, there have been dozens of crime series from the Nordic countries that echo the original characteristics of the Danish drama; gritty settings, melancholic characters, and deeply humanistic stories. These Nordic crime dramas have found success all around the world, with countless remakes, adaptations and broadcasts in practically every corner of the world. As Nordic television seems to be moving towards intelligent political dramas rather than these typical crimes, many of the themes and stylings are appearing to become clichéd. Back in March, The Guardian published a rather critical review of Midnight Sun, the latest Nordic Noir export. In the article, they claimed that the originally unique aspects of Scandinavian crime have become tired clichés. And as the latest Swedish television series, The Case, was being screened at MipTV in Cannes, it was announced that David Lagercrantz was writing yet another Millennium series book, much to the distaste of loyal Stieg Larsson fans. The Case is being released at a time where it seems the genre is becoming tired.

The Case follows a gritty crime in Norrbacka, Sweden, while poking fun at the crime dramas before it. The story is like many well-known Nordic crime series: while visiting Norrbacka, a British man becomes the victim of a beastly murder. Sophie Borg (Lisa Henni) from Stockholm homicide is assigned the case. A loner who has a habit of ignoring direct orders and has serious problems cooperating with others, Sophie recently accidentally killed Olaf Palme’s killer rather than arresting him and is close to being fired. She is paired up with British detective Tom Brown (Adam Godley, Breaking Bad), who is jumpy, scared of conflict, and prefers to avoid violence.

Intelligently written, The Case references popular titles in a creative and interesting way. While it is easy for satire to feel forced, The Case never struggles to make the connections between the much-loved Nordic Noir titles and the fact that it is making fun of the genre. For example, Tom is asked if he studied Wallander before travelling to Sweden, Sophie’s behaviour is a reference to the cold female detectives found in The Killing and The Bridge, and the opening scene of her failing to arrest Olaf Palme’s killer references one of the biggest mysteries in recent Swedish history.  But The Case isn’t just poking at Nordic Noir; rather it is satirising Sweden as a whole. In a conversation Tom has with his mother, the following quote is said:

Mother: “What did you expect? You read Stieg Larsson!”

Tom: “Stieg Larsson was jolly compared to the real Sweden.”

This is what makes The Case so interesting. It’s hard to find ways to make something funny for both local and international audiences, and it’s especially hard to reference a genre often regarded as dark, gloomy and serious. But The Case allows for space for both Swedes and British audiences to find it funny. For example, Tom’s very British personality is humour suited to the Swede’s, but the overall portrayal of Sweden will be humorous to any Brit who’s travelled to Sweden. The series has a unique charm to its humour that channels Welcome to Sweden and The Bonus Family, with some added elements of Swedish Dicks thrown in. And The Case isn’t just a parody of Nordic Noir; there actually is a very serious murder mystery underneath all the humour. So, where most would struggle to find the line between intelligent satire and absurd comedy, The Case finds its feet.

Overall, The Case is an intelligent take on the current Nordic Noir climate. Rather than tarnish the brands name, it casts it in a new, slightly brighter, light. Adam Godley is a real highlight of the series; he is constantly confused by the Swedish attitude, customs, and country. In a world where every new Swedish television series is starting to look the same, The Case is witty, unique, and intriguing that breathes new life into the term Nordic Noir. •

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.