Annika Bengtzon, Crime Reporter: Episodes 1-3 & 4-6: By-the-Book Swedish Crime Drama Needs a New Author

I found myself wishing each episode was done by about the halfway point.
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If you are a TV producer looking to make a new, popular, and successful new show, the logical choice is to do some sort of crime drama.  Historically, those things make buckets of money all over the world.  If you don't want to have your primary characters be actual police detectives - because that would be too cliche - you still have a myriad of ideas to choose from.  Your protagonists could be medieval monks who happen to solve mysteries, or Catholic Priests, or medical examiners.  Or maybe you could go with a private detective or a little old lady. Weird side-kicks are always good for a draw say an an animal companion or a robot or there's always a talking car.

Or maybe you aren't that afraid of cliche then you could just do the second easiest type of crime show and make your protagonist a reporter.  Newspaper people are easy to fit because presumably they are already writing about crime and they have similar investigative skills as detectives.  In fact you can throw in a sexy cop as a possible love interest and have all sorts of possibilities.

The writers for Annika Bengtzon don't seem too concerned about cliche both in making the character a crime reporter for a Stockholm newspaper nor in any other aspect of the show.  Each episode is so formulaic you might as well call it NCIS: Sweden. Bengtzon (Malin Crépin) is an ace reporter who, once she gets ahold of a good story, won't let go no matter who - her bosses, husband, or psycho murderers that seemingly attack her every episode - wants her to give it up. 

The show follows the standard crime-drama formula.  Someone is killed in the early minutes and Bengtzon investigates.  She normally sees something more in the case than her bosses and spends much of the episode arguing with them and going behind their backs to investigate further.  The police are unhelpful and rather useless.  She uses her inexhaustible list of sources to make new discoveries into the case.  There's always some drama with her family - usually involving her husband complaining she works too much.  Then she single-handedly finds the killer and usually gets tangled up so close to the case that she's nearly killed by the murderer.  Same story, different episode.  Over and over again.

It isn't that you can't grind out something good from tired, old formulas.  There have been any number of dramas who used the same template and come up with something enjoyable.  House was basically the same plot told hundreds of times, and yet I quite liked the first several seasons of it. The Closer, Remington Steele, Law and Order never ventured far from the same type of plots and yet they were able to create really good shows from it. 

Where those shows excelled and Annika Bengtzon fails is in the characters and the writing.  In order to watch the same plot over and over again you need to care about the characters, you need to become involved in their fictional lives.  I don't watch The Closer because I'm all that invested in who actually killed the victim of the week, but I kept coming back because Brenda Leigh Johnson is an interesting character and I enjoyed seeing how her life continued to change.  I just purchased the entire series of Remington Steele because the writing remains sharp and entertaining even if the show is dated and the plots rather ridiculous.

Annika Bengtzon never made me care about the characters.  It's too bad because in all other ways it is a very well-made show.  The actors are very good; the direction and cinematography are all quality work.  But the crimes aren't original, and the writing generally falls flat.  Over the course of six episodes, I never found myself all that interested in the lives of any of the people populating the show. 

It does improve over the course of these episodes and the last one in the second set, "A Place in the Sun," is the best one, but even it is beset by ridiculous plot points.  In it, Annika travels to Spain to investigate the possible murder of a Swedish hockey player.  There are some nice moments with her having to deal with a new boss and fighting over what exactly the story should be but they are overshadowed by too many improbably circumstances.

It isn't a terrible show.  As mentioned, the production values are good and the acting is well done. Were the episodes more American in style - trimmed to 45 minutes or so - instead of the hour and a half length they are given here, I could find myself forgiving some of the more outrageous plot points.  But as it is, I found myself wishing each episode was done by about the halfway point.  There just isn't enough substance to justify a feature film length.

Each DVD set contains three episodes, each on a separate DVD.  They are in Swedish with English subtitles.  The only extras are trailers for the episodes.  

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