Based on a series of 10 novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Beck is a Swedish crime drama that revolves around a group of murder police in the city of Stockholm. The MHZ Networks have been showing the series via their television stations and continue to release it on DVD.
Volume 7 and 8 contains three episodes a piece (Vol. 7 contains episodes 19-21 and 8 has 22-24.) Like many European crime dramas, each episode is really a movie - with a run time of 1 hour 30 - which allows it more time to develop its story than the typical 40 minute American drama.
The format is very similar to that of the average American cop show with a murder being committed at the beginning and the cops spending the rest of the episode trying to catch the criminal and wrapping up nicely by its end. Each episode is self contained allowing the viewer to jump into the middle of the series without much problem. I had never seen an episode until #22 and had no difficulties understanding what was going on. Like most shows of its type, there are running subplots involving the relationships of the police between each other, family members. and varying sets of lovers.
Martin Beck (Peter Haber) is the leader of the murder squad. He is quiet, respectful, plays by the rules, and generally a failure in his personal life but brilliant at studying the details and methodically solving the cases. His long-time partner, Gunvald (Mikael Persbrandt), is the live wire - hot headed, emotional, and willing to break the rules if it helps him catch the bad guys. Together, along with several other members of the team, they solve Stockholm's most violent and notorious cases.
If that set up sounds like every other buddy cop film you've seen, well, you'd be right. There isn't a lot that's original in Beck, but what is there is done very well. The actors (especially Haber) perform very well, and the execution is solid. At its best, Beck takes the standard tropes of the crime drama and works them for all they are worth.
My favorite episode, The Weak Link , about a young woman brutally raped and murder in a park, wanders away from the cliched crime TV action and instead delivers some real drama. There's still plenty of mystery and plot twists but interjected into the action are these small moments with the parents trying to deal with their grief. These scenes give the episode a weight not generally found in such shows. Other episodes find similar ways in which to ground the show in the human drama of every day.
Some times the show flounders in the sea of mediocrity so familiar with this genre. There are the standard sexual deviants, murderous religious nuts, and a couple of moments so ridiculous any attempt at maintaining a suspension of disbelief is simply impossible. For example, in one episode the daughter of one of the cops is being held hostage by a master criminal organization. The ransom is a hard drive taken from them by one of the cops. They set up a drop and ridiculously meet the cop without any disguise at all. For master criminals it's pretty stupid to commit a crime that guarantees you will be hunted down forever and set it up so the cop knows who you are. The police don't do much better as the cop runs out of the police station for the meet completely alone, without any sort of back-up.
These moments aside the show is very enjoyable, and draws you in with each episode. My wife, ever the busy woman, sat down with me for the first episode. When it was over, I asked her what she thought and she said, "it was ok, but I got other things to do." For the next episode, she sat in an adjacent room with a good line of sight to the television. She did whatever task was before her, looking up during moments of high drama or action. But within the last half hour she was back on the couch glued to the screen. For the next episode, she kept herself in the living room but kept her notebook in hand to do some more work. And by the fourth episode, she gave up all pretext of doing anything else and admitted her addiction.
Beck is like that. The more you watch the more you want to see. I see myself grabbing the previous six volumes very soon and watching all the Beck that I can.