Borgen Season One DVD Review: The Far West Wing

Danish political drama offers compelling characters but somewhat lightweight stories.
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This Danish political drama recently received some unexpected U.S. traction when author Stephen King took to the pages of Entertainment Weekly to boldly proclaim it as the #1 TV show he watched in 2012. That’s not to say it was actually broadcast in 2012, but that’s when he watched it. The Season One set collected here was first broadcast in Denmark in 2010, and just wrapped up its third and final season earlier this month. So does Uncle Stevie know what he’s talking about, or is he just a doddering old-timer out of touch with pop culture? Well, Borgen doesn’t rise to the top of my 2012 list, but it is a strong contender for top 10.

My expectation was that the show would be similar to House of Cards, with dangerous political backbiting, murder, and a tightly serialized plot thread running throughout the season. In reality, the show is much more episodic and tame in nature, functioning something like what I imagine The West Wing was like, although I never watched that show. Rather than tension-filled high stakes stories building throughout the series, we’re treated to a collection of crisis-of-the-week plots that test the resolve of newly elected and completely virtuous Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg (expertly played by Sidse Babett Knudsen). Those tribulations aren’t limited to the workplace, as Nyborg struggles with balancing her home life with two kids and a house husband longing for a return to the workforce. As Stephen King pointed out, unlike the typical feel-good U.S. network show, there’s no rule in place that she’ll be successful with her work/home balance, and sure enough we’re in for an extremely rocky road in her marriage dynamics.

Nyborg is assisted in her political duties by her closest aide and spin doctor, Kasper Juul, a ruthless young shark who isn’t above playing dirty to get the results they need. He in turn maintains a close relationship with a driven young news anchor and former girlfriend named Katrine Fonsmark, leveraging her ever-burning desire for political access and top news to tailor press coverage of Nyborg to his exacting specifications. Other recurring characters drift through their orbits, but the show is primarily focused on those three and their often competing priorities. It’s fascinating to watch the media manipulation at work, as Fonsmark’s reporting and interviews are generally of nearly equal importance to Nyborg’s political actions in shaping public opinion. With Juul pulling Fonsmark’s strings and Nyborg quickly learning the political ropes of her newly elected position, the principal characters are all compelling and draw viewers into the action, even though that action generally fails to rise to pulse-pounding heights.

Season One is ten full one-hour episodes spread across four discs. There are no bonus features about the show, but a few trailers are included for other shows.

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