In my recent review of Annika Bengtzon, I noted that there are many crime dramas able to push through the clichés of the genre and still create good television. With great writing and good characters, the plots can still be contrived and I’ll still be riveted. Detective Inspector Irene Huss is one such show.
Irene Huss (Angela Kovacs) is the lead detective for the Violent Crimes Unit in Gothenburg, Sweden. She has a curmudgeon-y old-man boss who cringes at her no-nonsense methods; a group of eclectic, wise-cracking police on her team; and a loving family at home. You could call it the Swedish The Closer if you wanted. It is more than just superficially similar to that TNT drama as well. Both shows take the tropes of the crime genre and elevate them to something really enjoyable.
Huss’s unit investigates internet stalkers, pedophiles, serial killers, and gangsters who go after her family. That’s pretty much the classic list of the genre’s baddies. She has personal drama with her family and clashes with her bosses. The plots are formulaic and repetitive with endings that are often completely unbelievable. And yet there I sat, episode after episode, hour after hour, glued to my TV.
The reason for this is that beyond the clichés everything else about the show clicks perfectly. The characters are interesting and even the smaller parts are given depth. The writing crackles and sparks and hits the right emotional notes even if the plots grow tiresome. Kovacs is excellent as Huss, who has to balance her careers, her quirky team, and her family life. The rest of the unit is quite good too with Dag Malmberg being my favorite as the long-in-the-tooth Jonny Blom who hates technology but is an old pro at old-school police work. The scenes with the family are well done too. Unlike most cop shows, her husband, Krister (Reuben Sallmander) is rarely a source of conflict and typically does nothing but support her dedication to the job. It is her teenage daughters that usually do the exasperating.
The plots really do get obnoxious, especially at their conclusions. There is one episode where the team is looking for a serial killer. This guy is meticulous in his planning and exacting in cleaning of the bodies. He is so elusive they spent the entire episode being outsmarted by him. But then in the last 15 minutes he suddenly decides to go after Irene by ramming her with his car and chasing her with his gun. It is such a sloppy and cheap way to end the episode and so unfitting with the rest of the episode.
In another episode, Irene’s husband and daughter are repeatedly threatened by mobsters and she (nor any of the rest of the police) do anything more than they seem to do with any other case. In an American show, we’d see every cop in the city personally harassing the villains and the prosecutors and judges doing everything to help. Here, the prosecutor refuses to give out wire-tap warrants and the cops seem to have their hands tied by obeying every rule in the book. Perhaps that’s just a difference in the way the Swedes and the Americans do things. But it felt off. I’ll allow it to be chiseled up to cultural differences though.
In that episode there is a moment when the mobsters are on the phone with Krister making threats to his daughter. It is the type of scene you’ll find in pretty much any crime drama if you watch it long enough, but I find myself at the edge of my seat, completely emotionally involved. I teared up watching the father pulling the daughter out of the restaurant in order to save her from the bomb and cheered to myself when they were safe. That’s Irene Huss in a nutshell. Clichéd story line, brilliant execution.
Each set comes with three episodes. Each episode runs about 90 minutes and fill one disk each. The titles for Episodes 7-9 are: “The Hidden Watcher,” “The Treacherous Net,” and “The Man with the Small Face.” Episodes 10-12 are entitled “Ring of Silence,” “Protected by Shadows,” and “The Hunted Witness.” There are no special features.