What is it about Scandinavian TV dramas that makes them so much more nourishing than everything else on the menu? Could it simply be the subtitles force us to actually watch and appreciate it, instead of half-listening while scrolling Instagram on our phones?
New TVNZ OnDemand series Greyzone, a Swedish-Danish-German co-production, is the latest show for connoisseurs of Borgen and The Killing to savour. But is it really that good, or is it just Homeland in a variety of European languages? The answer: it's sort of both.
At least it's not another dark, gritty police procedural — not quite. We've moved on now, it seems, to action-packed terrorism hostage thrillers, which is a welcome change of pace.
If you've been put off Scandinavian drama in the past — fair enough, they can seem like quite a lot of work — this one would make a good starting point.
It starts with a truck stopped at the Swedish border by no-nonsense detective Eva Forsberg (Tova Magnusson) acting on a tip-off from German police. You can tell this is a higher class of television when she speeds into the port, but a cut just before she slams on the brakes means you don't get to see the car screech to a dramatic halt.
The truck, it turns out, has a bloody massive missile head concealed behind a false wall. When the smugglers figure out the cops are on to them, there's a bit of a shootout, and the body count begins. This is all before the opening credits. No mucking around here.
The situation becomes clearer when Eva meets a guy from the Swedish intelligence service who says the missile she found is one of two stolen in Greece a couple of years earlier. The other one, they reckon, is already in Sweden.
"The explosive power of such a missile is huge," he declares, leaning back in his chair with his arms folded.
Meanwhile, at a drone conference in Frankfurt, talented drone engineer Victoria Rahbek (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, whose previous acting credits span Borgen to Pitch Perfect 2) is unveiling her company's latest bit of kit. After her presentation she meets a guy called Iyad, who claims to be a journalist — a very strong indicator that he is not to be trusted.
No surprise, then, when he later sticks her in the neck with a giant syringe. She is held captive in her own home, forced to watch surveillance video of her young son in a hotel room in Paris, and is told he will be knocked off should she fail to co-operate with Iyad and associates in what seems an unusually competent and well-organised terror plot.
The two strands converge to create a high-stakes, grippingly paced and highly entertaining drama — there's no way you're reaching the end of the first episode without immediately launching into the next. The 10-part series gets only more rewarding, the action more fraught and complex, the deeper you get.
Maybe those Scandinavian TV connoisseurs are on to something.
• Greyzone available through TVNZ OnDemand