Bridging the Scandi crime gap

the bridge Saturday, BBC 4 Dirty Old Towns? Wednesday, RTE 1 Meet the Romans with Mary Beard Tuesday, BBC2

Patrick Freyne

Stereotypes about the Scandinavians have changed a bit over the years -- from monk-bothering Vikings, to nudists singing ABBA in a fjord, to the possessors of an enviable social model to, more recently, victims of a corrupt crime-ridden dystopia.

That last impression derives from a wave of complex dramas such as The Killing, Borgen and now, the truly excellent Danish/ Swedish The Bridge, which begins with a body being discovered on the Oresund Bridge between the two countries.

I'm told that for those familiar with Denmark and Sweden, as well as operating as a complex gritty thriller, this programme also explores the nuances and differences between the two.

I know little about Scandinavia, but based on The Bridge I would say that Danish people tend to be charmingly scruffy policemen who have just had a vasectomy, while Swedes are leather-trousered ice-maidens who like to pick up strangers in bars.


Of course, these descriptions may just apply to our two protagonists, "neutered Tom-cat" Martin Rohde and detached sex-kitten with Asperger's syndrome Saga Noren.

This mismatched duo ("He's had his tubes tied! She can't read social cues!" would be the movie tagline) investigate a grotesque case involving sawed-in-half ladies, poisoned homeless people and a media-savvy show-off killer, all against the backdrop of seemingly disconnected subplots and grey ennui-inspiring buildings and skies.

In another show Rohde would be the engagingly rumpled hero ("I'm tired and hungry and my d*** hurts," he moans). Here he's a likeable sidekick to Noren, a woman so disengaged she casually whips her top off in front of male colleagues and can't understand that submitting a complaint about Rohde might damage their working relationship.

On one level she's an extreme version of a US crime-drama staple: the detached work-obsessed blonde. But she also recalls a staple of the Star Trek franchise: the sexy alien who doesn't understand human emotions.

This character type was designed in sci-fi so nerds could fantasise about teaching the ways of love to someone more socially inept than themselves, but here Noren's extreme lack of empathy heightens The Bridge's dark noir flavour. So as Rohde silently weeps while reading the diary of a murdered prostitute (he's such a Dane!) elsewhere Noren concludes some anonymous love-making by casually whipping out her laptop to gaze impassively at eviscerated murder victims.

She's such a Swede! Brilliant stuff all the same.

Dirty Old Towns? is a charming, uplifting programme in which the Irish compensate for the lack of a Scandinavian social model, with volunteering, community and Diarmuid Gavin.

The clean-up projects on display are driven by passionate locals eager to create murals, pick up litter and avoid the displeasure of Gavin who descends upon the various towns like a fashionably casual feudal lord (think Lord Eddard Stark via Top Man).


When not engaging with the townsfolk, Gavin retreats to address the camera in what must be his lair -- a dark warehouse space featuring bare floorboards, a chair and projections on the wall. There he must slumber and feed before being called upon to survey the work of his underlings.

This week, a disused army fort in Crosshaven is transformed into a bright airy tea-room, but the endeavour is, for a time, held up by conservation red tape.

The local leaders seem sweetly fearful of Gavin's disappointment, and greet him like the designers of the Death Star greeting Darth Vader. Why does he want a seaside fort so badly? I suspect ambitions of empire.

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard is about another dirty old town. The wonderful Beard shows us ancient Rome as lived in, not by emperors, but by ordinary people, and she earthily explains the Roman social model.

"This is how we have to imagine the ancient city," she says chattily, sitting on an excavated communal toilet, "everyone s***ing together."

The Bridge HHHHI

Dirty Old Towns? HHHII

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard HHHHI