Swedish Cracker leaves me cold

sebastian bergman (bbc4, sat) eurovision song contest (rte1/bbc1, sat) the south bank show (sky arts, sun)

Pat Stacey

ANOTHER Saturday night, another Scandinavian thriller on BBC4. Say hello, or "hej" as they say in Sweden, to Sebastian Bergman, an unconventional criminal profiler played by Rolf Lassgard, who was television's first Wallander.

But fans of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge shouldn't start throwing around the superlatives just yet. While Sebastian Bergman has the sombre, wintry visuals and melancholy tone of its predecessors, it's also fairly routine stuff: a self-contained story in which all the red herrings are sniffed out, the killer exposed and the loose ends neatly tied up in 90 minutes.

It's more than a touch derivative, too. Like Robbie Coltrane's Fitz in Cracker, Bergman is a flawed, rumpled bear of a man. Unlike Fitz, his weaknesses aren't for gambling or the booze but the opposite sex.

Before the halfway point, Bergen had put the moves on an audience member at one of his book readings, a teacher linked to the case and even the victim's mother.

But as with all imperfect heroes, this predatory behaviour masks a private pain. Bergman is grieving for his wife and four-year-old daughter, who were swept away in the 2004 tsunami while he held their hands. He suffers nightmares and, when alone, is prone to slump to the floor sobbing.

As murder mysteries go, the plot -- which saw Bergman coming out of retirement to help the murder of a man who'd been shot, stabbed 36 times and had his heart hacked out -- sprang few surprises. That old whodunit rule about picking the character that looks the least likely to be the killer held true.

Then again, the Sherlock Holmes stories were often more about characterisation than plot, while it was possible to enjoy an entire episode of Inspector Morse without guessing, or even caring, who the murderer was, simply for the pleasure of watching John Thaw.

Lassgard, who could be Sean Bean's older, chubbier brother, is the main attraction here. He's fantastic in the role: grumpy, borderline sexist, and contemptuous of idiocy and authority, but with a huge streak of vulnerability. Yet even his appealing performance couldn't make you swallow a final twist, involving a grown-up daughter Bergman never knew he had, that stretched the credibility thread to snapping point.

There are only two episodes of Sebastian Bergman, so there's little chance of being attached to it. It will plug that Scandi-shaped gap till something else comes along, though.

So it's back to the drawing board after Jedward's eighth-from-bottom finish in the Eurovision. Or maybe it's just time to throw the drawing board in the bin and just pull out of the thing.

Whatever you feel about the Grimes twins, their song and performance were no worse than most of the entries, and far better than some that ended up near the top of the voting table -- not least the abysmal Russian grannies, who finished in second place.

It can't all be blamed on political voting, either. What became apparent during Saturday's punishing, three-and-half-hour marathon was that what Irish and British audiences consider good pop music and what most of the rest of Europe likes to listen to are separated by a cultural gap so wide as to be almost unbridgeable.

The South Bank Show returned, albeit in a new home, Sky Arts 1 with Lloyd Webber's famous theme tune and Melvyn Bragg's even more famous hair present and correct.

The first edition focused on theatre director Nicholas Hytner, following him from Britain's National Theatre to Broadway, where he's directing a hit production of One Man, Two Guvnors.

Maybe this wasn't the type of subject to reel in a broad audience, but then the appeal of The South Bank Show has always been its something-for-everyone eclecticism.

It's great to have it back.

sebastian bergman HHHII eurovision song contest HHHII the south bank show HHHII