As any purveyor of crime stories will tell you, these days the police procedural isn’t so much about the crime as it is the chief detective and his or her ‘team’ of professionals. In fact, one could argue that, no matter where the crime takes place, what matters most is the ‘local flavor’ or ‘color’ provided by the lead detective. For example, Las Vegas – with its seedy underbelly – has the criminal forensics experts known as CSI. The American heartland has Raylan Givens, an old school cowboy tracking down the baddies in backwater Kentucky. Sweden has its own handful of like-minded sleuths, one of the more popular as of late has been Irene Huss. I had the good fortune of taking a gander at one of the latest releases from MHz Networks.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Angela Kovacs portrays the smart and mousy Detective Irene Huss, a former European ju-hutzi champion who now splits her time between stopping violent crime and raising two teenage daughters with her chef/husband. The TV series is based on a series of novels by Helene Tursten, and it explores some of the seedier elements of domestic crime, focusing largely on villains who prey on women and children who can’t otherwise defend themselves. As a lead, Kovacs does a wonderful job, bringing a largely feminine perspective to a world (police procedurals) all too often dominated by men, and she’s surrounded by a crack squad as determined as she is to see justice prevail.
This set is a collection of three telefilms (episodes 7, 8, and 9), each about 90 minutes in length and each exploring a case neatly tied up in the requisite time frame. Despite having no seen the first 6 telefilms, I experienced no difficulty whatsoever in joining this run already underway, and neither should you.
“The Hidden Watcher” (Three out of Five Stars): What starts out as a very solid investigation into modern serial killing ends up devolving into something a bit too conveniently hackneyed when Huss becomes a possible next victim in an otherwise smart script from Stephan Ahnhem. “Watcher” sports some excellent performances, as well as a few solid turns by the regulars as a new CSI specialist is brought in to round out the team. The last part, however, borders on a particular stupid conceit – the kind that usually populates a series near the end of its life. Hopefully, this isn’t a sign of things to come.
“The Treacherous Net” (Five out of Five Stars): Easily, this is the highlight of these three telefilms. “Net” explores the ever-burgeoning world of internet stalking with a nefarious killer engaging in some downright despicable behavior even after committing the hunt-and-kill portion of his escapades. The case is made highly personal when the first victim dies in Huss’s arms, and that fuels her desire to see this dastardly villain get what he ultimately deserves. Kovacs’ steely determination makes this one of the series’ high points, no doubt.
“The Man With The Small Face” (Two out of Five Stars): This outing involving car thieves, a dead child, and a retired police officer ends up feeling wildly convoluted due mostly to the fact that the script keeps trying to point further and further away from the most obvious suspect, despite an ending that inevitably ties back to the obvious culprit anyway. After a wonderful set-up, it mires itself all-too-quickly in exploring one false lead after another, almost painfully tying up the loose ends back where it all began. Seriously, it’s a bit of a slog (surprisingly) to get through, though it does offer some nice personal developments for Huss and her family.
Where I struggled with IRENE HUSS was in the investment of character: frankly, there’s very little. Ms. Kovacs does what she can to bring audiences into the fold as the lead, but the only story that truly works for me organically of these three is “The Treacherous Net,” wherein it appears Huss’s drive and intensity is finally truly matched by a compelling, interesting, and timely case involving online predators. Otherwise, these well-written, well-performed, and well-captured crime procedurals are a bit dry – they’re exceedingly well made, but they’re populated by characters not given enough to think, say, and do in order for audiences to invest or care about them beyond the scope of this drama. As much as I liked and admired Huss as a character, I just didn’t feel personally drawn to her the way I have been to other detectives (outside of the truly exceptional 8th film, “The Treacherous Net,” that was given greater resonance than the other two here).
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR IRENE HUSS: EPISODES 7-9 is produced by Illusion Film & Television, Yellow Bird Films, and Kanal 5. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through MHz Networks. As for the technical specifications, wow! These three telefilms look and sound about as solid as anything I’ve ever seen on the boob tube anywhere. For those needing it spelled out perfect, these are Swedish-spoken-language productions with English subtitles available. (There is no English-dubbed version.) As is often the case with TV releases finding distribution on a foreign shore, there are no special features to speak of, not that any are necessarily needed to enhance one’s viewing pleasure of these crime stories.
RECOMMENDED. You want to see an extremely well-made criminal procedural? Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than these additions to the world of IRENE HUSS. They’re smart. They’re relevant. They’re impressive extensions of what crime looks like in Sweden. The only shortcoming is that they’re populated with characters almost as cold and clinical as the country’s snowy landscape. The obvious stand-out here is “The Treacherous Net,” which arguably works as well as any modest thriller you’re likely to find on the big or small screen these days; the other two – while politely entertaining – feel a bit more contrived than I’d like but are still harmless diversions for this amateur sleuth.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MHz Networks provided me with a DVD copy of DETECTIVE INSPECTOR IRENE HUSS: EPISODES 7-9 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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