If American television is any arbiter of modern crime, then it stands to reason that science has become the new Sherlock Holmes. Any number of CSI programs reminds us to “follow the evidence,” reducing the art of deductive reasoning to matching fingerprints, analyzing DNA, and identifying the requisite fibers. Long gone are the procedurals wherein a smart and savvy detective underwent sessions of multiple questions with one subject after another, and this has had the singular effect – in my humble of opinion – of removing any real emphasis of ‘character’ on the various players of any mystery while, instead, ratcheting up the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the chief detective. Sure, there are several hybrids on the air – TNT’s stellar program THE CLOSER and its spin-off MAJOR CRIMES immediately come to mind – but, for the most part, the lion’s share of any hour-long investigation focusing squarely on the science being used to still conclude that “the butler did it” without the butler being asked a single question.
To my surprise, ANNIKA BENGTZON is a throwback to simpler times.
(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 …)
Annika Bengtzon (played by the charming Malin Crepin) serves as the senior crime reporter for a major European newspaper/magazine. This release includes the first three Swedish telefilms that explore Ms. Bengtzon’s adventures and exploits as the woman who can’t just stop at reporting the crimes: she needs to solve them!
“Nobel’s Last Will” (5 out of 5 stars): While covering the annual banquet celebrating the recipients of the various Nobel Peaces prizes, Bengtzon witnesses a double homicide. As the key witness, the police defy her writing about the entire incident, which only forces her to dig further and further into the events in order to uncover the secret of a lifetime. For my tastes, this is the best single film in the package; the story is clearly the most ‘organic’ and/or ‘plausible’ given its construction, and it’s a terrific introduction to a winning character.
“Prime Time” (4 out of 5 stars): A famous TV host is found dead on the eve of her departure from her initial ‘discovery.’ Naturally, everyone in attendance is under suspicion. Bengtzon bucks the trend of investigating the ‘usual suspects,’ and she learns that a close, personal friend may very well have been tied up in the whole affair. It’s another solid entry, but the B story – that involving the reporter’s curiously disinterested boyfriend caring for her children while she’s away – weighs down an otherwise solid tale.
“Studio Sex” (3 out of 5 stars): A stripper from a local club called “Studio Sex” is found murdered, but the real tragedy is how the establishment appears to be tied up in a burgeoning government scandal. In order to uncover what really happened, Bengtzon risks life and limb to get a job inside the club … and she nearly pays the ultimate price! It’s the least effective of the first three telefilms, mostly because our plucky reporter is given her own dark, personal secret that ignites her passion to know more about “Studio Sex” than perhaps the average reporter would; and much of it ‘felt’ manufactured (to me) as a consequence.
At the heart of these stories is a brilliant main performance by Crepin. She embodies Bengtzon with perhaps more moral conviction than most reporters these days have, but she’s always insistent on ‘getting to the bottom of it’ because she can’t personally tolerate seeing perpetrators get away with their nefarious deeds. It’s the kind of thing American TV did in the late 70’s and 80’s, so while some critics might dismiss it as being derivative, this one found it laced with just the right amount of mystery and nostalgia. Plus, Crepin is easy on the eyes and makes a convincing sleuth, never a bad thing for any program.
ANNIKA BENGTZON: CRIME REPORTER (EPISODES 1 – 3) is produced by Yellow Bird Films, Degeto Film, TV4 Nordisk Television, and Nordisk Film. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through MHz Networks. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Swedish-spoken-language release with English subtitles available. As for the technical specifications … wow! This is one smartly produced program as the video and audio quality are consistently superb. Sadly, there are no special features to speak of, except for the usual trailers for each installment.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. While it lacks the cutting edge science and forensics so popular with most of today’s police procedurals, ANNIKA BENGTZON: CRIME REPORTER is a respectable, excellently produced mystery series done as a throwback to the shows of old when the chief detective – here a schooled journalist – rose to the occasion of fighting crime by way of good, old-fashioned book smarts. It’s all about dismantling the alibi and uncovering the motive. On that front, BENGTZON excels. It may not bring scores of new fans to the genre, but it’ll definitely tide us over until the next murder takes place, and the game is afoot anew.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MHz Networks provided me with a DVD copy of ANNIKA BENGTZON: CRIME REPORTER (EPISODES 1 – 3) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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