It used to be that more and more students headed toward college wanted to study journalism. And why not? Who wouldn’t want a job where you were paid well to spend a great deal of your time speaking with people? That isn’t meant as an insult. As one who briefly considered journalism myself many moons ago, I can certainly appreciate the hard work it takes to crack any story, let alone one that’ll make headlines. However, the newspaper business ain’t what it used to be, as they say, so less and less interest seems to be heading that way.
The world of ANNIKA BENGTZON might confuse you. There’s still an awful lot and glamor and glitz associated to print media. Though her paper is part of a larger media conglomerate, methinks there’s still a healthy amount of cynicism viewers should use in viewing her responsibilities as an ace crime reporter. No doubt, Bengtzon is the exception to the rule; the rule itself is a dying business.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type 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 …)
Odds are that, if you’re here reading this, then you’re familiar with the Swedish series focusing on an intrepid crime reporter – the lovely Annika Bengtzon (as played by the equally lovely Malin Crepin) – as she goes about trying to not only report on the ‘wrongs’ but see them ‘righted.’ Not only that, but the show gives more than just passing lip service to her other roles in life, that of a mother and a wife. All that’s really left then is for me to detail to some lesser degree how well each installment here works. For the record, there are three of them: a good one, a great one, and … well … not so good.
“The Red Wolf” (3 of 5 stars): Bengtzon is drawn into the murder of a fellow journalist who had nurtured a long-time conspiracy theory involving a locally famous terrorist attack from thirty years ago. Suffice it to say, his demise means he was definitely on to something, and Bengtzon races against time to expose a decades old cover-up before yesterday’s Leftists become today’s ruling elite. It’s a good story – a bit dreary in tones and setting compared to what’s come before in this series – and, frankly, it’s all a bit muddled come the ending. Our reporter does suffer a pretty intense beat down in the finale, but – ever the trooper – she’s get back up and still manages to save the day. (I found that a bit hard to swallow.)
“Lifetime” (5 of 5 stars): Of all the Bengtzon procedurals I’ve seen, this is by far my favorite. It has everything, and that’s precisely because it allows so many smaller storylines that have been hanging on – Annika’s failed marriage, Annika’s questionable role as a mother, Annika’s obsession with her work, etc. – to come to a head. What looks like a celebrity murder turns out to have even darker secrets in wait, and our reporter must rely on the assistance of an inexperienced female officer in order to break through some procedural red tape and get to the truth. What she learns will force her to re-evaluate how she’s lived her life thus far, and it’ll also put her on a path toward (possibly) a brighter tomorrow.
“A Place in the Sun” (2 of 5 stars): Unfortunately, that ‘brighter tomorrow’ I spoke of above all turned out to be a bit of a well-structured creative ruse as Bengtzon is sent off to Costa del Sol, Spain, to investigate the high-profile murder of a former Swedish hockey great. What looks like a burglary gone horribly wrong quickly becomes something else, and the reporter will be forced to travel into some very dark places in order to piece together what really happened. For all of its nice moments (great setting, nice romantic subplot, and even the hint of a reconciliation of sorts with her ex-husband) falls apart in the story’s last 15 minutes with a stunningly ridiculous development in the whodunit department. Suffice it to say, this ‘place’ stretched credibility too far to ever be recovered.
ANNIKA BENGTZON, CRIME REPORTER: EPISODES 4-6  is produced by Yellow Bird Films, Degeto Film, TV4 Nordisk Television, Nordisk Film, and Filmpool Nord. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by MHZ Networks. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, here you go: this is a Swedish spoken language release with English subtitles available. (No, there is no English dubbed track.) As for the technical specifications, I’m increasingly impressed with the quality of the sight and sound that goes into BENGTZON; it’s nothing short of incredible, though some of the shooting locations this time around were far from the glamor of past installments. Sadly – as is too often the case when these foreign productions find release on American shores – there are no special features to speak of. (Shame on you, Sweden! For shame!)
RECOMMENDED. For all practical intents, I’d encourage you definitely to check out “The Red Wolf” and “Lifetime,” but I’m really struggling with giving “A Place in the Sun” even a weak recommendation. Arguably, it’s the best produced of the three, but it has the weakest narrative because too much of it is centered entirely on coincidences. In the world of hard reporting, coincidences of this magnitude don’t take place; when they rear their ugly heads in quality fiction, they usually spell certain doom. Skip it … unless you’d like to see Malin Crepin’s assets (briefly) on display. At least, there is that highpoint.
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: THE RED WOLF by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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