Judge Jason Panella prefers his Danish with cheese.
Sacrifice everything for your family…except power.
As a critical and commercial hit in both Denmark and the UK, does Borgen: Season 1 deserve all its acclaim? Yes.
Facts of the Case
Moderate Party leader Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen, After the Wedding) unexpectedly becomes Denmark's first female prime minister after severe campaign misfires from her front-running competitors. Nyborg learns how difficult the job can be, especially when trying to find the balance between sticking to her ideals and getting things accomplished.
Like Forbrydelsen (remade in the States as AMC's The Killing) and The Bridge before it, Borgen provides yet more evidence that Denmark is cranking out some outstanding television programs.
Borgen—Danish for "The Castle," the nickname for the building that houses Denmark's government—revolves around new Prime Minister Nyborg and how she deals with her responsibilities. It's an uphill climb, not only because of the institutional push-back from Denmark's old boys' club, but also the stresses Nyborg's new job creates for her family. The show also follows Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), a young television journalist; and Kasper Juul (Johan Asbæk), Nyborg's incredibly talented and amoral public relations specialist. The lives of the three central characters often intertwine in fairly natural ways, and episodes spend as much time watching their personal lives as it explores various political dilemmas. Like Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing, Borgen treats its characters like real people with real problems both at work and at home. This is where the show really clicks, as these conflicts in the characters' personal lives are as urgent as those in the government. In fact, there's no clear demarcation between the two, often leading to some gut-punches that play out organically.
The cast rarely hits any false notes. Asbæk in particular is fascinating as Juul, one of those characters you can't decide if you want to root for or against. Borgen is populated with a strong supporting cast that breathes life into its scenes. Show creator Adam Price (Anna Pihl) and his writing team give their minor characters enough attention that they feel like real people, not talking plot points.
While each hour-long episode follows a rough political crisis-of-the-week, they nicely frame each situation into a larger national—and personal—context. Some of the plots are telegraphed a bit too early, but the foreshadowing really works. Viewers will be able to spot certain developments coming from a mile away, but it's to the show's credit this makes things all the more dramatic. You can't dodge what's coming, and neither can these characters. It fits in with one of the show's takeaways: the political world can leave a wake of personal ruin wherever it goes to which no one is immune. There are a handful of bright spots in the ten episodes of Borgen: Season 1 and they're hard won.
MHz Network's four-disc set looks and sounds great. The 2.35:1 widescreen transfer looks sharp and provides some starkly beautiful cinematography. The Danish language Dolby 2.0 Stereo track sounds great, giving Halfdan E's excellent score room to stretch without crowding out the dialogue. The absence of bonus material is disappointing, but at least the show is available in Region 1!
A well-made, engaging program. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MHz Networks
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