Binge-r #149: Borgen + Another Life
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming, plus S2 and S3
It is nine years since the first season of this supremely watchable Danish political drama debuted, but it plays as if it’s barely aged a day. Partly that’s a reflection of how the concerns of creator Adam Price and his writing team still apply to Australia today – a political coalition cracks in the first episode over a disagreement on how to treat asylum seekers – but above that there’s the simple reality that Borgen is an exceptionally well made series about timeless topics: what do you give up to gain power? Can you change the system or does it change you? Can a female political leader receive equal treatment? If you weren’t watching in 2010, now’s the time to take in all three recently added seasons on SBS on Demand.
The focus for this political vortex is Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the leader of a smaller centrist political party that profits from a turbulent final few days in a Danish general election campaign to become a major seat holder. Birgitte is a hopeful realist – she’ll speak the truth on occasion, but cut deals when required, and Knudsen never fails to provide a sense of someone dragged one way and another by conflicting needs. The contrast is her charming media advisor, Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek), whose feel for expediency gets him into trouble more than it gnaws on his conscience. A sharply sketched supporting cast surrounds them, vexing Birgitte’s quest to become Denmark’s first female Prime Minister and then govern successfully.
Do not think this is a dry drama. The first episode has a dead body, a political spouse having a very public meltdown, colleagues betraying one another, and an illicit affair. But no matter how salacious, the scandals always tie back into the deeper commentary on morality and leadership. Borgen is also particularly sharp on how the media is too closely connected to the political class, with a sharp young reporter, Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson), crossing boundaries with and without the encouragement of her superiors. My favourite running gag in the first few episodes is a Greens leader, Amir Dawan (Dar Salim), who keeps enthusiastically saying the same thing – “let’s get Denmark back on track!” – to whoever he thinks can form a government. Get your viewing back on track with Borgen.
ANOTHER LIFE S1 (Netflix, 10 episodes): No genre makes it failings more readily apparent than science-fiction: when it’s bad you’ll quickly know. That’s the case with this first contact drama, which begins with the arrival on Earth of “the Artefact”, a shoddily designed monolith whose unknowable transmission necessitates sending humans to its distant home world. Responsibility for the mission falls on astronaut Niko Breckinridge (Katee Sackhoff), whose husband Erik (Justin Chatwin) is handily in charge of trying to communicate with the alien hub. The problem isn’t just that you can tick off the influences – Arrival, Alien, Event Horizon – it’s how badly they’re assimilated. The dialogue is boilerplate, the effects work shoddy (the actors jump around and the camera shakes to indicate space turbulence), and the body horror jury-rigged. The setting is some point in the future, but that mainly allows for very powerful tablet computing and a chill approach to discipline on the ship which quickly proves disastrous. Sackhoff does her best, but it’s criminal she’s headlining this mess when she was integral to the century’s best sci-fi series: Battlestar Galactica. Now why isn’t that available to stream?
>> Good Show/New Season: The second season of Netflix’s Canadian sitcom Workin’ Moms is now available, and the comedy about four women swapping mothers’ group for the workplace is definitely worth checking out. In March I praised the first season for its “messy mix of black humour and astute self-awareness” [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982, 108 minutes) remains a savagely fearful horror film, with the crew of a research station in Antarctica – hello 30-year-old Kurt Russell – losing their lives and sense of identity to an alien creature that takes the form of its last kill; George Clooney muddles an old Coen brothers script with Suburbicon (2017, 105 minutes), a noir-like 1950s black comedy starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore.
New on SBS on Demand: Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on disaster flicks: The Wave (2015, 105 minutes) is a tidy, effective Norwegian survival thriller – it involves a fjord – about a looming tsunami, the scientist racing to warn people, and the townsfolk trying to escape. The handy digital effects come at a believable scale, which is a welcome change.
New on Stan: Recreating an FBI investigation from the 1970s with a cast that includes Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and a never better Christian Bale, David O. Russell’s love of antagonistic energy and abrasive personalities finds a melancholic heart amidst the many self-destructive scams of the compelling American Hustle (2013, 139 minutes); 13 Going on 30 (2004, 119 minutes) is still peak Jennifer Garner.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the weekly e-mail.