A lively and tense drama set during the height of the Cold War, it follows a young East German boarder guard who is forced into serving his country as a spy in the West German capital. Against a soundtrack of early 80s music (including ’99 Luftballons’, what else?) and the threat of nuclear annihilation, Moritz fumbles his way through espionage and starts to question his loyalties. Nail-biting scenes and plenty of dark humour. The next season, Deutschland 86, premieres this autumn.
The Killing (Forbrydelsen)
Season one of this Danish crime procedural follows Sarah Lund, an iconic detective clad in enviable knitwear, as she investigates the disappearance of a teenage girl. Decked out in her cosy threads against a drizzly Copenhagen, she finds a dark story where a family tragedy becomes gradually entwined with a local political scandal. The plot arc covers the entire season, which at 22 episodes is long for a European drama, and it is essential to watch from start to finish. You would be hard pressed to find a better scripted, or better plotted crime series from the last ten years (but try out the Danish-Swedish show The Bridge when you’re done). For a detective show with less of a time commitment, Sweden’s Wallander has stand-alone episodes.
Thicker Than Water (Tjockare än vatten)
This is an excellent family drama and quite different from most of the super bleak Scandinavian shows which get exported (see directly above). The Waldemar family owns a rustic hotel on a sunny Swedish island, and with the father long gone, matriarch Anna-Lisa runs the show with her loyal son Oskar. Season one starts with her summoning her two other adult children (a struggling actress and a failed restaurateur) back to the homestead with a peculiar proposition. The three siblings have no idea what the summer has in store for them, but scores will be settled and secrets will be uncovered. The characters are so well drawn and the realism underscores what is an engrossing and tense drama.