Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beck: the TV series

I recently watched a couple of episodes from the first season of the Beck Swedish TV series, based on some of the characters from the Sjöwall/Wahlöö books but not on the books themselves, from 1997. The two I saw are Spår i Mörker (called Night Vision in the subtitles, but the original Swedish is more like Traces in the Dark) and Money Man (the title is in English in the original). They have simplified Martin Beck's character (as played by Peter Haber he's still dedicated to his job to the point of workaholism, but he's somewhat less moody and he isn't making ship models) and his family (his ex-wife is nowhere to be seen and early on in the series Beck's son is killed off). What remains is the stock situation of the Scandinavian detective, loner cop with angry daughter (as seen most famously in Henning Mankell's Wallander but also in Arnaldur Idri∂ason's Erlendur, with echoes in some others, such as Van Veeteren's incarcerated son in Håkan Nesser's books). As with Wallander's Linda, Beck's Inger is getting less angry and settling down, and is sometimes targeted by the criminals her father is pursuing. The films are more routine TV-cop-show than the '93 Swedish series based on six of the original Martin Beck novels (with Gösta Eckman marvelously inhabiting the lead role), and the only other characters that carry over are Inger and the well dressed but politically incorrect Gunvald Larsson (now played with flair by Mikael Persbrandt, who's also interesting in the 2007 Swedish film Gangster). The new Beck frequently uses typical TV plots, as in Money Man's pursuit of a career criminal with links to Beck's own early career, but occasionally, as in Night Vision, the writing veers toward the Sjöwall/Wahlöö style of plotting, a crime that the police brass and the press have blow into a huge conspiracy but Beck's team discover criminals motivated instead by family disaster and social ills (and, in Night Vision, also by Dungeons and Dragons type video games--one of the players being a young woman who might have been a model for Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth, there are a number of parallels). Some of the new crop of Scandinavian TV cop shows, such as Varg Veum (more on a new episode of that shortly) are more up to the standard of the '93 Martin Beck, though the '97 Beck (and its later seasons) compare pretty well with the Wallander series produced in Sweden from ideas by Mankell rather than the books, and the parallels (cop and daughter) are interesting but played differently (Linda being a cop and the settings, Stockholm and Ystad, considerably differ in atmosphere). And the Peter Haber Beck series retains some of the quirky humor of the original novels, through Gunvald's quirks and in some of the peripheral characters such as his neighbor and his usual waiter, both of whom are altogether peculiar. Plus Beck gets a cop girlfriend, further distancing him from the moodiness of the early novels, moving toward the happier Martin Beck of the late novels.

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