New Danish crime drama on ITV3: Those Who Kill

My thanks to Rhian over at It’s a Crime! (or a Mystery) for drawing my attention to a new Danish crime drama starting tomorrow, Thursday 23 February, on ITV3 at 10pm.

Those Who Kill (Den Som Dræber) originally aired in Denmark in March 2011 and appears to have been pretty successful – it’s been sold on to a number of other countries and will be remade for the US market (following in the footsteps of Forbrydelsen I).

The investigative team. Wait a minute! Who's that on the right?!*

The series synopsis from ITV3 reads as follows:

‘Those Who Kill is a compelling dark crime series, based on the novels by bestselling author Elsebeth Egholm. It follows the investigations of a special unit of Copenhagen’s police force, consisting of detective inspector Katrina Ries Jenson (Laura Back) and forensic psychiatrist Thomas Schaeffer (Jakob Cedergren). The pair specialise in identifying serial killers that do not fit within traditional behavioural patterns and aim to uncover the psychology of a violent killer in their attempt to solve a case surrounded by fear and mystery’.

I have to confess that this description doesn’t particularly appeal to me, as I’m rather averse to serial killer novels and dramas. They often seem to dwell excessively on sadistic acts of violence and the suffering of (usually) female victims, and of course this violence and suffering are enacted again and again with each successive murder (it’s the grim repetition that really does me in).

But what’s interesting about the ITV3 press release, which I’m guessing from its use of ‘we’ is a translation of Danish press materials, is the way that the subject of serial killings and killers is presented:

‘THOSE WHO KILL is a crime series about a violent criminal surrounded by fear and mystique – the serial killer. Up until now, we have been able to curtail their activities with early – and effective – interventions via the safety net of a comprehensive social welfare system in Scandinavia. But times have changed. Borders have opened up, social welfare is in decline, and slowly but surely the whole system has become imbued with a sense of resigned impotence and callous disregard for those it once sought to rescue. The rifts in the net have become so large that bigger fish are slipping through the mesh, and as a result, a new type of crime is starting to burgeon – killings not grounded in traditional motives and patterns of behaviour.’

So here we are given a sociological explanation for the rise of the serial killer in Scandinavia – the disintegration of the social welfare system (also a principle concern of the 1960s / 1970s ‘Martin Beck’ series by the Swedish crime writers Sjowall and Wahloo). I’d be interested to know if this rise is documented, but, whether real or not, the passage suggests a more thoughtful approach than most dramas to the topic of serial killers, through an exploration of the way in which society and its structures contribute to their making. This impression is reinforced in the description of the investigators’ activities:

‘For both Katrine and Thomas, the challange becomes one of discerning the human behind the monster. For only when they come to understand the fantasies and trauma that drive him are they able to confront him’.

On the one hand, this kind of psychological investigative approach reminds me of Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series (of which I’ve read The Last Temptation) and on the other, of historical studies seeking to understand perpetrator motivations and war-crimes (Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men springs to mind). Both try in their different ways to move beyond the idea of killers as one-dimensional monsters, and to comprehend the logic, however distorted, of their actions.

Of course the press release could simply be sophisticated packaging for the usual serial- killer schlock, but who knows, maybe Those Who Kill will be different. I’ll probably watch, given the high quality of other recent Danish dramas on BBC4 and the welcome presence of another strong female lead, but may find myself switching off if things get too uncomfort-able.

The full press release from ITV3 can be accessed here.

*One of the main characters in the drama, Magnus Bisgaard, is played by actor Lars Mikkelsen, who will be familiar to fans of The Killing 1 from his role as the idealistic politician Troels Hartmann.

24 February update: Due to a conspiracy of circumstances involving a snowboard, suspected concussion and a trip to A+E, I didn’t get to see last night’s opening episode. But here are a few Twitter reviews to give a flavour of how Those Who Kill went down with viewers.

@richard0x4A: thosewhokill pretty good. A bit predictable but I enjoyed it. itv3 in decent foreign drama shock.

@Schmolik: ThoseWhoKill last night was distinctly “meh”. Don’t know if Lars Mikkelsen’s cheekbones are enough to keep me interested.

@Packet_editor: #thosewhokill my new The Killing fix

@crifilover: thosewhokill getting tense!

@fleetstreetfox: Hmm. I could miss that and wouldn’t mind #thosewhokill

21 thoughts on “New Danish crime drama on ITV3: Those Who Kill

  1. hmm. I’ve set this to record having heard about it at Euro Crime and a few other places, on the basis of it being Danish (;-) ) but now i am not so sure. It might be one of those that gets deleted after 10 mins. I believe Dorte has spoken highly of Egholm’s books (not yet translated into English though one has but is only available in Australia).

    • Yes, hmm. I’ll set myself a time limit, I think, and will exit gracefully at that point if necessary.

      I was wondering about the original books. The TV adaptation may well spur a publisher into securing translation rights, I suppose. I’d be interested in hearing more about them.

  2. I will give it a chance, of course, but I too have my doubts.

    This was the first attempt by Danish commercial channel TV2 to do something similar to the highly successful series made by public broadcaster DR. It was preceded by lots of press coverage and hype i Danish media (the commercial broadcasters know how to advertise themselves, not surprisingly), but after very high viewing figures for the first episode, viewers quickly started dropping off – and by the end of the season, TV2 announced that there wouldn’t be any more seasons.

    People’s main complaint, beside many complaints that the series was too violent and gruesome, was that they found it repetitive and boring, “Just lots of scenes of policemen looking at computer screens or walking around carefully in the dark with a pistol in their hand.”

    Doesn’t sound too promising, does it?

    • Thanks very much for providing us with this extra, very illuminating information, Thomas. It’ll be very interesting to see if the same viewing pattern is replicated here.

      No, it doesn’t sound overly promising, alas. From what I’m seeing on Twitter, there are quite a few in the ‘not sure’ category, who will give it a chance for the first episode, but will be off if things turn too nasty. Some (including me) very much want to like it (because we’ve fallen in love with Danish drama via Forbrydelsen and Borgen), but suspect that they may not. Tonight will tell!

      • Having had the privilege of seeing season 2 of Borgen recently, I want to add that it’s even better than season 1. It’s a pity that the BBC intends to wait a whole year to broadcast it.
        The Danes will broadcast season 3 in early 2013 (and that will almost definitely be the last episode), so ideally the BBC should broadcast season 2 this autumn and then follow up with season 3 directly after Denmark in the spring.

  3. My only comment is a plaintive appeal for this to come over to the States. There are not even any Masterpiece Mystery series coming up here — that I know of anyway. How dull! Now that Downton Abbey is finished for the season and not PBS mysteries coming up, what will we watch? (On Downton Abbey I confess my love of Maggie Smith and her zinging one-liners. No one can do it like she can.)

    • Hopefully it will speed its way over to you shortly. I have to confess to not having watched Downton Abbey *gasp*. Has it gone down well in the States?

  4. Downton Abbey has become the new big thing on TV in the States. People have dinner parties around watching it. Ratings are the highest ever for PBS/BBC productions.
    The New York Times has covered the show and some of those who are infatuated with it.
    Several friends are also watching it, and we talk after the shows.
    Even though it really is an upscale soap opera, the cast is stellar and some of it is quite interesting, including about the roles of women, which is changing slowly.. But the huge differences between the lives of the gentry and of the workers is interesting, those who don’t work at all and those who work from dawn to bedtime.
    However, Maggie Smith has stolen the show, in my opinion and that of friends and other viewers.
    Her ability to zing out one-liners and to simply raise an eyebrow brings down the house. Apparently, in one scene where she is trying to make a phone call for the first time, she says, “Is this an instrument of communication or an instrument of torture?” The director yelled “Cut,” and crew and cast, including Maggie Smith were busting with laughter.
    The stories of WWI and so much more are fascinating to us over here.

    • Thanks for this fascinating response, Kathy! It’s really interesting to hear about the programme’s reception in the States, and your description (especially of Maggie Smith’s role) it is making me want to catch up on what I’ve missed. I’ll have to get hold of the DVD soon.

  5. Those who kill isn’t in the same league as its predecessors. It’s hard to pin down precisely where it’s deficiencies lie. Perhaps if it were shown on BBC4, without adbreaks, it may feel different. As for Downton Abbey….I love historical dramas but would prefer ITV not to simply recycle Upstairs Downstairs and add several coats of gloss. There are still some good Victorian authors who haven’t been done to death by the BBC.

    • My views exactly – on both accounts. “Those Who Kill” is somehow very formulaic; we’ve seen most of it before from both the US, the UK and France. The fact that they speak Danish doesn’t make it better. Also, the poor subtitles have unfortunately been ripped from a DVD instead of being redone for British TV. The Danish series on BBC have very good subtitles with acceptable reading speed.
      As for “Downton Abbey”, I love period dramas and have tried to enjoy it, but there again everything feels predictable and most characters are stereotypes. The original “Upstairs, Downstairs”, however, is still enjoyable after all these years, more so than the current glossy continuation.

  6. I quite enjoyed the series although felt a little dismayed at the ending of the final episode last night. I won’t give any spoilers obviously but as @Schmolik said, it’s going to take more than Lars Mikkelsen’s cheekbones to get over that one!

  7. Pingback: The (very) great Danes | mrsmrsblog

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