Zombie polar bears. Just putting it out there…
If you’re not watching Fortitude and 30 Degrees in February, start now. They’re both really good. You can thank us later. (Warning: spoilers ahoy.)
Both dramas are centred on the long, bleak winters up north (that’s Arctic Circle north, not Macclesfield), and how people deal with them.
In 30 Degrees, urban Swedes, fed up with the incessant snow and cold and looking to kick-start their miserable lives, head to Thailand in search of happiness. In Fortitude, a multinational community stays put and staves off polar bears and the effects of the grim Norwegian winter with copious amounts of booze, cigarettes and sex.
As they have progressed, both shows have steadily become darker and taken viewers down several unexpected rabbit holes.
The Swedes in 30 Degrees soon discover that Thailand is not the promised land they thought it was. It’s as full of violence, misery, poverty and exploitation as anywhere else.
Those girlie bars and topless massage joints? They’re built on the twin foundations of grinding poverty and sexual abuse. Something that schlubby Glenn (Kjell Wilhelmsen) finds out to his cost when his bar girl fiancée empties his bank account and runs off. Only after she’s arrested does he find out that she’s got three children to support, but does he care?
We’re never really sure what Glenn thinks as he moves from girl to girl via a botched suicide attempt in search of a wife and children of his own. But just as we start feeling sorry for him he lets slip that he’s a homophobic bigot, so no more Mr Nice Glenn for Oh, the sympathetic kathoey trying to help him.
Turns out that Bengt (Kjell Bergqvist) was always an unrepentant bastard to his cowed wife Majlis. He didn’t turn to the dark side after he was tragically confined to a wheelchair, he was always like that. Watching Majlis blossom in the sunshine after she escapes from Bengt has been brilliant. Subtly played by the excellent Lotta Tejle, Majlis tentatively stretches out her hand towards independence and decides to stay in Thailand and become a dive master.
Just don’t mention the fact that she’s using Bengt as a towel rail in the hotel bathroom.
Fellow escapee Kajsa (Maria Lundqvist) is recovering from divorce and a stress-induced stroke by building a holiday bungalow empire on the beach with her two daughters. Teenager Joy (Hanna Ardéhn) is miserable and anxious, and little Wilda (Viola Weidemann) does nothing but play on her DS. It looks like a disaster waiting to happen but Kajsa is oblivious. She’s too focussed on beating Chan (Thomas Chaanhing), her competitor next door. In turn, he is most definitely not Mr Nice Guy any more.
Fortitude is Cicely, Alaska as reimagined by Edgar Allen Poe and Irving Welsh.
Stanley Tucci plays DCI Morton, the Joel Fleischman of the show, initially sliding around the icy streets in his lace-up dress shoes clutching his notes. Only after he’s convinced the locals that he’s a buffoon does Morton reveal himself to be something of an ace detective.
Although Tucci’s brilliant in this it still feels odd to have him there. The plot contrivance that explains why Morton of the Met is an American ex-FBI officer is not terribly convincing.
Murder most foul occurs in the first episode but since then what seemed initially like a rather self-important, dreary Scandi crime drama has careered straight into left field. What lies beneath the ice? Why are people murdering each other with cutlery?
For a place where it’s actually illegal to die, the body count is really starting to rack up. Does creepy science teacher Markus (Darren Boyd) have anything to do with it?
And are the victims going to stay dead?
Zombie polar bears. Just putting that out there… Again.
Holding the town together (just) are Sheriff Dan (Richard Dormer) and Governor Hilde (Sofie Gråbøl minus the sour face and woolly jumpers, but with some killer accessories and an interior design scheme to die for). With fingers in just about every pie, and hopefully not in any people, together they are the Maurice Dubois of Fortitude.
But why is Dan always on the verge of hysteria? And just how corrupt is Hilde?
Ferdy Ramon Tikaram) and Henry (Michael Gambon) are this show’s Ed Chigliak and Holling Vincoeur. Turns out that the laid-back taxidermist is also a shaman. He knows something wicked their way comes and has agreed to help Henry protect a suspected killer against… well, what remains unclear. But their plan so far involves a lot of blood and string.
So many questions, such an unnervingly twisty unexpected drama that just keeps on getting better.
30 Degrees in February airs on Sky Arts 1 HD, Fridays at 9pm
Fortitude airs on Sky Atlantic, Wednesdays at 10pm