Here we have it, says CHRIS BENNION, surely the worst drama of the streaming era. To put it another way, if you loved the BBC’s Wallander, you’ll hate Netflix’s Young Wallander…
If you hold any affection for the scruffy, loose-at-the-seams detective Kurt Wallander (as portrayed either by Krister Henriksson in the original Swedish series or by Kenneth Branagh in the equally good English-language remake) – or, indeed, from Henning Mankell’s novels – then avoid Young Wallander. Creator Ben Harris has taken some of the finest ingredients and turned it into the most pungent surströmming.
If you’re brave enough to open this jar of rotten fish, then the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s set today, meaning that the production doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions to make it a proper origins story. A twenty-something Wallander would have been on the beat in the seventies. The second oddity is the unfathomable decision to allow its star, the handsome Adam Pålsson, to retain his husky Swedish accent while the rest of the cast (as with the Branagh version) talk with a variety of British accents. And while the setting is inner-city Malmö, it’s set, to all intents and purposes, in south London, with young Kurt living alongside ‘urban youths’ in his dodgy tower block. While they cuss him as he walks past, they never once stop to ask why he, a fellow Swede, speaks with such a strange accent. They’ve merely taken the Wallander brand and slapped it onto a hokey, gritty crime drama, more akin to Top Boy than any Scandi noir. It brought to mind the execrable Postman Pat film from a few years back, which transformed Pat into a silk-voiced crooner and heartthrob.
Young Wallander doesn’t even work as a drama in its own right. It’s so inept that one can only assume these decisions form some sort of elaborate marketing strategy by Netflix. It certainly looks like they’ve spent enough money on the show. If they’ve spared expense, it’s on the script, which provides us with a leaden, clichéd plot about gold-hearted immigrants and grubby billionaires, filled with characters that I will generously describe as two-dimensional, and soft-boiled dialogue akin to something out of a workplace training video. Sample: Wallander, in a hunting supply shop… Owner: “What are you hunting?” Young Kurt: “Just the truth.” The script treats the viewers like idiots, signposting every plot point and rolling out exposition in inert question-and-answer scenes. Someone literally says “the plot thickens” at one point. They’re not being ironic. Even the incidental dialogue, of which there is copious amounts, is stiff as a board.
Young versions of detectives can work a treat, most notably the Morse spin-off Endeavour, which takes Inspector Morse back to his early days in 1960s Oxfordshire. What that does, without hitting you over the head with it, is gradually unfurl how young Endeavour could become grizzled Morse. The period in which he learnt his policing – hard-drinking, un-PC, Britain at a postwar crossroads – helps make the man. What can we learn about early-2000s, middle-aged Kurt Wallander by watching him police the streets of Malmö, in his twenties, in 2020? Despite the odd nod to the future – he drinks a bit, his boss listens to opera in the car – there is nothing of the Wallander DNA here. This is a phoney, a fake. A crime scene.
All episodes of Young Wallander are available now on Netflix.
CHRIS BENNION writes for The Telegraph.
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This article has also been published in The Telegraph.