The Inspector and the Sea reminds me of the old Certs Mints commercial: the crime drama is like two, two, two series in one. Swedish in setting, German in dialogue.
I was thrilled when the DVD sets for The Inspector and the Sea (Der Kommissar und das Meer) were released in the US last month, since I had missed the show when it aired on MHz International Mysteries. It’s been a huge hit in Germany, drawing more than five million viewers for each made-for-TV film, and I wanted to see what made it so popular.
The Inspector and the Sea was adapted from the bestselling “Anders Knutas” crime novels by Swedish author Mari Jungstedt, so it wasn’t a giant leap for me to hope for another Wallander. That her protagonist, Swedish detective Anders Knutas, was changed to the German Robert Anders for the TV films, had no bearing on my desire to see the series.
What did, though, was the series being a German-language one. Until recently, there were so few of these available in the US, as compared to, say, TV programs in Swedish or Danish, that having even one more (with English subtitles) was a boon. And the setting of the idyllic Swedish island of Gotland, plus a predominantly Swedish cast, made the series that much more of a gotta-check-it-out show.
The series stars Walter Sittler (Nikola) as the titular Inspector Robert Anders, a contemplative man and intuitive cop transplanted from Germany to the medieval town of Visby. His home life by the sea — shared with earthy, Swedish midwife wife, Line (Paprika Steen, Lykke), and their two children, as well as (later) family friend Emma Winarve (Frida Hallgren, Arne Dahl) and Robert’s mother Kristin (Nicole Heesters, Commissario Brunetti) — is cozy.
But similar to Sebastian Bergman, a traumatic event in Anders’ past has left him haunted in the present: His younger sister drowned 40 years ago when she was in his care, leaving him with a phobia about the sea and a strained relationship with his father.
For Anders, home and work are separate worlds, and the twain do not meet. On the job, he partners with the loyal and trusted Karin Jacobsson (Sólveig Arnarsdóttir, Tatort) and Thomas Wittberg (Andy Gatjen, The Eagle), a solid detective who deserves more credit than Anders gives him. And rounding out the crime squad that investigates murders steeped in sordid affairs, codependency issues, and long-held resentments, amongst other motives, is the sardonic pathologist, Eva (Inger Nilsson, Pippi Longstocking).
Unseen is the book that put Jungstedt on the crime writers map. Unfortunately, the adaptation, “The Unseen” (“Den du Nicht Siehst”), is disjointed and lacks the kind of storytelling that made the novel a success. While the subplot of an anonymous caller sharing confidential details of a young woman’s murder with a reporter is a nice touch, it doesn’t make sense that he would contact one in Hamburg. This link to Anders’ German background is tenuous at best and adds no value to the story whatsoever. Scenes of the reporter’s interviews are also far-fetched, and the unmasking of the killer is anticlimactic.
(If it weren’t for this review, it’s likely that I would not have gone any further with this DVD. Had that been the case, I would have missed out on some good stuff. Just saying’.)
In “Closer Than You Think” (“Näher als du Denkst”), adapted from the novel Unspoken, a teen girl plummets off a cliff after pedaling her bike furiously to escape the mad driver that’s pursuing her. The usually placid Anders is rattled by the case and loses his cool when facing his fears as a father. This is conceivable. The continued caller-reporter subplot is, too, but much less so; the caller character’s backstory is flimsy, and ultimately this part of the storyline feels like a contrivance. Overall, the story is a decent mystery, but keen viewers will probably note two clues that are dead-giveaways to who the killer is.
Based on the novel The Dead of Summer, “In a Lonely Place” (“An Einem Einsamen Ort”) features references to Vikings, sacred places on Gotland, and symbology of the mythical god Odin, which bring an interesting twist to the case of a young woman’s murder and bloodletting. Guest stars, including Peter Haber (Beck), Ola Rapace (Wallander), Tuva Novotny (Crimes of Passion), and Sofia Ledaro (Verdict: Revised), are a treat, despite their being woefully under-used. But still, the conclusion has a twist of its own that makes for a satisfying episode.
“Summertime” (“Sommerzeit”), based on the novel The Dead of Summer, opens with the disappearance of a teen girl and the suicide of her father after her lifeless body is brought in from the sea. Fast forward thirteen years to the death of a demolitions expert, following the explosion at the quarry that he was forced to set off while at gunpoint. The story meanders and unfolds slowly before Anders puts the two and two of past and present together in a conclusion that is fairly dramatic, if not predictable. The bonuses: guest stars Aksel Hennie (Headhunters) and Shanti Roney (Arne Dahl).
One of the more compelling, evenly-structured, and character-driven episodes is “The Dying Dandy” (“Der Sterbende Dandy”), adapted from the novel Killer’s Art. Here, not really knowing who’s who works very well, in that it takes the mystery and intrigue to a deeper level. Photos of an intimate liaison are delivered to two people, and soon thereafter the man in the photos is found murdered in his art gallery, his body shrouded in the canvas of a stolen painting worth millions. The case is a puzzler for Anders, but his simmering jealousy isn’t. Even if viewers’ suspicions about who did the dirty deeds turn out to be well-founded, for my kroner, this is one of the best episodes of the season.
Also gripping is the last episode of Season 1, “Dark Angel” (“Schwarzer Engel”), adapted from the novel Dark Angel. Appearances are deceiving and relationships take turns for the worse (even those in Anders’ life), following the death of a philandering husband soon after coitus with his mistress. Marie Richardson (Johan Falk) guest stars as the humiliated wife, but her character is minor, so her screen time is brief. What’s amped up are the pace and action, that when combined with fleeting images and flashes of paranoia, make the episode quite a thriller. And the zinger delivered by Eva makes for a worthy conclusion.
So, yes, the scripting is occasionally uneven, the character development is often insufficient, and various plot elements are either not credible or feel forced. And no, it isn’t Wallander. But do not let that dissuade you from watching The Inspector and the Sea. On the whole, it is an entertaining series that gets better and better as it progresses.
I’m off to watch Season 2 now, so check back here in a day or so for the review.