If you haven't heeded Salon's advice yet to "stop what you're doing and go watch 'Borgen,'" it's high time you do so. Episodes are streamed online for two weeks after airing on KCET. We're officially half-way through the three-season show and fully invested in the Danish drama in all its political backstabbing glory. If you need convincing before taking the plunge, consider these five reasons you should be watching the series.
1. Its depiction of nuanced, multi-dimensional characters that evolve throughout the series:
It's only fitting that last week's episode of "Borgen" ("Plant a Tree") opened with a quote from Bertrand Russell about idealism -- "Much that passes for idealism is disguised love of power." Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) stepped into office idealistic to a fault. Her black and white views on morality initially seemed to hinder her judgment as Prime Minister. But power ultimately changed (and at times blinded) her as she found herself compromising her personal values to go toe-to-toe against politicians in parliament. Birgitte, like Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk), Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), Phillip Christensen (Mikael Birkkjær), and the other major cast members, evolve naturally throughout the series. They resemble real people -- flawed, yet well-intentioned -- navigating life with all its ups and downs. The character developments don't seem forced. In fact, there aren't any ill-timed epiphanies or unrealistic major life events. The journey each character takes is gradual, well-paced, and lovely to behold.
2. Its demonstration of the relationship between politics and the media:
Although at times unrelatable to American culture (the worlds of political media advisers and political journalists aren't as fluid in the U.S.), it's eye-opening to see the symbiotic relationship between politicians and the press. There's more wheeling and dealing behind the scenes between people in high office and reporters (usually via spin doctors) than meets the eye. So it's refreshing to see the back-scratching and back-stabbing unfold. The show further blurs the ethics of journalism and stresses the nonexistence of a truly free press. When reporters on the show aren't cutting deals with politicians' communication officers, they're making sacrifices to appease network execs and publishers. And more universal concerns about newspaper sales, news show ratings, and appealing to the lowest common denominator further complicate matters.
3. Its insight into Danish politics and culture:
A lot of the issues addressed in parliament, including the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the development of a welfare reform package, mirror American politics. But it's the Danish politicalisms, such as the country's multi-party coalition government, that make the show compelling. It also doesn't hurt to pick up a few Danish words (ironically, hej hej, prrounched high high, means goodbye) here and there. The green bills debated in parliament and the characters' tendencies to bike to work stress the culture's environmental-mindedness. That, coupled with the passage of a gender equality bill implementing quotas to ensure women comprise half the board members of Danish companies, stress the culture's ultra progressiveness.
4. Sidse Babett Knudsen:
Even when her character makes questionable decisions in her personal and professional lives, Knudsen's charisma makes Birgitte lovable. It's difficult to play a character who's depressed over her crumbling marriage and diminishing role in her children's lives without going overboard. Yes, Birgitte's prone to displaced outbursts and desk reshuffles, but Knudsen never over-acts. She doesn't show emotion with tears, but with quiet sadness. She also has the complicated task of playing the role of the PM putting on a show for the media or for her cabinet. It's impossible to watch her without developing at least a small crush.
5. The brilliant writing:
In between Birgitte's biting comebacks, Phillip's poetic musings, and Kasper's exceptional political speeches, Adam Price, Jeppe Gjervig Gram, and Tobias Lindholm have mastered it all. Every word, every conversation, ever tirade serves a function. The writers had more fun with the scripts earlier in the season when Birgitte and Phillip were at the peak of their relationship. Playful sexual banter abounded. Price, Gram, and Lindholm used the dwindling pillow talk (and pillow time) to depict the demise of their marriage. Who knew fellatio jokes could be so metaphoric? The trio also selects the ideal quote to open each episode, framing it perfectly. And with only three seasons worth of content to write, it's safe to assume that they'll finish just as strongly as they started.
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Borgen is an award-winning Danish drama series about the fight for political power and the personal consequences for everyone involved.
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