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Everything You Need to Know About 'Borgen'

So tell me about "Borgen."

"Borgen" is a Danish political drama that first began airing in Denmark in 2010. Thirty episodes have been filmed, and they principally focus on Birgitte Nyborg, head of the Danish Moderate Party, who finds herself the frontrunner in the election for Denmark's prime minister. But like any good political series, the show is as much about everyone else -- Birgitte's staffers, rivals and family members -- as it is about Birgitte herself. (If you want to know more about the characters on the show, check out our guide to who's who.)

This trailer for the first season illustrates the show's tone nicely:



When can I watch it?

Every Friday at 10PM, and then a repeat the following Monday also at 10PM. The first episode premieres on KCET on Friday, May 17. And for the two weeks after each initial broadcast on KCET, you'll be able to watch the episodes at KCET.org, so you'll have ample time to catch up should you miss an installment.

And it's good?

That's an emphatic ja. In 2012, The Daily Beast headlined an article about "Borgen" with "The Best TV Show You've Never Seen," with the subhed "Forget 'The Newsroom.' The Top Political Drama Is Danish." In an article in The Guardian that called the show "TV's thriller factory," BBC's drama chief Ben Stephenson remarked on the show's success with English-speaking audiences, saying, "It's a phenomenon, brilliant. People love a strong story." And in his 2012 Entertainment Weekly "best of" list, Stephen King named it his favorite show of the year, calling it "top-flight drama in any language." It's won awards throughout Europe, and in 2012 it scored the BAFTA for Best International TV Series.

Has it aired on American TV before?

The first two seasons have already aired only on KCET's partner station, LinkTV. Once KCET airs the twenty episodes that comprise the first and second seasons, well start on the third season. This, along with LinkTV's broadcast of it, will mark the American broadcast premiere.

So it's like a Danish version of "The West Wing"?

There's not as much walking and talking, and it's all a bit edgier than anything Aaron Sorkin wrote for that show. It may share more with darker dramas like "House of Cards" or "Boss" or the more politics-focused episodes of "The Wire." Then again, the New York Times called it "a bleaker, Nordic version of 'The West Wing,'" praising the amount of suspense the show generates in the political process. Also, notably, it features more powerful female characters than you may be used to seeing in American political dramas. Birgitte and another character, TV journalist Katrine Fønsmark, are both complex, driven women who care deeply about their jobs, and while their gender figures into their storylines, they're never reduced to "female politician" and "female journalist."

Sidse Babett Knudsen stars as Birgitte Nyborg.

Who's in it?

Not that it should deter you, but a bunch of Scandinavian actors that most American TV viewers won't recognize. Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Pilou Asbæk and Mikael Birkkjær head the cast, and their difficult-to-pronounce names are being known in households across the globe. Perhaps the biggest selling point for avid TV fans would be the fact that it was produced by the same Danish broadcast company that produced "The Killing," the gripping murder investigation series that spawned an American remake on AMC in 2011.

I don't know that much about Danish politics. Will I have to?

Not anymore than you needed to know about Swedish law enforcement to enjoy "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." All you need to hit the ground running is that Denmark isn't a two-party country the way the U.S. is. This is why it's possible for the show to begin with two frontrunners for prime minister and then for Birgitte's party to pull ahead, but not as remarkably as it would be for an American third party candidate to take the lead in an election. You'll learn as you go along.

Is it subtitled?

Yes, but with a show with as tight a story arc as "Borgen," you'll want to pay close attention, so don't fret about having to read. The chunk of the first episode actually takes place in London -- and in English -- the bulk of the series plays out in Danish.

"Borgen" kind of sound like something the Swedish Chef would say.

That's not really a question, but I'll answer it anyway. Borgen literally means "the castle" and is short for Christiansborg Palace, the building that houses the three branches of Danish government.

Regarding the tense, suspenseful storyline of political intrigue, might you say that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark?

I'm rolling my eyes. Here's an upside: If you watch "Borgen," "Hamlet" will no longer be your most recent reference for Danish drama!

Will there be recaps?

Yes. All recaps and supplementary material will be posted on KCET's "Borgen" page.

Like Borgen? Donate to KCET and choose a Borgen-related book, CD or DVD as a thank you gift.

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About the Author

Drew Mackie, associate producer of new media, liked shows about old British people before it became fashionable. He also says silly things on Twitter.
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