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Review: HBO's Insanely Watchable 'Beforeigners' Combines 'The Leftovers' with 'Travelers'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 21, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 21, 2020 |


I love that even in Norway, they feel compelled to wrap a high-concept premise with heavy themes in a cop story. It’s universal! We all understand a murder investigation. Instead of using rap songs to teach high-school students, lame teachers should use murder investigations because that is a language more broadly understand than Shakespeare. After three decades of Law & Order, we are all well versed in it, which makes it the perfect vehicle for a story about … time-traveling refugees.

Beforeigners is the first Norwegian-language series produced by HBO Europe. Set in Oslo, Norway, this six-part series is about a worldwide phenomenon in which thousands of people from the Stone Age, the Viking Age and the 19th century — and those specific time periods, only — suddenly arrive. They all seem to appear in the water off the coast, and their appearances are accompanied by flashes of light.

After the first wave of time migrants arrives, the series immediately jumps ahead a few years to a time in which these time-traveling migrants are part of the norm. About 13,000 arrive each year. No one really understands why — and scientists have essentially given up on explaining it — and there is no way to send them back. The challenge is basically in how to acclimate them into society.

But that’s not really the focus of the show, either. Beforeigners is not Encino Man on a broad scale. It’s a commentary on immigration. What if, instead of coming outside of our borders, all the migrants came from outside of our time? The time-traveling migrants face much of the same prejudices as today’s refugee population, only it’s hard to say, “Go back home,” to someone who was technically here before you (this would have been interesting in America, too, if Native Americans suddenly started arriving in the thousands).

That is the backdrop. The chief storyline is about a cop from this time, Lars Haaland (Nicolai Cleve Broch), who is paired with the first Beforeigner on the police force, Alfhildr Enginnsdóttir (Krista Kosonen), formerly a shield-maiden in the 11th century. He’s got an addiction problem, and she has a problem with men from her time who thought it was OK to rape women just because they were Vikings. It’s, uh, quite a pair.

They are assigned, of course, to investigate a murder, and that murder, of course, involves the death of a Beforeigner, and that investigation, of course, looks as though it will uncover a larger anti-Beforeigner conspiracy. Like I said, this is really about immigration. The sci-fi elements are the hook, and the crime story is the vehicle, and it is an insanely entertaining ride. It’s compelling to watch because of the fish-out-of-water element, which is amusing, but never played for laughs. Creators and writers Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad (Lillyhammer) and director Jens Lien strike the exact right tone here, and that’s what may be the most impressive thing about Beforeigners: It mixes sci-fi, crime story, and social commentary into an insanely watchable series influenced by the likes of The Leftovers, District 9, The Travelers, and Britain’s In the Flesh. I’m only a couple of episodes in, but I cannot wait to finish the series.

‘Beforeigners’ airs Tuesdays on HBO, but all six episodes are currently available on the HBO apps.

Header Image Source: HBO