Now that the holidays are over, it’s time for that seemingly endless stretch of winter to settle in around us. Instead of just being angry about having to be so goddamn cold (Why? Why!), maybe follow in the snowy footprints of our friends in Scandinavia and lean into some Nordic noir.
Nordic noir (sometimes also called Scandi noir) is the Scandinavian take on crime fiction (books/TV/film) — as leaden and bleak as the gray arctic winter skies. It’s like Dateline, but only it’s Dateline’s stoically-depressed-about-racism-and-misogyny-related-violence-but-that’s-life-let’s-get-on-with-it-also-probably-alcoholic-cop-cousin.
Maybe it comes from living somewhere where you only get four hours of sunlight a day in the winter? Or how practical you have to be to live in a place where the landscape is often so bare? Or anger over your national dish being fish preserved in lye?
Whatever the reason, it’s dark AF and I am here for it. And by that I mean I watch it like most dudes watch porn.*
*On my phone in the bathroom during work.
Just kidding. I watch it most nights before I go to bed to settle me into sweet dreams of stoic investigations of stark murder like a normal person.
The ur example of Scandi noir is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, but there is so, so much more. In fact, they basically churn this stuff out in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland.
So get hygge, set up your smorgasbords and get over your fear of subtitles and dive in. Just be prepared: basically every trigger warning applies. Also, apparently the Scandinavians are way less uptight than we are, so some of these trailers are NSFW.
Country: Norway Stream on: MHz Choice on Amazon Seasons: 2 About: A dude has to return to the tiny Norwegian town he fled after he was exonerated for a murder that everyone still suspects him of. Weird things you will notice: That Nikolai Cleve Broch is Norway’s Anderson Cooper-esque silver fox. That “snill” (SNELL-uh) means “please.” Ingenting (ING-eh-ting) means “nothing.” “Hello” is hej (HEY) and “goodbye” is hejda (HEY-du). “Thanks” is takk (TAHK). That they drink at outdoor cafes in the middle of the winter like lunatics.
Country: Sweden Stream on: MHz Choices on Amazon Seasons: 1 About: A political chief of staff to the Minister of Justice investigates the mysterious disappearance of her predecessor at the job, which is possibly wrapped up with the growing neo-Nazi movement. Weird things you will notice: Swedish and Norwegian (languages) are virtually indistinguishable. Warm weather in Stockholm seems to still require wearing jackets. Racism/anti-Muslim sentiment/alt-right movement is a problem in Sweden.
Country: Norway Stream on: Netflix Seasons: 1 About: A cop on leave after turning in his partner to whatever Norwegian Internal Affairs is, goes home and promptly winds up planting evidence to help his cop brother and shit gets real. Weird things you will notice: Hey! That guy was in Acquitted. And that lady was in it, too. Seems like the pool of name actors in Norway isn’t huge. What do you know? Also: forests.
Country: Denmark/Sweden co-production Stream on: Hulu Seasons: 4 About: Spectrumy Swedish police detective Saga Noren and her iconic Porsche have to work with the Danish police when a body is found exactly halfway on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark, leading to the trail of a serial killer. This is the mother of all Scandi noir TV series, and lead to the US series of the same name. Weird things you will learn: There is a bridge between Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. Hey! That’s the guy from Killing Eve! Jesus God the Swedes and Danes are DARK motherf*ckers. You can distinguish Danish from Swedish/Norwegian, even if it’s Swedish or Norwegian just spoken with a Danish accent. Tip: notice the difference between how Saga and Martin pronounce her name.
Country: Iceland Stream on: Netflix Seasons: 1 About: An alcoholic lawyer is apparently the only one who can help a police detective go against her boss to investigate a fishy teen ballerina suicide in Reykjavik. Weird things you will learn: Icelandic is way more impenetrable a language than Norwegian, Swedish or Danish. Child porn is an issue in Scandinavia. Dudes are gross dickheads everywhere. Icelanders want me to look at full-frontal on guys I do not want to see it on. But good for you alcoholic guy actor, I guess?
Country: Finland Stream on: Netflix Seasons: 2 About: A Helsinki cop who has isn’t stoked to be paired with a rookie partner to investigate a murder in the wake of said cop’s husband’s accidental death. Weird things you will notice: Even though the Finns are considered Scandinavian, the language sounds nothing like the others. Dr. Google tells me it is more like Hungarian and Estonian, and Dr. My Ears tell me it sounds like a bunch of sexy vampires arguing. Speaking of sexy vampires, the male lead may be one. Also I want the female lead’s hair.
Country: Norway Stream on: Amazon Prime Seasons: 3 About: A peaceful island in Arctic Norway gets shaken up when a series of mysterious and violent deaths start happening. NB: This was actually a British production (which explains all the English/American actors in it), but it is set in Norway and has a predominantly Norwegian cast speaking Norwegian, so I say it counts. Weird things you will learn: It is absolutely bonkers — and that’s before Dennis Quaid shows up. It starts off crime thriller, but takes a total bananas horror/sci-fi style turn. Still fun, though.
Country: Sweden Stream on: Hulu Seasons: 1 About: When a French national is found dead under suspicious circumstances in above-the-Arctic-Circle Sweden, a Moroccan-French homicide investigator must come sort it out. Does the death have to do with the controversial mining industry? A local indigenous minority? And can she escape the secrets in her past? Weird things you will notice: In some places above the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets in the summer. There is an indigenous ethnic minority in Sweden called the Sami people who face a lot of discrimination (and apparently inspired Olaf in Frozen). They have big parties for midsummer (the summer solstice). Mining controversies are a recurring theme in Scandi noir. The nihilist from The Big Lebowski is in it!
Country: Sweden Stream on: PBS Masterpiece on Amazon Seasons: 2 About: A Swedish criminal profiler has to find a killer after her autistic daughter witnesses him commit a murder. Weird things you will notice: That the male lead looks like my cute college boyfriend. That in season two, Kim Cattral stars as an abducted American president and with the introduction of lots of English it suddenly seems way more scenery chewy than before so maybe the language barrier helps the quality? That dod (DODD) means “dead,” morda (MOR-da) means “murder,” and forlat (Fuh-LOAT) means “I’m sorry/apologize.”
Country: Sweden Stream on: Acorn TV on Amazon Seasons: 2 About: When a Stockholm lawyer returns to her left-behind Artic Circle hometown because a childhood friend is killed, she must face the pain of her past. Weird things you will notice: Apparently Scandi noir is into female protagonists; cops and anyone cop-adjacent (lawyers, shrinks, etc.); leaving your childhood small town behind (and then what happens when you have to return); the tension between small towns/rural areas and urban areas; racism/misogyny/the alt-right; the Arctic Circle; industry vs. protecting nature; trying to outrun and eventually having to face the demons from your past; complex characters. This one is like a compilation of all the greatest hits.
Country: Sweden Stream on: MHz Choice on Amazon Seasons: 6 About: A bank attorney mom (literally) bumps into a corpse in the water on the island of Sandhamn where she summers with her husband and kids, and has to help the (troubled obvi) local cop/former schoolmmate solve the crime. Weird things you will notice: It’s not in the freezing arctic! What? Also: most Scandi noir has at least one female protag and they have complex personal lives that aren’t all “who is going to watch the kids while I work”? Scandi noir: passing the shit out of the Bechdel Test.
Country: Sweden Stream on: MHz Choices on Amazon Seasons: 3 About: A dark and deadly family drama about three adult siblings who have to deal with each other in order to inherit their family’s hotel after their mother commits suicide. Think the Swedish Bloodline, and not just because Bjorn Bengtsson, who was also in The Sandhamn Murders, kinda reminds me of Norbert Leo Butz. Weird things you will notice: There is a place called the Aland Islands, which are between Sweden and Finland, technically part of Finland, but most everyone there is and speaks Swedish. Life is complicated.
Country: Iceland Stream on: Amazon Prime Seasons: 2 About: A very good cop in a remote Iceland fjord town on the hunt for a murderer after a body washes up and they’re all socked in with a winter storm. Weird things you will notice: The lead, Olafur Darri Olafsson, played Maria Bamford’s husband in Lady Dynamite! Divorce is hard everywhere. This is one of the few Scandi noirs with a solid male lead not paired with a female counterpart; there are lots of big female roles, but this is squarely his show. Also, it’s really good.
Country: Sweden Stream on: Acorn TV on Amazon Seasons: 1 About: A Stockholm detective returns to work after a dodgy medical leave only to be shunted aside to the cold case unit, which then kicks into action with the other employees no one wants once a new murder points to an old crime. Lots of mindfuckery abounds. Weird things you will notice: His “wife” was in The Bridge. His alcoholic employee was the lead in Blue Eyes. Maybe you’ve watched too much of this stuff?
Country: Norway Stream on: PBS Masterpiece on Amazon Seasons: 1 About: A doctor gets roped into running a secret (literally) underground clinic in an old bomb shelter/subway tunnel by a crazy conspiracy theorist who discovers he’s down there trying to find a cure for the wife whose death they faked. Weird things you will notice: Hey wait! Sven Nordin is the same one who played the Swedish politician in Blue Eyes, but this show is Norwegian. Life is confusing. Also obviously this one is less on the cops/death thing that most Nordic noirs have, but the domestic terrorism angle and seriously illegal secrets that will out give you all the vibes you need.
Heather Huntington is a Staff Contributor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix, Hulu, Amazon