For sharp political TV, Borgen’s post-election return gets a winning vote

Borgen: Power and Glory ★★★★

For all Netflix’s recent issues, the streaming service has hit on a winning strategy of taking up under-seen or foreign-language shows, giving them global exposure, and then backing the winners with a new season. After Lucifer and You, the latest welcome example is Borgen, the Danish political drama that debuts its fourth season a mere nine years after its initial run ended. The show, like its protagonist, former Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) makes the most of its second chance.

For Australian purposes, the timing is impeccable: Birgitte has returned to government after an election, although her New Democrats party is the junior partner to Labour; she’s the foreign minister to Labour leader and new centrist Prime Minister Signe Kragh (Johanne Louise Schmidt). Their working relationship is fractious: This is government and not daycare, Birgitte, Kragh smugly tells Birgitte after a media ambush, which only spurs on Birgitte to take revenge.

Fans of Adam Price’s series, which acquired a devoted international following after debuting in 2010, will find the return to the cut and thrust of Danish political and media life seamless. The story moves with sharp momentum and the intersection of political interest and personal standards remains eternally entangled. Pilou Asbaek’s cynical media adviser, Kasper Juul, may not have returned, but Borgen still knows how to leave us engaged by those whose self-awareness doesn’t preclude questionable tactics.

Journalist turned campaign manager Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson) is back in the media, now the news director of television network TV1, but there’s also a wider international focus. The discovery of oil in Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, brings international geopolitics to the fore with competing interests from the US, Russia and China even as Birgitte seeks to make sure the discovery doesn’t weaken Denmark’s commitments to the Paris climate accord (insert your own Australian equivalent).

Do you know how many nurses and teachers we can get, a cabinet minister eyeing the carbon-emitting influx of Kroner asks Birgitte. The line is both tart and germane, which is the crux of what Borgen delivers. As the visual aesthetic captures the individuals contemplating their tasks, the show intertwines dilemmas and debates so that the moral ramifications come with ticking-clock urgency. Birgitte may be hiding her menopause, to avoid being judged by the media and colleagues, but her decisiveness hasn’t faltered: it’s hard not to delight in her destroying a smug diplomat. And that’s just for starters.

Angelyne ★★★

Starting in 1984, Angelyne billboards were part of Los Angeles’ peculiar topography: prominent pink advertisements for a performer whose provocative poses simply delivered her name. A throwback blonde bombshell with an LA punk patina, Angelyne was a prototypical brand – she sold herself, not a film or album. If that makes you think of contemporary brand maintenance, then the focus of this limited series is already apparent.

As played by Emmy Rossum (Shameless), Angelyne’s best role is an exaggerated version of herself; she’s a Corvette-driving star who isn’t particularly great at singing or acting.

Paint me however you like, Angelyne declares direct to the camera. More than anything, this is about survival. The narrative acquiesces: each episode views her through an outsider’s gaze, whether it’s Martin Freeman’s manager or Alex Karpovsky’s journalist.

Created by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under), the limited series is both a paean to reinventing yourself in LA and an effort to duplicate the confusion Angelyne applied to her own history. Contradictory stories co-exist, the narrative cuts and changes, and the texture bristles with interjections – men tried to define Angelyne; she wanted her billboards to do the talking. The show doesn’t always hold together, but the subject is always central.

The Lincoln Lawyer

With Bosch now a franchise on Amazon, another of crime author Michael Connelly’s popular Los Angeles characters, maverick lawyer Mickey Haller, comes to streaming. Created by David E. Kelley, who is on an absolute tear lately, this legal drama stars Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Haller (Matthew McConaughey played the character in the 2011 movie of the same name), a recovering addict who treats his car as an office and the court system as a means of righting wrongs. Worn but charming, Haller’s more hero than anti-hero, making this an easy-to-watch viewing proposition.

Night Sky

Does Jeff Bezos have a thing for inexplicable portals? In April, Amazon released the science-fiction drama Outer Range, where Josh Brolin’s ranch acquired an otherworldly void, and now there’s their shape-shifting tale where Sissy Spacek and JK Simmons – absolutely aces together – play a retired couple whose backyard has a chamber leading to another planet. Night Sky feels like several shows trying to coexist, including a portrait of ageing devotion and a conspiracy thriller, but each of them is worth persevering with, and together, as ungainly as it sounds, there’s an intriguing series at play.

Prehistoric Planet
Apple TV+

Dinosaurs freak me out – every Jurassic Park movie is a trial to watch. So you can take my begrudging praise for this documentary series, overseen by the considerable triumvirate of showrunner Jon Favreau (The Mandalorian), produced by the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, as a ringing endorsement. Matching cinematic digital effects to scientific research, the show is a deep dive into the Cretaceous Period, complete with … lots of dinosaurs (for the record, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Mosasaur and Carnotaurus are a few of the featured creatures). Devotees will be delighted.

Alone Denmark (season 2)
SBS on Demand

More fighting to come out on top from Denmark. Unfolding in the vast wilds of Norway’s north, where the nights are plainly very cold, the Danish edition of the survival documentary franchise is proof that a great concept transcends language barriers. The English subtitles do nothing to lessen our voyeuristic enjoyment of the challenge facing the eight contestants seeking to last the longest in the wilderness with but a few tools and basic gear. Hardship and frustration transcend language, and given this is a European production, there is also swearing and a touch of nudity.

* Stan is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

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