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DVD Review: ‘Unit One: Season One’

★★★☆☆

Thirteen years are after it was originally broadcast in its native Denmark, the inaugural season of TV crime serial Unit One (Rejseholdet, 2000-2004) is now finally being released on DVD here in the UK, courtesy of Nordic Noir masters Arrow Films. The recent plethora of Scandinavian imports has been nothing short of remarkable, with the British public seemingly willing to lap up any number of gritty dramas as long as they contain thick accents, heavy smoking and snow. Whilst Unit One doesn’t quite measure up to its successors (Borgen, The Killing, Wallander) in terms of quality, it does works on two distinct levels.

One the one hand, Unit One functions adequately well as a pulpy detective series complete with ‘angsty’ characters, which makes for comfortable – if hardly inspirational – viewing. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the show’s cast is a veritable smorgasbord of Scandinavian talent, providing an interesting insight into each individual’s acting origins. The biggest name to have emerged from the series is undoubtedly Mads Mikkelsen, who stars as the roguish, ‘doesn’t always play by the rules’ Alan Fischer. Elsewhere, Lars Brygmann has gone on to appear in Borgen, Trine Pallesen has featured in The Killing and numerous others have forged successful acting careers.

Considering that Denmark’s Unit One is now over a decade old, the quality of the production is ambitious, with plenty of intuitive camerawork dotted throughout the hour-long episodes. As a result, it feels ‘of its time’ rather than horribly dated, making it still watchable and not just a historical artefact. While viewers are unlikely to want to back-to-back all nine episodes from Season One, it might make for a good light alternative when you run out of The Killing.

Running for a grand four seasons in total, Unit One is by no means essential viewing, but for the many Scandinavian crime fiction enthusiasts out there this is an interesting opportunity to see the genre before it expanded onto the international stage. Humble, yet passably entertaining as the first chapter in one of pan-European television’s most recent success stories.

Tom Grater