Greyzone review: Another intelligent thriller shows why Scandinavia leads the TV race
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Greyzone review: Another intelligent thriller shows why Scandinavia leads the TV race

A bleak harbour in Gothenburg. Airports in Copenhagen and Frankfurt. Overhead shots of sleek motorways. Goddamn those Scandis – they always make the mundane compelling, the matter-of-fact exciting.

Take show titles such as The Killing and The Bridge – on the surface, they're about as exciting as Ikea's range of beige sofas – Boring (the "r" is silent), but in reality they're tightly scripted, gripping dramas about relationships, murder, knitwear and engineering.

Birgitte Hjort Sorensen stars in the typically excellent Scandi drama Greyzone.

Birgitte Hjort Sorensen stars in the typically excellent Scandi drama Greyzone.Credit:SBS

The same goes for Greyzone, a Danish-Swedish drama that manages to insert shots of harbours, airports (terminals and car park), motorways and a business conference into the first episode and still be gripping. Never has the "beep beep" of a rental car unlocking brought with it such relief.

Even the title – Greyzone – should be enough to send you to sleep. I mean, on name alone, it's no Bite Club (Nine's glossy procedural about a serial killer at work in Manly) or Wanted (Seven's toe dip into Thelma and Louise territory) – but that's the point, isn't it? The Scandis are so confident in their output, they don't need to dangle sharks or the ghost of Susan Sarandon in front of an audience, they know they have a no-frills story, with unfussy characters that works.

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Unlike The Killing and The Bridge, however, which were generally rooted in domestic murders, Greyzone has its sights set a little higher, with terrorism, kidnapping and the moral complexities of technology on the agenda.

Birgitte Hjort Sorensen​, best known for her role as journalist Katrine in Borgen, is Victoria Rahbek, an engineer who has developed a drone that could water crops in third world countries. It can also be converted for military use, but let's not look into the fine print too much. So far, so normal.

Meanwhile, tough Swedish special agent Eva Forsburg (Tova Magnusson​ from The Bridge) has been sent to Copenhagen on the trail of an escaped truck driver who was found to be carrying a missile warhead in the back of his semi. So far, not normal.

Insert a couple of mysterious blokes – cop-with-a-past Jesper (Joachim Fjelstrup​) and tech journalist Iyad (Ardalan Esmaili​) – and you have an opener that covers a lot of territory (nothing makes you feel as regional as watching characters in European dramas zipping across international borders, whereas we get separation anxiety the minute anyone from Ramsay Street threatens to move to Brisbane) without ever feeling bogged down in police talk or techy speak.

That's not to say it's perfect – a cop who struggles to talk about their feelings is far from new, as is the old mysterious roommate from university trope – but there's enough there to keep you watching.

With a combined population of about 15 million, the Swedes and Danes punch above their weight in pumping out quality TV. What makes it even more staggering is that the big shows, such as The Killing and The Bridge, are produced by DR1, Denmark's ABC. Greyzone, meanwhile, is an international production with funding support from Denmark, Sweden and Germany. With that level of support – and storylines with complicated characters and internationally relevant themes – it's no surprise the Scandis are producing winners.

I'm sure their TV is not perfect, and there must be a Danish equivalent of 800 Words floating around somewhere, but at least it's willing to grapple with big themes instead of resurrecting old ideas. And who would do that? What? Yes, I've heard of Pearl Bay. What's that about a "sea change"?

Greyzone is on SBS, Tuesday, 11.30pm.

Louise is the editor of S and the Sun Herald's TV liftout