The Borgen (Saturdays BBC4) backlash is – well, it’s not overdue at all because the show’s still excellent, but you’d normally expect one at about this time. Series two arrived with the sort of tasteful fanfare which, in that genteel virtual village where people act as if all Danish series get 12 million viewers, passes for hype. There were certainly high expectations compared to last year, when we’d heard a few good things about this show but look here we’ve only just watched 20 episodes of The Killing and can there really be another hang on a sec this might be even better.
Now would traditionally be the time to pipe up if you can see flaws. What might you say? The second run opened with our heroine Birgitte Nyborg, compassionate centre-left fringe party leader turned unlikely coalition prime minister, visiting the troops in Afghanistan. Birgitte told them she wanted to bring them home but, when they started dying in a new wave of Taliban attacks, this began to look insufficiently robust and statesmanlike. She wavered.
Should she stick to her anti-war party’s pre-election promise, made in the comfort of long-term opposition? Or do you have to see it through once you’re there? Snarkers might say that this episode was a pretty basic GCSE politics debate, too easily resolved when Nyborg didn’t feel she could contradict a high-ranking military adviser. The troops stayed in.
Borgen’s weakness for neatness took a different form in episode two, when Nyborg had to choose whom to appoint as an EU Commissioner. Criss-crossing schemes, revelations, betrayals and shifted personal loyalties meant she kept switching horses, but it was a mess that suddenly sorted itself in the last five minutes. Loose ends tied off, lessons learnt.
Over-efficiency is the worst accusation you could throw at Borgen. Every episode, and every scene within every episode, has a job to do, a message to impart. It never fails to deliver. Occasionally you long for someone to break into song, or for a comedy episode where Birgitte Nyborg has a day off and takes everyone paintballing.
But Borgen is about what’s behind the political machinery in this second season: our Birgitte is falling to pieces. We, Borgen’s liberal audience, want her to keep to her principles and tell media moguls, army generals and career politicians where to go. Yet she has no majority, so she has to keep making sacrifices. Bits are falling off the wagon.
This has human consequences. Nyborg losing her favoured finance minister wouldn’t be dramatic in itself, but the man to go was her closest confidant Bent Sejro, an endlessly wise and helpful father figure, the Saul to her Carrie. Their massive bust-up was traumatic and significant – that this was where the writers ticked off the argument about Afghan wars historically being unwinnable didn’t affect the foreboding felt as Birgitte dug in, lashed out and lost another friend. Trying to run the country has already cost her a smart, quietly smouldering dreamboat of a husband.
As Nyborg, Sidse Babett Knudsen is handling this slow unravelling beautifully. Those playful, sexy scenes where Birgitte and Philip would hurriedly pick a blouse for her to wear on TV have gone – replaced by a sudden, facade-breaking burst of emotion when he made her sign divorce papers. Knudsen is good at the little moments too, the ones that let us know she’s still there somewhere behind the new thousand-yard stare: check the flicker of “what now?” exasperation as Bent’s mousy wife showed up to become the 85th person to stick their oar in about the EU job, begging that it not be Bent for the sake of his health and sanity.
Because nothing’s wasted in Borgen we knew giving Bent the Euro post was a huge error, and indeed the scene where he collapsed was directed slightly woozily, telling you what was happening before it happened. Seeing the falls coming doesn’t spoil it: that the weekly catastrophe is inevitable, and happening to someone we still desperately want to turn things round, means we’re as helplessly involved as ever.
The Miranda (Mondays BBC1) backlash started two minutes into series one, episode one. No other current comedy attracts more airy, dismissive “simply NOT funny” comments from the sort of people who are curiously irate about this genre of TV in particular. Miranda Hart and her writers (they are credited at the end – you might have to pause it) have paid this no heed at all, and now have nine million viewers tuning in.
A separate micro-backlash bubbled up at the start of this third series when it was suggested that making your female leads klutzy and silly was sexist. Millions of great comedy characters are unfortunate eccentrics, so objecting to women playing this perfectly well established type is probably more sexist. Anyway, if you did want to throw something new at Miranda, it might be that the show’s vast popularity is starting to weigh on it. The studio audience have become hysterical and Hart’s cartoon alter ego is mirroring them a bit. She’s in danger of giving them too much of what they like: the looks to camera are out of control and last week she pratfalled during the opening, sofa-bound monologue.
But these are quibbles: Miranda is still uniquely, unabashedly silly and five times more cleverly constructed than it seems to be on the surface. This week’s climactic dinner-party scene saw Hart rip off a man’s wig, throw an M&S lamb shank out of an open window and advance the central romance, all in the final minute. Miranda is still something that, when you think about it, almost every other comedy on the box isn’t, even the funny ones – so it deserves more credit for working so hard to achieve it. To quote a popular catchphrase that the show has, in fairness, stopped overusing: it’s such fun.