Dag review: “As is often the case with Scandinavian comedies, the humour’s as black and dry as a lump of coal”

Just like its lead character, this Norwegian "shrink-com" is flawed but redeemable, finds Gary Rose

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The Americans have always loved a fictional psychologist: there’s Frasier Crane, of course, Dr Melfi in the Sopranos and… well, maybe there aren’t as many as it seems. The point is, while it’s currently in vogue for American networks to pinch Scandinavian ideas, Dag feels like a US sitcom (albeit of the dark, HBO variety) repackaged for a Norwegian audience.

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The series revolves around misanthropic marriage counsellor Dag (played by comedian Atle Antonsen), who doesn’t seem to agree with the concept of marriage at all. In fact, he spends his therapy sessions lobbing nuggets of cynicism at his shellshocked clients, leaving them pondering the futility of their future together. It’s a miracle he makes any money at all. “If you live alone, your mood is how happy you are. Living together, you’re only as happy as the least happy person there,” he tells one couple. Harsh, but fair.

Clearly, the whole therapy set-up is more cathartic for Dag than for those he’s trying to help. What emotional trauma must have befallen the poor guy in the past, we wonder, to transform him into such a socially frigid grouch? More importantly, do we really care?

The opening episode in tonight’s double bill sees the curmudgeonly counsellor flitting between several scenarios: dishing out misanthropic soundbites at his office; sucking Valium out of Pez sweetie dispensers at home; and going on a series of disastrous dinner dates.

As is often the case with Scandinavian comedies, the humour’s as black and dry as a lump of coal. While intellectually satisfying, this doesn’t generate many laughs. But the introduction of Dag’s sister’s beautiful friend Eva (Swedish actress Tuva Novotny) should provide enough chemistry to drag you into episode two, where things start to pick up.

Can Eva kick-start Dag’s malfunctioning heart? More to the point, what on earth does she see in him?

Much like its lead character, the show is far from perfect, but it does hold the potential for redemption. Oh, and the soundtrack’s good, too.

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Dag begins on Friday 31st July at 9pm on Sky Arts