2020, it seems, is the year of the crime fiction origin story. Hot off the heels of HBO’s Perry Mason reboot, Netflix has created a new six-part series titled Young Wallander which follows the early years of the eponymous detective’s career in law enforcement, as he investigates a crucial case that serves as an important formative experience for him in his hometown of Malmo.
The case concerns the brutal killing near his house of a teenaged football player, who is blown to smithereens in front of a huge crowd of onlookers after having a grenade stuffed into his mouth by a mystery assailant. When the prime suspect emerges as a member of Malmo’s refugee community, this leads to vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist marches in the city, as Wallander attempts to decipher what had led to the murder – and how one of Sweden’s richest families may somehow be involved.
Meanwhile his positive relationship with another local footballer, Ibra, suffers as a result of the case, while he also meets Mona – a volunteer at the refugee centre with whom he soon develops a romantic attachment.
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Now although this is ostensibly an origin story for the Swedish detective – who has previously been played by Rolf Lassgård, Krister Henriksson and perhaps most famously (in the UK at least) by Kenneth Branagh – the series is rather confusingly set in the modern day, and it has to be said that were it not for the names and the occasional references to the iconic character’s later habits – his penchant for listening to opera music in his police car, for example – you could quite easily watch this and have no idea that it was intended as a prequel. That isn’t necessarily a criticism of this show specifically, but the obsession of TV and film studios in insisting that every popular character should be given an origin story spin-off is something I find rather tiring, and I can’t help feeling that this story wouldn’t have been any worse off without being linked to a pre-existing character.
Another personal gripe concerns shows where the dialogue is in English even though they are quite clearly set in countries where English is not the first language. Although this is far from the first show to adopt this approach – you need only look at the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh Wallander series for another example – it’s particularly baffling given the rich history of Scandinavian drama reaching international audiences and Netflix’s vast catalogue of other shows in foreign languages – and the presence of various UK accents alongside Swedish ones can have the effect of taking the viewer out of the drama.
The plot itself is fairly gripping, if not particularly original, which means the six episodes are enjoyable enough despite various flaws that ensure the series can’t quite match up to more successful Scandi-noir dramas of its type. The decision to set the plot against the backdrop of ugly right-wing responses to refugees in Sweden is an interesting one, but ultimately anything the show has to say on the issue is rather trite – with the topic used as a vehicle for the story rather than for any more substantial commentary. Meanwhile the decision to discuss racial issues from the perspective of a white police officer seems rather out of place in 2020.
The performances differ wildly in their quality – and I have to say I wasn’t particularly convinced by Adam Pålsson in the lead role. The actor looks the part, and there are some moments where he shines, but his choice to deliver almost every line in a sort of dramatic whisper results in the performance being a little one-note, while he just doesn’t seem to possess the requisite charisma for a leading role like this one. He isn’t helped by scripts that contain some pretty poor dialogue, while the chemistry with his romantic interest played by Poldark’s Ellise Chappell is also sorely lacking.
So Young Wallander is by no means a standout new series, especially compared to its successful source material – but it will be sure to keep crime drama fans entertained for six episodes, and if nothing else, for Wallander die-hards it may prove interesting to see a version of the character before he was as world-weary as in later incarnations.