Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Watching Wallander on PBS is like being transported back to the 1970's. While shows like Mad Men and, especially, Breaking Bad work hard to avoid cliche in every scene and experiment with different camera angles and clever visual storytelling, Wallander gives you the cliched story and the old fashioned shot every time. Maybe this is reassuring for older viewers who - perhaps - make up most of PBS's demographic but anyone who has ever seen a show like Homeland or Breaking Bad will soon weary of the style. What do I mean by this? I'll give you some examples. In one scene Wallander is chasing someone in his Volvo, a train is approaching...in a 1970's show the villain would get his car across the tracks just before the train arrives, leaving the hero biting his hand in frustration and of course this is exactly what happens in Wallander. In another scene at a  colleagues funeral, Wallander is watching a mysterious woman in profile staring at the coffin...in a 1970's show the mysterious woman would slowly turn round and stare at us/the hero and despite my silent pleas for this not to happen this is exactly what happens in Wallander. In another scene a drunk is sitting on a ferry while a vulnerable woman is up on the top deck contemplating suicide...please don't make the body fall past the window, with only the drunk as a witness we all beg the director but of course... A final example: Wallander is talking to a yet another vulnerable young woman who has showed up at his house. The normally reticent Wallander is chatting up a storm and the camera follows him into a room as he gabs away and naturally when he comes out she's vanished...just as we knew she would...In Wallander cinematic cliche is embraced like an old friend and contempt for the intelligence of the audience is built into every scene.  
I actually don't mind the fact that Wallander is set in Sweden but everyone speaks English and writes English but the newspapers and street signs are in Swedish. That's just a conceit and I can buy into it. I do, however, object to the stories in Wallander which are also very reminiscent of the 1970's, giving us bathos and a psuedo dramatic end to every act and denouements which are telegraphed well in advance to anyone who has ever seen a mystery before. I also have real problems with the character of Wallander himself. In this series Wallander is such a bumbling and arrogant incompetent that at times these episodes are like really unfunny editions to the Pink Panther series. (If you've seen Steve Martin in the role of Inspector Clouseau you'll know what I'm talking about.) Wallander is unaware that villains might want to hit him or that to chase someone you need to run etc. etc. And God some of these plots are hacky and just plain bad. I haven't read the Wallander books but if they're anything like this, er, no thanks. 
Wallander is the PBS equivalent of Quincy or Diagnosis Murder without the self awareness to realise that this is the year 2012. Unfortunately I think that a lot of PBS viewers will think Wallander is a classy show because its a coproduction of the BBC, Sir Kenneth Branagh is in it and its introduced by fan favourite an unctuous and rather oily Allan Cummings. But it's not classy at all. Its cynical crap for Anglophile older Americans. I believe the makers of Wallander know exactly what they are doing and what they are doing is a kind of crime against television. If there is a saving grace to this cheesy, awful show it has to be Branagh himself who rises above the mediocre material, dreary locations and a B list supporting cast to shine with a kind of dour brilliance.