The Team sets itself up to fail. It comes to the UK draped in all kinds of baggage: it’s a pan-European piece of collaboration when that very idea is ridiculously politicised; the pre-(European) launch PR is all about how this is a project ‘for Europe’ when the subject matter is quite inappropriate; the proud use of the phrase ‘Belgian Tax Shelter for Film Financing’ to describe the funding of a show that touches on issues of tax avoidance is rather unfortunate; a controversial piece of click bait by Mark Lawson that says that these kinds of ‘fusion’ thrillers are formulaic and less than the sum of their parts provides a dismal welcome; in some parts of Europe the programme was dubbed which is a cultural norm but changes the dynamic; the easiest bit of criticism these days is to claim that Nordic Noir must be past its prime, because any fule kno Scandi TV started with The Killing and ended with The Bridge. Europe is doomed.
Strip away all of that, and just watch the thing and it’s a different matter entirely.
Indeed, it would be a disappointment if circumstance and fashion caused this quirky and intelligent drama to be overlooked. The Team is a fine addition to the Nordic Noir vault (even if it’s two thirds non-Nordic) and made for good binge over a couple of evenings. It’s a tale of ambition and ruthlessness, unspeakable cruelty both large and small, and damaged protagonists, a mix of big picture painting and a focus on the everyday.
If you are determined to describe all storytelling as formulaic, then The Team follows a formula. But the source is not The Bridge but You Only Live Twice. Marius Loukauskis, brilliantly played by Nicholas Ofczarek, is an excellent Bond villain. Like Blofeld, he craves social acceptability while behaving monstrously. He looks a little like Trump and a healthier Steve Bannon and there’s a bit in the denouement that reminds me of certain dictators. He has ridiculous relationships with his family not least with ex-wife Dahlia who is herself one of the least sympathetic characters yet created.
As in Bond, the three main Team players seem to operate with huge autonomy. They are backed up by amazingly bright and brilliant assistants who crack clues and deploy technology as though they were born speaking binary. Harald Bjørn (Lars Mikkelsen) and Jackie Müller (Jasmin Gerat) seem physically indestructible at times, even if Mikkelsen’s English accent is distractingly close to Bill Nighy’s. There is no big car action scene but there is something better involving a mountain gorge. Nor are there moments designed to make you jump. Here the tension simmers nicely rather than faking boiling over. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller that recognises that the chase doesn’t need to be high speed. A race between a man and a lift can contain all the drama you need. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all in the head.
Rightly, The Team doesn’t bother to play on the differences in procedure between Belgium, Denmark and Germany. There’s a tiny bit of professional rivalry but the twist is that two of the Team have met before. Each character has strengths and weaknesses and (usually) a rickety home life. These are stated a little too baldly and we could have done with a domestic abuse sub-plot being resolved more overtly. To my surprise, I feel at the end that I would like to get to know these people rather better.
This is a drama that you should watch; but before you do, throw away your preconceptions and pick viewing conditions that let the production speak for itself. It turns out that when it’s allowed to just get on with it, Europe is fine after all.
The Team is currently available on Walter Presents and will be available on DVD from 17 April. Pre-order here.